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Review of Skyhouse, Lewes, East Sussex

Posted by Lucy Symons at 12:54 on Tuesday 30 June 2015

Visit an amazing zero carbon B&B perched on a lofty hill overlooking the genteel town of Lewes, in the South Downs, which doesn't stint on luxury and yet welcomes dogs. 

Skyhouse Pond with Olive photo: Lucy SymonsSkyhouse Pond with Olive photo: Lucy Symons

The Setting:
Perched on a lofty hill looking down on flying birds you will find the Skyhouse above the laidback town of Lewes behind which is the back drop of the glorious South Downs in all their majesty. Almost within view of Brighton and Newhaven and a stone’s throw from the sea, the change in the shoreline air pressure creates a horizon of moody cloudscapes, playing over the expanse of skies giving a mesmerising view. Ever changing, especially in a storm, it’s an equally stunning outlook when it’s sunny and blue.

>> For availability and booking, see our full listing for Skyhouse

>>  For activities and places to eat in the area, see the Greentraveller's Guide to Brighton

Skyhouse Bedroom photo: Lucy SymonsSkyhouse Bedroom photo: Lucy Symons

The Rooms:
There are three double rooms with en suite, 2 of which are dog friendly, all have outdoor, decked areas with seating. One has a bath, one is totally wheelchair friendly and accessible for those with limited mobility, all have different, but equally stylish, décor and over look the front of the house so have magnificent views. The landscaping and entrances have been specially designed to avoid the need for any ramps and access to the garden is on the same level as the bedrooms. Even with the giant folding French windows opening onto the garden, you can be assured of a peaceful night as there are shutters to achieve partial or total black out. These rooms are smart too, with dinky remote controls for everything – I was a little worried they were smarter than me, but I managed to navigate all the gadgets easily. There is a welcoming shared living area with a kitchen, with bowls of fruit and nibbles, wine glasses and fresh milk available for guests .

Skyhouse Smoothie Bowl photo: Lucy SymonsSkyhouse Smoothie Bowl photo: Lucy Symons

The Food:
There are amazing breakfasts to be had. Ever heard of a smoothie bowl? Me neither. In seeking out a unique, nutritious and also delicious alternative to the standard Full English, the Skyhouse team enlisted the help of an aspiring young chef (later poached by the chaps at Glyndebourne who knew a good thing when they saw it) and came up with the ingenious smoothie bowls. Worthy and beautiful, imagine a soup bowl full of blended fresh fruit, adorned with yoghurt, whole fruit, chia seeds, bee pollen, goji berries and anything else that is good for you. With a side of locally made bread or cereals, you end up feeling full but not heavy. If you want a bog standard breakfast you are more than welcome to ask for one, but the choices are hardly pedestrian: scrambled eggs with green onions, grilled Portobello mushrooms and cherry vine tomatoes with pine nuts, smoked salmon and capers… and if you really insist, a full English can be sourced from the local butchers. Most people end up with the smoothie bowl on the second day, though, having witnessed everyone scoffing them on their first morning and finding themselves unable to resist. Any of the staff can give you a list of the best local places to eat for the rest of the day as well, most of them within a walk or cycle ride. The Cock Inn (Ringmer)  and The Ram Inn (Firle) (where the local vicar fishes mackerel and catches prawns for the guests) were two I can personally vouch for. Both dog friendly and both more than able to cater to the attention seeking (vegan, gluten free etc).

The Activities:
A ten minute walk down the hill will bring you to the town of Lewes. It is an adorable Saxon settlement on the banks of the River Ouse, with a Medieval castle, Barbican House Museum of archaeology and Anne of Cleves House is a 16th century timber-framed Wealden hall-house that formed part of Anne’s divorce settlement from Henry VIII in 1541. Other “must sees” include Charleston Farm (home of the Bloomsbury Set, Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister - who lived at Monks House) and her various bonkers artist friends), Berwick Church, where Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were commissioned to graffiti the walls with biblical scenes and the first ever National Trust property: 14th century Clergy House in Alfriston. The Skyhouse backs on to Lewes Golf Course. This is dog walking country – there’s a dedicated dog wash with shampoo and hot water, poo bags and dog towels. There’s good cycling to be had, too. Rented bikes can be delivered by Housedean Farm. Glyndebourne is a short drive away for the summer opera series (March to September) and Lewes is home to the insane bonfire night every November 5th, complete with competing bonfire societies setting fire to anything flammable. There is outdoor natural swimming: Pells Pool, the UK’s oldest fresh-water lido, and paragliding off nearby Mount Caburn.

Solar array inspection by Olive at Skyhouse, Lewes, East Sussex photo: Lucy SymonsSolar array inspection by Olive at Skyhouse, Lewes, East Sussex photo: Lucy Symons

The Green:
The fundamental dilemma, as seen by the team at Skyhouse, is this: by the time you reach an age where you have the funds to achieve a business and home which is totally sustainable, you are often removed from the zeitgeist and your ideas vaguely obsolete. The youth, who set the trends and zippy ways to be sustainable, generally don’t have the means to build ecologically friendly new homes or businesses This became the challenge – to sift through the greenwash and pick those up-and-coming brains for their handy hints, and so after exhaustive conversations the team finally found the best solution to their specific problems and has managed to achieve an extraordinary marriage of sumptuous luxury in a spectacular location with zero carbon – in fact Skyhouse actively exports more to the grid than they use – they are actually negative carbon. This is a purpose built property, with every step thought through and with absolute focus on sustainability from the removal of the obsolete prefab home from the site, freecycling everything possible and recycling the rest of it, to siting the house on the rear of the lot, embedding it partially in the chalk escarpments making the best of the geothermal advantage. Baufritz designed and made the actual bespoke biologically healthy structure with 100% timber frames (using any resulting sawdust combined with soda and whey, acting as pesticide and fire retardant respectively, as insulation and every bit of glass is triple glazed). With no solvents in the adhesives or paints, the building is as natural from the start of life to its finish as possible and, from a super low carbon building company, the construction has 40% less of a carbon footprint than a traditional building. At the end of all their research, the team chose to install 32 solar panels, a pellet stove and to harvest rainwater for flushing the loos, washing the sheets and filling the pond. Even the air is all recycled, so incoming air with the pollutants removed through filters enters a mechanical heat recovery ventilation system where the used air goes out and uses the latent heat from that to heat the incoming air. In short, Skyhouse has acheived the team's ultimate goal: zero carbon living combined with luxury in an amazing place without any compromise.

Skyhouse, Lewes, East Sussex Blue Room photo: SkyhouseSkyhouse, Lewes, East Sussex Blue Room photo: Skyhouse

How to get there by public transport:
Catch the train to Lewes, then make the 15 minute walk up the hillside to Skyhouse.  It's only 1hr 8 mins from Victoria, a 12 minute train ride to Brighton and there's a 10% discount for anyone who arrives on foot or by bike.

Top Tip:
Check out the Skyhouse blog: “Which way is green” to see all the dilemmas and decisions and learn from the team at Skyhouse's experience about how to be truly sustainable and at what price. As the vanguard, they want their guests to have a direct experience of zero carbon living at Skyhouse, to enjoy their stay in a true home away from home and return, inspired.

Bring Fido but leave your kids at home – this is a truly luxurious spot for grownups. . After a bowl full of smoothie, it felt as though I could have settled in to the squishy sofas and chatted with my hosts or the other guests for hours, but there was so much to see beyond the giant windows of the Skyhouse, I bid them farewell and went in search of some Bloomsbury Set culture.  

Skyhouse, Lewes, East Sussex exterior photo: Lucy SymonsSkyhouse, Lewes, East Sussex exterior photo: Lucy Symons

>> For availability and booking, see our full listing for Skyhouse

>>  For activities and places to eat in the area, see the Greentraveller's Guide to Brighton

 Posted by Lucy Symons


Blogs posts categorised as 'Reviews' have been written with the support of one or more of the following: accommodation owner, activity provider, operator, equipment supplier, tourist board, protected landscape authority or other destination-focussed authority. The reviewer retains full editorial control of the work, which has been written in the reviewer's own words based on their experience of the accommodation, activity, equipment or destination.

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