It may be hard to believe but back in the eighth century, Steyning was a thriving port on the River Adur. But the town was left high and dry when the river silted up in the 14th century.

Steyning has its own patron saint, St Cuthman, who built a church there in the mid-eighth century. Cuthman is also the patron saint of shepherds.

The church, now dedicated to St Andrew, was the second-to-last resting place of King Ethelwulf of Wessex, father of Alfred the Great, until his remains were removed to Winchester.

Before the Norman conquest, Steyning was given as a gift to the French monastery at Fecamp, then it was taken back into Saxon hands and after 1066 it was French property again.

At one time the town was a Rotten Borough, returning two MPs to parliament, even though it had few inhabitants. The town’s famous grammar school was founded in 1614 by the Bishop of Chichester.

The biennial Steyning Festival was founded in 2006 by resident Ann Poupards and runs for two weeks at the end of May to the start of June. It features theatre, music, literature, talks, walks, community events and more.

Nearby Henfield is another small historic country town, which like Steyning has a good variety of shops, pubs and restaurants.

Both towns have new housing developments on their fringes making them extremely popular with young families and people looking for a quieter lifestyle than in the coastal towns and cities.

It was once an important stop on the railway between Shoreham and Horsham and its railway past is evident in street names such as Station Road.

Even though it is a small town it offers a good variety of shops, pubs and restaurants, a library and a village hall containing an excellent local museum run by Henfield Parish Council.

Henfield predates the Domesday Book and was mentioned in The Charter of Osmund, a manuscript dated 770 in which King Osmund of the West Saxons granted land at Henfield to build a church.

Among the many historic buildings is Parsonage House, once the home of the man who set up the postal service.

Henry Bishop, who owned the property during the 17th century, bought the title of Postmaster General of Great Britain and Ireland in 1660 and was the first to introduce a type of postmark to date the letters when they left London.

Nathaneil Woodard, founder of Lancing College, Ardingly College and Hurstpierpoint College among other famous public schools, lived in Martyn Lodge in Church Street until his death in 1891.

One of the more curious Henfield characters was Elizabeth Robins, a wealthy heiress who became an actress.

After giving up the stage she travelled to America to rescue her brother, who had been caught up in the Gold Rush of the 1890s.

When she returned she wrote a book about her travels.

In 1927 she opened her house as a rest home for overworked professional women and many famous people, including writer and actress Dame Sybil Thorndyke, stayed there.

The impresario Prince Littler, one of the wealthiest men in the country, lived at Chestham Park and cartoonist Rowland Emett lived in London Road.

Woodsmill at Small Dole just outside Henfield has been the home of the Sussex Wildlife Trust for more than 30 years. The centre has displays on natural history, geology and man’s use of the countryside.