For all of London’s considerable charms, lockdown has made many Londoners a bit stir crazy and looking to explore pastures new. In our new series of Days Out from London, we have decided to take to the open road and explore many of the travel delights within easy travelling distance from London.
After considerable research, we decided to to try to explore the small East Sussex town of Lewes.
Why ? It is only a one hours train ride from London, it is a gateway to many walks in the South Downs and we had never been there before.
Many Londoners would have taken the Lewes train before because it stops at Gatwick but we stayed on board and enjoyed the rolling hills and rural landscape of Sussex.
Arriving at the attractive small station, it is only a short walk to Cliffe High Street which is a good starting point to explore Lewes. From the small bridge you have a good view of Harvey’s Brewery, if you want to sample some of the famous beers, there is a Harvey’s shop nearby.
. Arriving at the attractive small station, it is only a short walk to Cliffe High Street which is a good starting point to explore Lewes. From the small bridge you have a good view of Harvey’s Brewery, if you want to sample some of the famous beers, there is a Harvey’s shop nearby.
Lewes is surrounded by the hills of the south downs and the town itself is surprisingly hilly, from Cliffe High Street to the main High Street is straightforward except the street rises up and down with the roads as undulating as some of the buildings.
The quirkiness adds a lot to Lewes charm and makes it extremely very photogenic, its olde worlde charm is highlighted by the often bizarre architectural landscape, half timbered building often leaning alarmingly with wonky window and doors providing plenty of amusement. A great example is the 15th century bookshop.
After passing the war memorial, the High Street comes into its own with The White Hart Hotel dating back to 1840 but previously a coaching inn.
On the right is Barbican House which is a museum that leads to Castlegate which takes you to the 11th century Norman castle. Lewes Castle, was the work of William de Warenne, who was given the land by William I after the Conquest. Although a single wall remains of the Norman gateway today; you can still the Barbican built in the early fourteenth century.
It is worth walking to the top of the hill to get the wonderful views over Lewes and beyond, an information board provides details about the Battle of Lewes which took place in 1264. The battle was the bloody clash between Henry III and a rebel army of barons under Simon de Montfort.
Back on the High street, you will not be able to miss, Reeves established in 1858 and Bull House in which Tom Paine, radical politician lived between 1768 and 1774 before emigrating to America, where he wrote Common Sense, and became the “Father of the American Revolution” .
On either side of the High Street, there are narrow lanes called “twittens”, one of the steepest is near the bookshop. The cobbled Keere Street is not for the fainthearted but is useful if you want to explore Southover part of the town.
Southover features the Southover Grange Gardens, the Priory’s remains, and Anne of Cleves House. Despite the name, Anne of Cleves never actually lived in the house: it was one of the Sussex properties given to her in 1540.
The north of Lewes has rather different attractions, the Pells is a lovely spot to feed the ducks or if you are very brave have a swim in the outdoor pool. You can also take a walk down the River Ouse that takes you back to Cliffe.
From the high ground in the north there are wonderful views over the downs and a reminder that Lewes is a good base to explore many of the interesting walks around the area.
Lewes has a lot to attract the casual traveller, quirky but full of interesting buildings and shops, there are plenty of pubs, restaurants and cafes. The coast is only a short 20 mins train rise away, you can enjoy the full on attractions of Brighton or the more sedate Newhaven and Seaford. If you are travelling from London, Lewes is only around one hour’s train ride away.
In the post pandemic world, many people will explore destinations closer to home and our visit to Lewes was a reminder that there are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
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