I found the most amazing little town. It's well-known to most, as it's not particularity tiny or hard to get to. Although, the trip there required a stop in Brighton, which is always a pleasure based on the gorgeous Victorian train station.
The iron work, the cheerful paint, the wooden train platforms. I don't mind changing trains here at all.
We were off to Lewes (pronounced like Lewis), a town tucked into the green hills of the East Sussex South Downs. It's perhaps an hour from London, and sometimes you can even get a direct train.
Speaking of which, the trains here are confounding. The lines are privatized, so it's hard to get around and know which tickets to buy and which train line to take. Taking a trip to the countryside usually means instead of getting one ticket for your journey, the ticket machine will spit out a whole stack of tickets that you will need. What makes things more confusing is there are also "hobby lines", old steam train routes that the National Rail has discontinued, but a few devoted trainspotters keep alive with their own funds, and they usually only run once or twice a day on the weekends, and you have to really fish around to get a train schedule, and you can't buy those tickets on the National Rail website. All and all, rail journeys here have the potential to be very confusing and elaborate, and it makes us pause and reminisce about just how great the French run their rail systems.
We found that this particular day, the trains were ultra-expensive direct (£50!), but for an additional 10 minutes added to your travel time, the price was just a fraction (£10!). Sometimes you have to be a little creative in your journey.
The lovely little medieval town of Lewes was previously home to prehistoric and Roman and Anglo Saxon settlements, and a battle between Henry III and his angry, revolting Barons. The layers upon layers of history here was astounding. Also, on the 5th of November, they burn crosses during the Lewes Bonfire. I am not kidding. It is to commemorate the Protestants martyrs that were burned at stake here, but it's just alarming to see loads of burning crosses on the tourist brochures here.
It was early on a Sunday morning when we arrived, and we spent a good hour wandering the streets. All the shops were closed and very few people were out, but I wanted badly to linger.
There's a thousand year old Norman castle at the top of the hill with lovely views.
A very friendly kitty sat upon a stone wall, begging for attention and scratches.
I'm not a cat person at all, but lately I've encountered a few super friendly ones that have warmed me up a bit. Plus, they are just so photogenic.
Anne of Cleeves had a house here, and kind of touchingly, Virginia Woolf:
Apparently, she never actually lived here, but she owned it for a while. It was adorable and I could see how an impulse purchase might come about.
The town itself had a large amount of well-preserved ancient buildings, painted cheery colors and squeezed up against the barely-there sidewalk.
Most of the houses had plaques with the dates and their original purpose as a building, and any famous people who might have darkened the doorways at some point, including Thomas Paine. I resisted the urge to start chanting "USA! USA! USA!" outside the house.
It was closed, but the half-timbered house was called "The 15th-Century Bookshop" and it looked suitably adorable and my noseprints marred the windows as I did a full-face press to check out what they had going on inside. A weakness for tiny cramped bookshops and the lack of bookshops with character in this country has left me feeling a bit sad. Lewes does a good trade in tourism, but it also seemed like people actually lived and worked here, and they didn't take the ye olde thing too far.
After some debate about our location, we headed due west to pick up the Southdowns Trail for an amazing day of hiking. I'll have more about that later, but I have decided to undertake the entire 100 mile trail, but perhaps not in linear order. The good news is that eventually, I'll be back in Lewes to finish up the hike! I can't wait, I feel like there are some really fantastic pubs that weren't open early on a Sunday that needed to be warmed up.