The town of Lewes dates back to before the Domesday Book: apparently the layout of the town, with its narrow alleyways called “twittens”, is actually Saxon. It makes exploring the area a real adventure, although if you’re driving a 4x4 you might want to check your route carefully - many an over-optimistic driver gets stuck!Lewes is built on the ridge of a down with its castle crowning the view for miles around. The architecture is a marvellous mixture of ages and styles; walking down the High Street you pass Tudor half-timbered buildings (including Tom Paine’s house), Georgian mansions and delicate bow-windowed shops.
Many of them are constructed of flint, the building material most abundant in chalk downland. A lot of the façades are covered in “mathematical tiles” - made to look like bricks, these are actually tiles used in Georgian times to update older buildings and are very characteristic of East Sussex Georgian architecture. Several of the historic buildings are open to visitors - the Castle, Anne of Cleve’s House in Southover Street and the newly restored Cluniac Priory are just some of the reasons to allow yourself plenty of time to explore Lewes. And if you’re an antiques fan, do leave time for a visit to Cliffe High Street where you can pick up treasures of every kind! Wikipedia has a very extensive entry on Lewes - well worth a read.
Going further afield, Lewes is a favoured stop-off on the South Downs Way, which wends its way through the newly created South Downs National Park from Eastbourne all the way to Winchester. The Corner House is on the south-west side of Lewes in Southover, and about 6km from the South Downs Way at Southease/Kingston. The Corner House is one of the B&Bs selected by Footprints of Sussex who can arrange accommodation and luggage transfers for walkers right along the route.
Lewes has excellent rail connections - just over an hour to London Victoria, half an hour from Gatwick, and it’s under 15 minutes by train into Brighton city centre.
The Corner House has a small collection of guide books, including a visitor’s guide to Lewes, a book describing the architectural places of interest, local walks and ideas for days out in this lovely part of the world. There is also a selection of OS maps for guest’s use.
Ladies: if you’re visiting for a wedding or other special occasion, do bring a pair of flat shoes as well as your Jimmy Choos. Lewes specialises in steep streets and cobbled pavements and can be very hard to negotiate in high heels.
I am often asked about local restaurants, so here’s a personal list of hostelries. And here’s a list of the local taxi firms I can recommend.
Cool Places recommends many of the nicest places in Lewes (including, of course, The Corner House!)