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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Sunday, 12 June 2022

Headstrong in Lewes

It was a Lucky Thirteen Red Kite Day yesterday (plus a buzzard and a kestrel) for my trip, along with Son the Elder, east and south to Sussex to visit my daughter. The fourteenth red kite was dead in the fast lane of the M4 and clearly wasn't lucky, so I didn't count it. (Sometimes you have to be selective when it comes to good omens.)

Our destination, having collected Jenny from her abode, was Lewes, though when I saw the gorgeous turquoise colour of the sea, I thought maybe we were mad to head inland. That said, I was pleasantly surprised from our arrival onwards, because after all, who doesn't like a 15th century bookshop ... 

... and a house with the legend Writer and Revolutionary emblazoned on it?

In fact, Thomas Paine, who lived in Lewes from 1768 to 1774 and was radicalised there as a member of the Headstrong Club, was commemorated pretty much all over the place.


The White Hart Inn

The Tom Paine Printing Press and Gallery

The pub 'The Rights of Man' looked particularly inviting - it had my name written all over it - but it was hosting what looked like a wedding, so we didn't get to have lunch there. Which was a double shame, as my paternal grandmother's maiden name was Pain, spelt the way Thomas Paine's name was originally, which meant - surely? - that my claim to a seat and a complimentary pint of Tom Paine from Harvey's brewery was strong.  

After lunch in an Italian restaurant instead, we had a little wander down the High Street. I especially liked the way the narrow side streets - or twittens - drop downhill, giving views of the hills that surround the town. It reminded me of Ludlow a bit in this respect ... 

... and also with regard to its nooks and interesting old buildings ...

... one of which - Stewards Inn - is believed to date from at least 1330.

War memorial

I was beginning to conclude that Lewes isn't quite the picturesque, entrenched Tory town I'd rather lazily imagined it was, and having read up a bit since, it seems that in Paine's time it had a reputation for being a hotbed of radicalism and anti-monarchist sentiment. (A friend has subsequently assured me that the current Tory MP is a blip.)   

The town hall with its rainbow flag, which was previously the site of the Star Inn, in front of which the execution by burning of the town's seventeen Marian martyrs took place

We then headed for the Castle, visiting the museum first and then the Castle itself, which dates from just after the Norman Conquest and is splendid. 

Part of the Norman gatehouse to the left; the Barbican to the right

A cannon from the Crimean War

I was keen to test William Morris's famous assertion about the town, namely:

'You can see Lewes lying like a box of toys under a great amphitheatre of chalk hills ... on the whole it is set down better than any town I have seen in England' 

and so headed straight up the steps to the Keep, taking advantage of strategically placed benches on the way. (Well, it was hot.) 

The views were impressive, although of course Lewes would have been a lot more compact in 1882, when Morris visited with his daughter Jenny. 

Back down at ground level, we crossed to the Barbican, which also has great views.

Half a mile or so away is chalk face of Cliffe Hill, the implausible site of the deadliest ever avalanche to occur on these islands, when, in 1832, a build-up of snow collapsed onto the town 330 feet below, killing eight people. Hard to imagine it on such a warm summer day.

By now my offspring were hot and thirsty, so to avoid the onset of recalcitrance, we drove back to the coast. Although you don't see it quoted by the local tourist board, Morris finished his observation by saying that Lewes 'is not a very interesting town in itself'. I disagree, and found myself compiling a list of all the other places there I'd like to visit and rueing the fact that every day-trip I make to Sussex is bookended by a three-hour drive.

Back by the sea, it was still hot but breezy and gulls were having fun riding the updraughts. We bought ice cream and drinks, and sat ourselves down on the beach for an hour or so before the long drive back to Bristol.

It was too late for any kite-sightings on the way back down the M4, Ma and Pa Kite being tucked up with their soon-to-be-fledglings by then. We did see a few white kites near Gatwick and Heathrow, though - Son the Elder's joke - and a kestrel to match the one from our outward journey, hovering over one of the many instances of roadkill littering the hard shoulder. A good day for us, though, at least. 

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