Lewes (pronounce: loo-is) is one of the gems of East Sussex. Located in the northeast bound of Brighton, it is a small town full of history. From Norman ruins, to a centuries-old festival, to many flea markets, Lewes is a lovely laid back country town to visit in Sussex.
The medieval castle is perhaps the most prominent building in Lewes dated back from the 11th century. It was built by a Norman Baron named William de Warenne to control the Sussex coasts. The castle became the basecamp of King Henry III during the Battle of Lewes in 1264, a barons war that arose because of dissatisfaction with the ruling royal. The King was defeated and taken as prisoner, before being freed by his son in the following year.
Later the castle was mainly used for prisons and warehouses. It was then handed over to the Sussex Archaeological Society to be taken care of. Nowadays, the sites also include a museum that displays the items founded around the castle and in Lewes.
Not far from there, the Norman baron also built Lewes Priory. But now it remains a ruin with a wide park to walk around. It is located just next to Lewes train station.
Bonfire Night Festival
Remember, remember, the 5th of November. Bonfire Night or also called Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated across the UK every 5th November to commemorate the failed conspiracy to murder the Protestant King James I in 1605. The plot was planned by a group of English Catholics to blow up the House of Lords with gunpowder during the State Opening of Parliament, when the King was present.
A man named Guy Fawkes was caught guarding the explosives. Although he was not the leader of the group, his name was used for this bonfire celebration. As the name implied, the festival includes marching the streets with fire and torch, and bonfires lighted up around the town where people throw the effigies of Guy Fawkes (and lately any public figures they dislike).
The gunpowder treason plot did not happen in Lewes. But Lewes people also use the occasion to honor the 17 Protestant Martyrs who were burnt at the stake in Lewes during the reign of Catholics Queen Mary I, about a century before the gunpowder plot. This religious persecution earned her the notorious nickname ‘Bloody Mary’.
That is why the Bonfire Night Festival is quite big in Lewes. Although it was originally associated with the support for Protestantism, the festival nowadays does not relate with any religion/sect. It is just one of the reasons for people to have fun. Though it might not be too safe for young children to join.
The thing that you should not miss in Lewes is visiting its antique shops. Lewes is full of quaint cafes, bakeries, old bookstores, and craft shops. There is also a traditional food market every Friday selling unique foods, from local gooseberries to Asian foods. In addition, Lewes is famous for its own craft beer called Harvey’s.
All of those are located not only on the main road but also in small alleys, which can be reached within walking distance from the town centre. The town centre is situated along the pedestrian Cliffe High Street, where vehicles are limited to access. Bars and shops are lined up in this street, with the Cliffe Bridge in the middle overlooking River Ouse of Sussex.
I myself went there twice, one during Winter and another one in the Summer. Lewes can be reached easily by public transportation from Brighton by using Southern Railway every 12-20 minutes with traveling time around 15 minutes. Public buses are also available using Brighton and Hove buses number 28, 29, 29B, or 29X, which run every 10-15 minutes with a duration of 30 minutes to Lewes. Some buses pass by Lewes to go to Royal Tunbridge Wells.
The buses also stop by in Falmer Station, which is near the University of Sussex. With the high frequency of public transportation and the short distance between the university and Lewes, some students opt for living in Lewes, even though administratively Lewes is considered outside Brighton.
Lewes is a charming countryside with its Norman castle and flea markets. It is definitely worth visiting while you are in the Sussex area. Even a bonus if you come in November during the Bonfire Night Festival takes place.