Tag Archives: DFL

A guide to Lewes

One of the nice things about living in the capital is that, when you travel and strangers ask where you’re from, you get to reply ‘London’ in a tone that says, ‘Go on then, trump that.’ Lewes, unfortunately, lacks this brag factor, being a small town near Brighton few people outside Sussex have heard of and fewer still can pronounce (it’s Lew-es, like John, not Loos.) It’s a lovely place nonetheless, full of winding twittens and olde-worlde buildings – not poker-up-the-arse posh, but smart enough that you can pick up MiH jeans and REN skincare in the high street.

For the South East it’s unusually leftie, home to its share of Guardian journalists (including Polly Toynbee and Nick Davies, of hacking-scandal fame). Other notables include that Brummie one off the Fast Show and Arthur Brown (You know. ‘I am the god of hell fire, and I bring you… Fire! Da-da-da-da-da…’)

The town attracts numerous DFLs like me, along with lots of hippies and alternative types who like the idea of living in Brighton but secretly think it’s a bit rough. It’s well worth a daytrip, particularly if you’re furnishing a house, as there are about a thousand antiques shops, all miles cheaper than their London counterparts. And, unlike many English towns, Lewes has some excellent places to eat, places that pass the London test (as in: would I eat here if it was in London?)

It’s an hour and nine minutes from Victoria, which is about the same time it takes to get across town, so you’ve no excuse. And if you do come, I recommend you visit these places:

Where to eat

Bill’s

I can safely say that Bill’s passes the London test because last year a branch opened in Covent Garden. Naturally, being part of a chain (albeit a small one) makes it about 15 per cent less good, but the Lewes outpost is the original and, yes, the best. Everyone I bring here (and I do bring everyone here) says it reminds them of a Californian market, with shiny produce displayed everywhere and a generally wholesome vibe.

Le Magasin

Stylish café where everything, from the table you sit at to the antlers on the walls, is for sale. Most of it’s in that designer-y French-brocante style, where everything’s a thousand shades of grey. Swing by at the end of the day, when the artisanal bread is going cheap.

The Buttercup Café

Tucked away in Pastorale Antiques is this quirky little café, serving home-made soups, stews and spectacular salads. It’s a bit like Ottolenghi, if Ottolenghi was charmingly homespun and about a third of the price. I love Bill’s and Le Magasin, but prefer this place.

Where to drink

The Pelham Arms

I’d probably frequent this pub more if it wasn’t at the top of a massive hill. It’s nice. The interior has been Farrow and Balled, but not too annoyingly, and the lunches are excellent.

The Snowdrop

There’s something about the atmosphere of this pub everyone seems to like (they’re not funny about kids or dogs, either.) Incidentally, it takes its name from the UK’s biggest avalanche, which killed eight people on this spot in 1836. Which I thought was kind of tasteless, but there you go.

The Ram

If you want to check out the local countryside, go to Firle, which is so Sunday-night ITV drama it’s regularly used as a film location. The Ram is the village pub, and very smart it is too.

Where to shop

Wickle

Everyone in Lewes (well, me and my Mum) is slightly obsessed with Wickle, a mini department store stocking expertly chosen clothes, homewares and gifts. It’s not a big shop, but every corner is piled high with stuff, which means you can spend ages rummaging (and I do). It’s very family friendly, with Brio for the kids to play with and a teashop (lots of shops here serve coffee and cakes – hell, even the organic paint shop doubles as a cafe.)

Lewes Antiques Centre

Lewes is full of antiques shops and naturally there’s an element of luck to what you find, but this one, set on four floors and housing different concessions, is my favourite. I bought some coat hooks here for about £20 – similar ones in Anthropologie will set you back 68 quid.

Paul Clarke

From the outside, this place looks like a tweedy gentleman’s outfitters, but it’s all done with a wink, The Chap magazine-style. The women’s shop is further up the hill and stocks, among other things, Margaret Howell and Johnstons cashmere.

Flint

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Gift and homewares shop again selling pretty things in tasteful shades of grey and taupe.  The clothes upstairs are worth a look, and include By Malene Birger, Citizens of Humanity jeans and those H by Hudson boots, which look more expensive than they really are.

The Needlemakers

This looks like one of those slightly twee rural shopping malls, the kind that houses lots of crafty boutiques selling hand-crafted pottery and silver jewellery. It is that, sort of, but downstairs is a properly good bookshop and an excellent vintage shop (check out the cashmere.) And there’s something nicely straightforward about their advertising:

The café’s nice, too.

Bag of Books 

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How sweet is this children’s bookshop? Every time I shop at Amazon, I feel guilty.

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The friendliness of village life


Though small and unfathomably old (the pub dates back to 1450, the church to 1100), this isn’t one of those villages where you need three generations in the churchyard before you’re considered a local. In fact it’s reassuringly full of DFLs, as we’re known (Down From Londoners). Fortunately they’re all very friendly, in the way that you are when you haven’t a large pool of friends to choose from.

Next door (moved down from Battersea last year) turned up to welcome us bearing homemade malt loaf. I was impressed, not least because I didn’t know malt loaf could be homemade, having just assumed it always came in those little packets with the grapes on from Sainsbury’s. I also like that people turn up without calling first, which no one ever does in London.

Having a dog and small child helps on the meeting-people front, though meeting so many at once has its drawbacks. The woman who runs the toddler group keeps getting my name wrong, which I now know is something you need to nip in the bud immediately. Through a combination of embarrassment and laziness, I didn’t, and now it’s too late and is going to look really weird when I pluck up the courage to tell her that my name isn’t Anna.

Anyway, it’s as well people are friendly, because apparently we’ll be snowed in with them for the best part of the winter. Which isn’t something you appreciate when you’re smugly contemplating how nice it is to be away from the main road. So next time you’re driving through one of those villages on an A road, thinking, ‘This village would be so pretty if it wasn’t bang in the middle of this massive A road,’ remember that they’re the lucky ones, the people who, come January, will be considered worthy of gritting. Meanwhile we will rot here, with all-night Whistlestops and other walkable amenities but a distant memory.

** Am now feeling enormously guilty because about 45 kids and their parents have turned up to trick-or-treat, rendering my single family bags of KitKats and Maltesers woefully inadequate. I had no idea there’d be so many of them – it’s the first time I’ve ever had trick-or-treaters. They don’t come to Shoreditch; or if they do, you don’t want to open your door.

Actually, the reason I’m feeling so bad is that I’d eaten half the Maltesers before any trick-or-treaters even arrived.

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