I had the most wonderful weekend in the country town of Lewes with some of my fellow American students studying in the UK. It was a nice change from the busy city life in London. That being said, I got far less sleep in Lewes than I have in London! Since we only had a couple of days, we were determined to pack as much into our time as possible. We had a walking tour on Friday as soon as we arrived, and our resident director, who lived in Lewes for a while, showed us the town in a nutshell. We passed by Lewes Castle, through town, past the Priory Ruins, and back around to our hotel. The weather was really lovely when we got there on Friday, so it was a nice evening for a walk. We had a great dinner that night, and afterwards a group of us decided to check out the pub scene in Lewes. We thought we heard salsa music playing down the street, and we followed it to the Lamb of Lewes where, sure enough, they had a salsa band playing. It was, unfortunately, pretty late when we got there, and we only caught the last few songs. It was a lot of fun, and we all danced together until the band was finished. On our way out of the pub, we met a couple guys on the street who suggested we head down to the Lansdown Arms, which was open quite a bit later. We got a table, and before we even sat down we had already made friends. One thing about England, really about Europe in general, is the friendliness and openness of people you meet at the pub. It’s not unusual for a complete stranger to walk right up to you and start talking as if you know each other. In this case, our new friend bought us all a round of drinks, to, as he put it, “welcome the Americans to England.” He had already had several rounds himself, and he started dancing on the benches to the music of Beyonce. Before we knew it, we were all up dancing and singing. It was such a fun atmosphere. Our group got back to the hotel around 12:30 and stayed up talking until 2 am.
We got about five hours of sleep that night, since breakfast was at 7:30. Then we headed out for a full day of exploring. The first stop was Lewes Castle, pretty much across the street from where we were staying. The castle is one of the only ones never to have been invaded. Our resident director explained the multi-step security system of gates, flying arrows, hot sand, and stone walls that successfully kept invaders out. William de Warenne was granted Lewes by the King of England following the Norman Conquest; the castle was the headquarters of the de Warenne family for nearly 300 years. The castle was strategically located near the River Ouse, a route used to get from London to the coast. This gave the de Warenne family great power, since the river was used as a trading route. The castle is really beautiful, and from the top, one has amazing views of Lewes and the surrounding Downs:
Next we got on a bus and went to Bodiam Castle, nearby Lewes. To me, Bodiam Castle gets its beauty from the surrounding moat, which is filled with water, fish, and ducks. It’s the first castle I’ve seen since I’ve been in England that still has a moat; all the others either had dry moats or did not have a moat at all. Again, the views from the top of the castle towers was the best part. It’s absolutely gorgeous to see the land stretching for miles beyond the castle walls. The land is very hilly in the region, so the rolling hills are obviously a very picturesque location:
We had lunch at the castle tea room, then got back on the bus and drove to Beachy Head, home to the iconic white chalk cliffs. Beachy Head is located along the English Channel, and from the top of the cliffs, the water looks very blue. Contrasted with the greenery on top of the cliffs and the white of the cliffside, the water looks beautiful. It’s definitely not a place I’d recommend to people who are afraid of heights, as it’s a steep and long drop off the cliff to the water. It’s really difficult to describe the beauty of the area; there are really no words for it, and pictures simply don’t do it justice. The view is just breath-taking:
We took a quick walk along the cliffs, jumped back on the bus and headed to Monk House, a residence formerly belonging to Virginia and Leonard Woolf. The location is gorgeous, nestled along a picturesque country road in the village of Rodmell. The house itself is quite small, and visitors are only allowed to see the ground floor, including the living room, dining room, kitchen, and Virginia’s room. The living room is the largest room, and even that room could be a problem for claustrophobics, but the colors in the house give it a bright and cheerful feel. Many paintings and artwork done by Vanessa Bell, Virginia’s sister, adorn the walls of the house. There are loads of books in the house, but the only ones that actually belonged to Virginia are in the bedroom. They are a collection of Shakespeare’s works, but what makes them truly special is the fact that Virginia hand-covered each of the books, and the titles are written in her handwriting. You can really feel the sense of pride the volunteers working at the house feel for that collection. The lady in the bedroom gave us some information about the house itself, and when she talked about Virginia’s Shakespeare collection, her eyes just lit up. Underneath the shelf containing those books is a silk shawl that belonged to Virginia; it’s black with pale pink flowers, and it is, as we were told, extremely delicate. The gardens and the land behind the house are really beautiful, simple and peaceful. Virginia’s writing house is also located in the garden. It was a lovely end to a busy day of seeing Lewes.
We went back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. Again, we decided to go out after dinner to celebrate our second and final night in Lewes together. We went to a pub just around the corner from the hotel, but we didn’t stay too long. However, on the way out we had the good fortune of meeting some guys from Lewes. Like our friends the night before, they’d already had a few rounds, but they were more than willing to take us around. We had no idea what was in store for us. Those of us who decided to go with them had the most fun, yet absolutely crazy, night. We went all around Lewes to places, quite frankly, we’d never have discovered without the… “guidance” of our local friends. Long story short, we ended up staying out til 5 am, but I think every one of us could say we’d do it again and again if we had the chance. It was quite an adventure for us.
I got about three hours of sleep last night, as I decided to get up and go for a hike to the Battlefield of Lewes with a small group of us and our resident director. I can say it was definitely worth it. The views, again, were spectacular. There were a lot of black-faced sheep out in the fields, and lots of locals were out walking their dogs on this lovely Sunday morning. It’s just such a beautiful place, and I sincerely wish we could’ve stayed longer.
Let me make one thing clear: it’s pronounced “loo-is”, as in the name Lewis, not “looz”, as in lose, a mistake many of us made before getting to town and being corrected.
Also, I thought of some words to add to the list this weekend:
26.) band-aid/bandage- plaster
27.) “you guys” – “you lot”
28.) drunk- pissed
Also, you are typically greeted here with “Are you alright?” which, to Americans, seems to imply that there’s something wrong with you. Here, it’s used in place of “How are you?” When I was speaking to some of the other American students this weekend, that seemed like one conversational difference they’d had some trouble getting used to. So when someone greets you with “Are you alright?” it doesn’t mean that they think you look upset; it’s just an alternative greeting.
Some of us are considering going back for the big bonfire night in Lewes on November 5th, a night the town seems to live for. Many of the locals we ran into this weekend explained to us that it’s a sort of “commemoration” of Guy Fawkes’s unsuccessful attempt to blow up Parliament, hence the massive fire and the large amount of fireworks. Everyone dresses up in “costume” and stampedes through town in a huge throng of people. Lewes has the claim to the biggest bonfire night in the UK, certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, worldwide. It was also described to us as a good excuse to have a massive party and get “pissed.” It would definitely be an interesting, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and all the locals highly recommended coming back for it.