With panoramic views of the South Downs and the River Ouse valley, the historic town of Lewes has been described as the jewel in the Sussex crown. Best explored on foot, there is no better way to get the feel of historic Lewes than by wandering down the flint-walled ‘twittens’ (pedestrian alleys established in Saxon times) running away from the High Street to what were the old southern defences of the town (now the elegant Southover Grange Gardens, open to the public, which adjoin the gabled 16th century Southover Grange). Walking back up cobbled Keere Street towards the High Street you pass Bull House, lodgings of Thomas Paine, radical and revolutionary, who advocated in his pamphlet ‘Common Sense’, America’s independence from Great Britain. He lived in Lewes from 1768 until he left for Philadelphia in 1774.

Just off the High Street, the castle, established after the Norman Conquest by William de Warenne, retains its Norman keep and a magnificent 14th century barbican gateway. The Castle Museum contains prehistoric, Roman and medieval artifacts and the fascinating son-et-lumiere Lewes Living History town model. From the top of the Keep you can look across to the west and the sweep of downland at Mount Harry, the site of the Battle of Lewes in 1264 where King Henry III fought the army of Simon de Montfort and the English barons, a pivotal moment in English history leading to the foundations of our modern parliament.  2014 is the 750th anniversary of this pivotal battle in English history – with celebrations throughout the year.  An exquisite locally-stitched tapestry in honour of this anniversary and depicting the Battle of Lewes is now a permanent exhibit at Lewes Castle museum.

Stroll down School Hill, taking in the elegant facades of the buildings, and cross the River Ouse – a former major trade artery – over the old Cliffe Bridge and into the village-like Cliffe area where antique shops abound. Head towards St Thomas’ Church with its 15th century tower and look inside to appreciate the 14th century nave. Beyond the Cliffe, up on the hillside at Cuilfail, is a memorial to the 17 Protestant martyrs who were burned at the stake, during the reign of ‘bloody’ Mary, outside the Star Inn (now the Town Hall).

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