Much as I have declared bank holidays to be for castle hunting Heather fancied a change this weekend and so we planned to go looking for steam trains instead, it being ages since we last saw some. As it was modern day rail would conspire against us, much as they had last bank holiday, so we ended up at a castle anyway.
The intention had been to travel to the Bluebell Railway at East Grinstead. However, what should be a direct 40-minute journey turned out to require a longer trip and then an change to a bus (this after having already ducked around the trams not running). Frustrated a quick re-think led us towards Lewes Castle. Heather had never visited before, though I had in a previous life.
Arriving in Lewes we were tempted to try following the people in dinner jackets and evening dresses who got off the train onto waiting coaches but instead turned the other way to go up to the High Street and along to the castle. It looked much as I remembered, though I’d forgotten that the ticket office is in a separate building off to the side and the gatehouse no longer leads into the castle. There was a wedding party in the Gun Garden at the bottom but that didn’t detract as we climbed past them to explore the barbican we’d just been beneath. Climbing to the top gave the first glimpse of the views the castle commands over the town and surrounding countryside, and first experience of the tight spiral staircases!
There was more climbing to be done as we made our way up the winding stairs to the top of the motte. At least there, in the circle once enclosed by the now only partly standing shell keep, is a very pleasant place to rest, with benches, a tree sprouting from the centre, and the lovely views. We rested a while, though first I found myself bouncing back down the hill and up again to find a toilet. We watched distant paragliders take off from a hill for a while before heading into the keep itself.
What remains of the keep is mainly two towers (one accessible), thirteenth century later additions to the twelfth century shell. The climb up is via another tight spiral stair (not the original, the remnants of which can be seen in the other corner), giving out to a single, angled room at each level before reaching the roof. There Lewes’ most spectacular views are evident, the town below sitting surrounded by hills. It’s worth spending some time taking it all in, from the still rising paragliders in the distance to the church with a thirteenth century circular tower just below.
That’s about all that remains of the castle; the second motte (Lewes being unusual in having two) is clearly visible from the top of the keep but inaccessible—it’s a shame the intervening years and buildings have lost a sense of the castle’s true shape and extent. We headed back down the winding steps and, following the obligatory call into the little shop, headed for a look along the high street. I seem to be unable to time visits to Lewes to coincide with most of the shops being opened, which at least prevented me vanishing into the tempting looking second hand book store. We passed the church, an interesting sculpture of St Michael adorning the round tower wall, and on to the extent of the High Street. Heading back we stopped in the Brewer’s Arms which turned out to be more promising than initial appearances with a nice little courtyard to the rear. We had a drink, closely watched by the town’s crows, and some tasty pretzel pieces before continuing our exploration.
With plenty of time before the next train home we decided not to head straight for the station but continue right along the High Street, into what had the feel of being the more modern centre of Lewes. Past the angel topped war memorial are interesting little shops before a former library (built as a memorial to Henry Fitzroy, architect Sir George Gilbert Scott and to my eyes reminiscent of a railway station) marks the start of a pedestrianised section. We followed that up as far as the bridge over the Ouse, looking over the brewery. There wasn’t much else to see though, and it was late enough on a Sunday everything was closed, so we turned for the station, getting briefly lost round a car park. The was a lovely old pant on the way (pant being a northern term for a drinking fountain), though no longer working of course. Oh, and Doctor Who was possibly around.
That led to the station, a calm and interesting place in itself, V-shaped with now disused lines now filled in with gravel. At least the Wikipedia page for the station mentions Bluebell, where we were supposed to be all along!