Small but per­fectly formed

Less bo­hemian than Brighton, the East Sus­sex town of Lewes of­fers an at­trac­tive es­cape for Lon­don­ers look­ing to keep a toe in the cul­tural wa­ters, finds Carla Passino

Country Life Every Week - - Property News -

IT takes stamina and strong legs to make the most of Lewes, but it’s worth it. The climb up to the keep of the Nor­man cas­tle will leave you short of breath in more than one way—once you make it to the top, the town stretches at your feet, a beau­ti­ful jum­ble of an­cient roofs against the green curves of the Downs. Never did the turn of phrase ‘small but per­fectly formed’ feel more ap­pro­pri­ate than here.

‘It’s a lovely county town,’ says Liz Holling­ton of Strutt & Parker. ‘It has a great mix of ar­chi­tec­ture, from 15thand 16th-cen­tury black-and-white houses to Ge­or­gian, Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian build­ings and, of course, the cas­tle ru­ins —it has a won­der­ful sense of his­tory.’ The back­drop of the hills adds a sense of peace and tran­quil­lity: ‘I can walk from my of­fice down the high street and see the Downs—it’s gor­geous.’

Per­haps even more at­trac­tive than Lewes’s his­tory and spec­tac­u­lar scenery is its vi­brant at­mos­phere. Once home to po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist Thomas Paine and, later, Vir­ginia Woolf, the town con­tin­ues to draw ‘a lot of tal­ent’, ac­cord­ing to Mrs Holling­ton, thanks to a rare com­bi­na­tion of art, mu­sic and culture.

With Glyn­de­bourne a mere 10 min­utes away, Lewes not only en­joys easy ac­cess to some of the best coun­try­house opera in the world, but also has a thriv­ing mu­si­cal scene all year round with fes­ti­vals and song recitals to at­tend and choirs to join.

A lit­tle fur­ther south, Charleston— once the coun­try re­treat of the Blooms­bury Group—runs a packed cal­en­dar of fes­ti­vals and work­shops that at­tract many artists and writ­ers. As Lewes houses one of the Sus­sex Downs Col­lege cam­puses and the Univer­sity of Sus­sex is just 10 min­utes’ drive away, many aca­demics also choose to live in the area. ‘We get a lot of in­tel­lec­tu­als, artists, jour­nal­ists and me­dia pro­fes­sion­als,’ says Mrs Holling­ton.

That said, one of Lewes’s most fa­mous res­i­dents isn’t an aca­demic or an artist, but a green­gro­cer turned restau­ra­teur: Bill Col­li­son, founder of the Bill’s restau­rant and cafe chain. When his shop was badly hit by flood­ing in 2000, Mr Collinson added a small cafe that of­fered great food in a buzzy but re­laxed set­ting and it was an in­stant suc­cess. These days, you don’t have to go to Lewes to en­joy Bill’s juicy steaks, but the orig­i­nal restau­rant re­mains special, ac­cord­ing to Mrs Holling­ton: ‘It’s vi­brant and the food is fab­u­lous.’

Not that Lewes has a short­age of great places to eat: other favourites are

which serves in­ven­tive mod­ern cui­sine in a grand Ge­or­gian set­ting, and which makes its own bread, pas­tries and cakes. Just out­side town, there are some re­ally good inns, ac­cord­ing to Richard Everitt of Winkworth, who rec­om­mends in Ring­mer, in Firle,

in Fletch­ing and the at Old Heath­field. ‘Not for­get­ting the brew­ery on the Ouse river­bank,’ he adds. Har­vey’s has been mak­ing tra­di­tional beers at its Bridge Wharf Brew­ery since 1838 and its Old Ale won the ti­tle of World’s Best Mild at last year’s World Beer Awards.

Add to all this a crop of in­de­pen­dent shops, ex­cel­lent trans­port links—

Cock The Grif­fin Inn

Lon­don Vic­to­ria is a lit­tle more than an hour away by train, Brighton is about 15 min­utes and Gatwick is half an hour —and many good schools within easy reach, in­clud­ing and and it’s easy to see why a steady stream of buy­ers has been mak­ing its way to the town in the past 15 years. ‘Lewes is a won­der­ful place to live: it has noth­ing against it,’ says Mr Everitt.

He ex­plains that buy­ers, many of whom come from Lon­don, are evenly split be­tween those look­ing for a prop­erty in Lewes and those who’d like a larger coun­try house in sought-after vil­lages such as Ring­mer and Laughton. Mrs Holling­ton, on the other hand, finds that an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple pre­fer to live in town to be close to the fa­cil­i­ties, shops, schools and sta­tion.

As a re­sult, prop­erty prices in cen­tral Lewes have seen a marked in­crease. In par­tic­u­lar, con­tin­ues Mrs Holling­ton, ‘pe­riod houses within easy reach of the sta­tion are what ev­ery­one wants’.

She ad­vises buy­ers to bud­get from about £500,000 for a pe­riod, ter­raced house with three bed­rooms and £1.5 mil­lion to £2 mil­lion for a ‘stonk­ing big’ prop­erty with a gar­den. As an ex­am­ple, she men­tions a panoramic, semi-de­tached Vic­to­rian house with seven bed­rooms she re­cently sold: ‘It went for £1.8 mil­lion and that’s ac­tu­ally a very good price for Lewes.’

Brighton Col­lege Lanc­ing Col­lege,

The lus­tre of Lewes: this charm­ing East Sus­sex town of­fers ev­ery­thing you might need, but in a re­laxed at­mos­phere

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