Where to eat, shop and stay in Sussex’s bonfire capital
Sussex loves a good autumn burn – and nowhere more so than the genial market town of Lewes, AKA the Bonfire Capital of the World.
On November 5th, this respectable town with its rosehip-strewn twittens (what they call a narrow street in these parts), crooked Tudor bookshops and organic delicatessens turns into a fiery fiesta. Come darkness, its medieval streets are ablaze, and the scent of petrol and smoke fills the air as tribes of bonfire 'boyes and belles' from Lewes' seven bonfire societies, all brandishing fiery torches and beating drums, march through town to celebrate the foiling of the gunpowder plot in 1605.
But there's more to this South Downs town than fire and fury. As bohemian as it is bacchanalian, the former home of Virginia Woolf and hangout of the Bloomsbury Set is a creative hub overrun with homeware stores, dusty antiques emporiums, and great places to eat and drink. Here, we let you in on our favourites...
Best brunch: Bill's
We’re wouldn’t usually recommend chain restaurants, but we’ll make an exception for this particular Bill’s, as it started life right here on Lewes’ Cliffe High Street. The actual Bill (Bill Collison) was a forward-thinking greengrocer who made quiches and pies from unsold veg and sold them in a makeshift cafe. A natural hit with the locals, it grew organically into a restaurant and has been sating Lewes foodies with its homegrown menu since 2001. Try Bill's Garden Plate, an awesome vegetarian breakfast bursting with Sussex-grown goodness. It's a great spot for people watching or to refuel after a swim in Pells Pool, the oldest freshwater lido in the country.
Sourdough though: Flint Owl Bakery
Crisp, crust sourdoughs baked fresh every morning using a much-loved 45-year-old starter from the French Alps, Flint Owl Bakery is the go-to for baked goods in Lewes. Knocking out the county's best brown bloomers, dark rye loaves, and rosemary and sea salt sourdoughs (and probably the best almond croissants this side of La Manche) it's carb heaven on the High Street. As for coffee, head directly to Tigermoth Roastery on Daveys Lane, a speciality micro-roasters run by Beatrice and Joe, which serves up the creamiest, smokiest flat whites in town.
For hip hops: Beak Brewery
Tucked under the chalky cliffs of Lewes Downs, the Beak Brewery is a buzzy neighbourhood hangout which serves unfiltered, seasonally inspired beers pumped fresh to a thirsty crowd. At the weekend, the Beak dips into its Rolodex of brilliant Sussex food trucks, like The Two Fridas vegan Mexican and the Pig & Jacket, finalists in the British Street Food competition. Try their Dirty Elvis; a Sussex grass-fed beef patty, cheddar, homemade banana jam, spicy peanut sauce & bacon, perfect with a frosty Trumbo Double IPA.
Vintage threads: Darcy Clothing
There's good reason why everyone is so well dressed in Lewes: Darcy Clothing at 163 the High Street is a purveyor of replica clothing from the 16th century to the 1950s. Using original patterns, and authentic, custom-made fabrics they produce beautiful garments like a Victorian cotton blouse, full-length petticoats and soft, satin evening gloves. Why not go the full Downton Abbey and get an Edwardian herringbone linen jacket...?
Knick knacks: Closet & Botts
There's an eclectic mix of vintage, new and handmade homeware, furniture and clothes at Closet & Botts on the High Street. It started life as a pop-up run by best friends, Chloe MacArthur and Harriet Maxwell, who diligently scour the best bazaars of Paris and Brussels for hidden treasure, and source the coolest independent makers in the UK for unique gifts, like ochre floral garland socks, hand-wheeled coffee grinders to beautiful Fair Isle berets.
Sweet treats: Bonne Bouche
Tucked away down yet another rose-strewn twitten opposite Lewes Castle, Bonne Bouche is a tiny, hot pink chocolate shop selling exquisite hand-made chocolates. Originally founded in 1987 by Elizabeth Syrett, a former chocolate buyer for Fortnum and Mason, it's the one place to go if you’ve got a sweet tooth.
Cool curios: Lewes Flea Market
Whether you're in Paris or Peterborough, you simply can't beat a good rummage around a dusty flea market on a Sunday afternoon. Housed in the appropriately formidable Victorian Methodist church on Market Street, the Lewes Flea Market has sixty-plus stalls flogging all manner of curios from a vintage French racing bike, gold lamé platforms from the Seventies to a Louis XVI piano stool.