Pells Outdoor Swimming Pool

Laying claim to being the oldest documented swimming pool in the UK, this spring-fed, shimmering lido is fiercely loved by locals. A five-minute walk from the town centre, it’s generally open between May and October, welcoming swimmers well into the evening when the weather is fine – perfect for an after-dinner dip. Be warned: it’s unheated. Entrance fees are joyfully low, clocking in at little more than the equivalent of a cup of coffee. 

 

Bonfire Night

Remember, remember to book your accommodation well in advance if you’re visiting Lewes on 5 November. Around 80,000 people descend on the town to celebrate what’s thought to be the world’s biggest Bonfire Night bash (that’s actually made up of six separate “bonfire societies” and more than 30 processions). Expect a rip-roaring carnival, firework displays, burning crosses and effigies of contemporary villains going up in flames – oh, and crowds. Big ones. Roads will be closed and many events and pubs ticketed, so plan ahead.

Charleston & Monk’s House

Lewes was the rural stomping ground of the Bloomsbury set. Virginia Woolf (along with husband Leonard) briefly owned the Round House in Pipe Passage before moving to the weatherboarded, 16th-century Monk’s House where she would pen works including Orlando, To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway, before drowning herself in the nearby River Ouse in 1941. It’s nevertheless at Charleston, the pad of her sister Vanessa Bell and artist Duncan Grant, that you can feel the creative pulse of the artistic clan most strongly. Set in bucolic Firle (a 10-minute drive from Lewes), this rambling, magnolia-fronted farmhouse is a time capsule of unconventional living, where imagination runs wild across kaleidoscopic furnishings and queer history is tangible. It’s usually open to visitors between March and December, but best experienced during the Charleston Festival

 

Anne of Cleves House Museum

Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived. While many of us are familiar with the history of Henry VIII and his six wives, the Tudor tale is rarely brought to life so well as in Anne of Cleves House Museum. His fourth wife bagged the timber-framed Wealden Hall as part of her annulment settlement in 1540; now you can immerse yourself in the authentically furnished rooms (the kitchen is particularly interesting) and pretty garden decked out with traditional Tudor planting schemes. 

Lewes Castle & Barbican House Museum

Built shortly after the Norman invasion of 1066 by a close ally of William the Conqueror, William de Warenne, Lewes Castle (originally Bray Castle) is one of the earliest examples of medieval motte-and-bailey architecture on such a whopping scale. In 1264 it was thrust to the forefront of national politics when Simon de Montfort’s army defeated Royalists in the Battle of Lewes. Today, you can make the steep climb up to the keep to be rewarded with panoramas of the Sussex countryside before heading to the Barbican next door – added in the 14th century, it’s now home to the Museum of Sussex Archaeology. 

 

Glyndebourne

When, in 1934, teacher John Christie and his wife, Sussex-born Canadian soprano Audrey Mildmay, opened a 300-seat opera house in Glynde (a middle-of-nowhere village four miles from Lewes) it seemed a bit daft. Today, following the creation of a new-and-improved 1,200-seat auditorium in 1992, Glyndebourne is among the UK’s best opera venues, showing performances between May and August. Accordingly, snagging tickets can feel like plucking hen’s teeth, so book well in advance. Not your jam? The Love Supreme Festival pumps up the volume on jazz performances at Glynde Place each summer.

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