This is England Day 2 – West Sussex, East Sussex, Kent, Surrey, Berkshire
“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” AA Milne
After 13 hours on the road we arrive at The Eight Bells in Bolney, West Sussex to a raucous welcome. Well, the raucousness was to celebrate Jimmy’s 80th birthday and it felt only right to join the fun, especially when you’re offered a free tequila shot. Well, when in West Sussex…
A restorative sleep and 12 hours later we were on the road for Day 2 of our This is England tour. First stop, the Ouse Valley Viaduct. Built in 1842, it’s still carrying passengers from London to Brighton and back again. A quick yomp through a field and we’re up close to the marvel of engineering, clambering through its structures to enjoy a serene moment in the morning sunshine. Just as well we were on our own, Becks climbing the viaduct in a short dress could have earnt her some money in some sections of the tinterweb.
Our landlady for the night used to run the local pub, whose cold cellar was once used as a temporary mortuary for the many who died during its construction, both through yellow fever and bad balance. She proudly told us of the psychics who told her that the bar was haunted by the sad souls who never made it home.
“It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what.” John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga
A short (for us) drive down the road we arrived in Lewes, East Sussex. The lovely County town best known for a Battle between Henry III and Simon De Montfort in 1264 (De Montfort won). We’re here to satisfy our bibliophile desires in The Fifteenth Century Bookshop.
We entered the shop with its low beamed ceilings with shafts of light from the tiny windows highlighting the stacks and rows of second hand books. The musty, familiar smell of old books brought sighs of happiness, it certainly sounded like book porn. Every shelf seemed to yield another delight and when surveying her piles of purchases, I could see that Becks wished she’d set up a ‘pay per view’ live stream of her climbing adventures on the Viaduct.
Whilst rummaging around the stacks we discovered the books of H.V. Morton, the first journalist into the tomb of Tutankhamun. He had first explored England in a bull-nosed Morris motorcar in 1926 and wrote “In Search of England’ which detailed his adventures. We now have some tyre tracks to follow on our road trip.
The long, two-and-a-half-hour drive to Canterbury wasn’t without incident. Someone pulling out unexpectedly caused a proliferation of swear words, lightening quick reflexes from Becks and a large black streak of tyre marks on the road. The perpetrator pulled over to apologise profusely, he’d had sad news that day and he wasn’t on top form. No harm no foul, so with nerves slightly jangled we went on our way.
We arrived in Canterbury a little behind schedule to find we’d missed the opening hours of the Cathedral. Saint Thomas Becket’s shrine was not to be viewed by us that day. It did, though, give us the chance to wander the streets of the city, enjoying the history, lovely ice cream and impromptu Morris dancing, all with an unexpected reggae vibe.
We also witnessed a Pro Europe / Anti Brexit protest which heartened me no end. One thing that this trip is showing me is the multitude of cultures and nations that have made this island so varied and interesting. It’s good to know that others agree.
But enough about politics, onwards to Surrey!
“I visited Surrey in the early fall of 1994, and I would return only if I was tasked to kill a demon to save the world. Maybe not even then. Sorry, Surrey. Sorry, world. Yay hypothetical demon.” Patton Oswalt, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland
Car crazy started seeping in at about 5pm. As ever, it started slowly and had reached peak madness by the time we reached Crowhurst in Surrey, site of a supposedly 4000 year old Yew tree. After an hour of subdued silence, hysteria had set in and by the time we left the car to explore a churchyard for the old tree in question, I’m not entirely convinced were sane or polite enough to be on such hallowed ground.
The tree itself allowed us to exercise some of our pent-up energy by providing a playground for hide and seek and a trunk big enough to hug. A decision was then made to make an impromptu addition to our itinerary and find a welcoming beer garden to enjoy some bank holiday sun and a cheeky half. The Bell in Godstone provided the perfect setting.
But time and tides wait for no women, even ones as fabulous as us. We need to wave at the queen before bedtime.
“They say an actor is only as good as his parts. Well, my parts have done me pretty well darling” Barbara Windsor (Yes, I got bored, you try and find a good quote about Berkshire!)
Windsor on a busy bank holiday sunny Sunday is not a place to be when you’re hangry, tired and a little travel weary. There were people, lots of people, everywhere. After 5 failed attempts to find fine food we gave up and went to a burger bar. It did provide us with a view of Windsor Castle (hello, Queeny!) and a lovely walk over the Thames with Queeny’s swans-a-swimming, and a gorgeous pink sunset, so not all was lost.
So with another 5 counties ticked off the list we’re making our way, mostly silently apart from the odd burger burp, to our lodgings in Oxford.