It has to be said - I've had a ball in Lewes. A town I didn't know, had probably driven through twice and had made a mental note to attend on their legendary bonfire night celebrations. Nothing more, though I had always been very curious.
The ley lines felt right from the start. It's hard to sum up Chapter One of my 'No Fixed Address' phase on my last night here, other than to say that it's been a town I will definitely hold close to my heart, a town that celebrates its non-conformity in a quiet-ish way, a town that has some fabulous pubs, is of such a manageable size that I immediately felt at home here, tucked away in Pipe Passage, minutes away from the centre and the station but without a passing traffic sound at night, other than a frequently howling wind.
This is a town steeped in history and culture. I delighted in the fact that I was living two minutes walk away from Shirley Collins cottage (and whilst living here, I saw her make her historic and much-anticipated comeback to the gig circuit at the ripe old age of 82, ironically in Bristol) and right opposite her lives John May, who I re-met tonight after he'd come to the Campfire Conversation Lewes event - a counter-culture icon and a man who probably knows more about leftfield life since the 60s than most and who has the most impressive archives of magazines and press cuttings that he's currently trying to locate to a library for public reference. Walking around his house is like being in a bookshop.
And then there's the thriving folk scene here - I was lucky enough to be at a Len Graham night in the function room above the Elephant and Castle and also attended a tunes session in the John Harvey tavern where I was the only person in the room without an instrument and felt like a gatecrasher. It was riveting, English country dance tunes playing on many instruments, club members swapping stories about the source material and how they had come across the tunes. History and context making the whole night a highlight of my visit.
Then there was that walk over the beacon, heading east from Lewes, up the steep hill by the golf course and descending into Glynde, on a sunny Saturday in early March. Feeling like I was on top of the world, a great way to welcome in spring, even if all the trains back were cancelled when I got to Glynde.
And shortly afterwards, the Campfire Conversation. That I felt confident enough after meeting up with David Pope to launch into a booking of the White Hart said a lot about the spirit of Lewes. The symbolism of the location of our first Campfire Conversation of the year was brought home to me when one of our attendees pointed out that we were in the very upstairs room that Thomas Paine used for debating at The Headstrong Club when he lived in the town between 1768 and 1774. Paine went on to greater things, now being credited, if Googled, with a legacy of "Founding Father of the United States” no less. From little acorns...
Appropriately, the founder of the modern iteration of The Headstrong Club (launched in 1987,on the 250th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Paine), John May himself, was in attendance at the Lewes Campfire Conversation, who was feeling "very nervous" about being back in a room "so full of ghosts". Paine has since become the poster boy of radical Lewes. May reiterated that "you don't mess with Lewes". I felt like a country boy coming to town, knowing my place and not overstating it. May later told me that I underplayed the importance of Campfire being there.
And then there is that castle view - I'm convinced that this house has the very best view of all. I'll miss it and my garden office, which I've used on three or four occasions. the weather down here really is a few degrees warner than elsewehere.
So it's quite an emotional goodbye to Lewes. I've loved you and used you, I've squeezed the very best out of you and hopefully given enough back to sow some seeds that can grow and flourish as spring takes hold.