LEWES, the county town of East Sussex, straddles the River Ouse as it carves a gap through the South Downs on its final stretch to the sea. Though there's been some rebuilding, the core of Lewes remains remarkably good-looking: replete with crooked older dwellings, narrow lanes – or "Twittens" – and Georgian houses. The High Street is still dominated by the eleventh-century priory and castle (Tues– Sat 10am–5.30pm, Sun & Mon 11am–5.30pm; closed Mon in Jan; winter closes at dusk; £4.70) built here after the Norman Conquest. With some of England's most appealing chalkland close by and numerous traces of its long history still visible, Lewes is a worthwhile stopover on any tour of the Southeast – and an easy one, with good rail connections with London and along the coast.
The town is also famous for its unique Bonfire Night celebrations. Each November 5, while the rest of Britain lights small domestic bonfires to commemorate the 1605 foiling of a Catholic plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament, Lewes puts on a more dramatic show, whose origins lie in the burning of seventeen Protestant martyrs here in 1556, at the height of Mary Tudor's militant revival of Catholicism. Bonfire societies dress up in traditional costumes and parade up to the Downs where effigies of Guy Fawkes and the pope are burned alongside contemporary, but equally reviled, figures such as chancellors of the exchequer and prime ministers.