I am fortunate enough to live on the border of three southern counties – Hampshire, Sussex and Surrey – which means I can zip up to London or down to Dorset in one hour each. This is where I grew up in the South Downs, and although the town in which I live is really quite lovely, I often feel a little wanderlust to explore the countryside further afield. So this weekend, my boyfriend and I decided to venture down to East Sussex for a spring fling by the sea.
The trip was particularly apt for me to test-drive my new Beachcomber coat from Lighthouse Clothing, a hot, yellow number with a nautical twang perfect for beating away the rain and sea breeze. I wanted something a little more stylish than the usual meagre cagoule, and I’ve been delighted with the tailored fit and amazing colour of this waterproof. The toggles provide a pleasant fisherman’s finish, and the high neck fastening really has protected me against our wonderful English drizzle…
Our day began with a quick stop in Lewes to raid the bookshops and eat cake. We found an amazing homeware shop called Closet & Botts which sold a vast number of beautiful things that we couldn’t justify buying, like enamel crockery and dreamy soaps. Then we found Lewesiana, a tearoom/florist filled with delicious aromas. Dave had swarthy coffee and oozy brownie; I had scones and Earl Grey with blue mallow flowers.
We soon trotted off to our next destination. Ever since cycling the South Downs Way a few years ago and tootling past the village of Rodmell, I’ve been desperate to return and visit Monk’s House, the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf and now a National Trust property. Today was the day! The house and gardens were the country residence of Virginia, her husband and many visiting friends from the Bloomsbury Group, and it was where she wrote many of her best works. Winding through the surrounding fields also lies the River Ouse, where she drowned herself with stone-filled pockets in 1941.
Most excitingly, the house is still filled with lots of the art and decoration that the Woolfs chose themselves, including ceramics painted by Virginia’s sister Vanessa Bell. By the fireplace in the bedroom there are several tiles depicting the lighthouse from Virginia’s 1927 masterpiece To the Lighthouse, and on the hearth you can read the handpainted inscription ‘VW from VB 1930’. We also loved the turquoise colour painted in the living room and echoed throughout the house, which the steward told us was Virginia’s choice and that Farrow & Ball had once reproduced it in paint, named ‘Monk’s House Green’.
Even in early April, the garden was overflowing with life and colour. Vibrant butterflies skipped across the flowerbeds and we saw a great crested newt in the pond! At two o’clock a lovely man called Larry arranged the visitors in sun-drenched deck chairs on the lawn and read a passage from Between the Acts; I was asked to play a female character and perform some lines in the middle, which was fun! We played bowls on the lawn – something which the Woolfs were very keen on and apparently kept scores on every game they played – and visited the allotments at the back. Later, a blue tit visited us outside the writing room.
We left Monk’s House mid-afternoon and lunched on homemade tomato and garlic soup from the Thermos, accompanied by Ribena and dried banana. The surrounding countryside looked tempting, very flat, chartreuse pastures encircled by rolling downs. We found the River Ouse and lots of horses grazing, and bought six big duck eggs from a local farm (great with asparagus).
Just before heading home, we drove to Eastbourne and found ourselves up on the cliffs of Beachy Head, where it was now drizzling heartily. We looked over the edge and found a lighthouse, took a few silly photos and then warmed up in the local inn with a cider. Cheers to Lighthouse Clothing for my amazing Beachcomber, which served me faithfully through a typical day of British weather which started in glorious sunshine and ended in a downpour. Here’s to more adventures!