Standing on tiptoe to peer over the ancient battlements, Thing One gazed at the stunning vista before her. Mount Caburn, the Ouse, the Downs... ‘Ooh look’, she cried excitedly, tugging my sleeve, ‘You can see Prezzo.’ So you could. We were right above the restaurant’s blue and white umbrellas. Pretty damn handy for Simon de Montfort; he could shimmy over the wall whenever he fancied a pepperoni calzone.
The castle’s crumbly stone steps were replaced in the recent refurb, and now they’re as uniform as an Ikea staircase. This has removed most of the risk in climbing up, which used to be rather thrilling if you were with anyone young or infirm. Still, some of the new steps have writing on, which means an enthusiastic reader like Thing One will stop dead at random intervals, causing all behind her to bump together with small, painful thuds, while she carefully spells out, ‘Fiends of Lewes Rottery Club.’
Other alterations are great. The wooden lever thing, with which you hoik foam bricks to make a wall, keeps grown-ups amused, and is handily placed next to a bench. Small children can hide behind the foam wall, then pop out with a ‘Boo!’ which echoes powerfully round the circular stone room, scaring the bejesus out of parents who have briefly drifted off. Health ‘n’ Safety, that well-known double act, have cordoned off the top of the tower where once you could lean precariously over the town. Having spent much windswept time there, clinging onto a small child’s leg, sometimes even my own child’s leg, I’m glad this has changed. The dressing up room is wonderful as ever, providing doublets and headdresses of all sizes, so everyone in the family can see what medieval clothes look like with trainers.
We persuaded the children to watch the educational film about Lewes because it was on a ‘big telly’. For young people reared on the colourful action of Chop Socky Chooks, it was a little slow, consisting of blurred photographs accompanied by a dull commentary. But they waited patiently for the bit I’d told them about, which I remembered from some years back, when the little train comes to life and starts chugging round the model of Lewes. I was looking forward to this as much as the kids, but when the narration reached the part about the railway, the train didn’t budge. Thing Two gazed at me, eyes full of betrayal. I quizzed the man behind the desk why the train didn’t go, and he told me it never had.
Something the castle doesn’t shout about, but which is very much worth knowing, is that if you fill in a gift aid form when you buy your tickets, you get a year’s free pass. So now we can visit every weekend if we want. And we will. I want to keep an eye on that little train. I’m sure it will go round, if I can catch it in the right mood.
Beth Miller, 31st March 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com and in Viva Lewes magazine, May 2010. Photo by Alex Leith