The three As and I set off from Lewes train station under the bright blue sky and rare autumn sun, past the Anne of Cleves house and tramped up and over the steep chalk of the South Downs until, sweaty and hungry, we reached a pub in Rodmell village.
I’m not sure my decision had been entirely conscious – concentrating as I was on finding a walk that wouldn’t be too far away, too muddy, too long or too arduous — but suddenly (as I realised I’d chosen to visit lupine country) I felt as though I was on a pilgrimage. Did the eccentric couple ever take a break from the books to come down to the pub at the end of their road for a drink?
I was distracted from my introspection by the joys of roast beef, creamy Guinness and a little dog, wagging his tail under the table next to ours. We talked of what makes a good pub: real ale, old men in jumpers, whippets, steak-and-ale pies, a hearty welcome, and a roaring fire. We declared that winter walks are better than summer walks and described to each other the pleasures of wind-whipped rosy cheeks and mittens.
After lunch we walked past Monk’s House without stopping and down to the Ouse. The sun was suddenly small and squat in the darkening sky. The clocks had been put back – I was walking in the heartless spring of 1941. I offered up a series of prayers. The water was low and sluggish between its muddy banks. The world was shades of grey; shades of ash. War was on the horizon; no wonder the sun was setting.
My time-travelling mood passed as we picked up our pace. Lewes Castle in our sights, we marched at a brisk clip back into town, on the hunt for the tea and cakes promised by the walking guide. Lewes shuts early and we had to plump for the reserve tea stop – the White Hart Hotel.
Two trains and a tired jog returned me to the Sett for a reviving hot shower and mug of milk. Soon I was clean and safely tucked up in bed in my pink pajamas. I picked up the book I’ve been slowly rereading for months and read a few pages. Suddenly I was back at the White Hart in Lewes, as I read that the Woolves had used it as their benchmark when travelling abroad. I bet they also stopped for tea and cakes.