The Runaway Buffet and Snack Bar is unusual in that’s it’s the sort of cafe you tend to frequent by default. Located as it is on Platform 2 of Lewes railway station it’s a godsend when you’re passing through and have a wait for your next train. We’d just alighted from the Brighton train and had twenty minutes until our train to Glynde was due and the thought of a cuppa at the Runaway was most welcome.
The Runaway has a few quirks that stand it out from the usual bland corporate outlets that are more common on railway platforms. For a start classical music is always playing and then there’s the clock on the wall that is always five minutes fast. The unique Runaway time zone is a helpful idiosyncrasy as it means you’re unlikely to miss the train you’re passing time in the cafe waiting for.
With such a tasty menu of home made specials it’s worth taking time over your transit to have a tasty breakfast or lunch here too. Lots of jacket potatoes, panini and toasted sandwiches as well as soups and cakes. The cafe featured on Radio 4 on the late John Peel’s Home Truths show as part of a commuter’s radio diary. Famous too for the custom of the late Diana, Princess of Wales who stopped off here to order one of their legendary bacon sandwiches.
The service is always friendly and its a cafe I’ve frequented for years off and on whenever I’ve been passing through Lewes station. With an eye on that express clock, it was time to make a move and get on with catching the train and the main business of the day. Refreshed by our teas we were ready for more than a few miles rambling along the Old Coach Road from Firle to Alfriston. This ancient route runs parallel and at the foot of the South Downs and is great if you like your routes direct and straightforward and with no more unexpected detours.
The eponymous tea rooms sit in the heart of the historic downland village of Ditchling just across from the ancient church. If you’re looking for somewhere cosy and comfortable for a pot of tea then this is your place. It may be slightly worn around the edges, a bit confused in its sense of decor and with a rather lived-in feel like a comfy pair of slippers but it’s the home of the giant scone. I wonder if this USP will be enough to brave off the stiff competition for a cuppa in a world where latest styles and trends hold sway.
All within spitting distance of the tea rooms there’s the recently opened Mr Magnolia’s coffee shop right on the crossroads as well as the brand new Ditchling Art and Craft museum’s cafe by the pond. For such a tiny village it’s become a bit of a cafe hotspot all of a sudden. Is there a bun fight for the competition or will they all attract their own particular clientele?
We’d taken the train to Hassocks and walked along the small lane past the restored Oldland windmill and then the contour-following footpaths with views to the South Downs before dropping into the village. It’s a restorative 50 minutes walk and and an easy way to escape the city, breath in lungfuls of fresh country air and soak up loads of Sussex village charm.
The original beamed tea rooms have a bakery attached with many of their cakes and a wicker tray of their famous giant scones on show in the period bow window. There’s a lovely aroma from the log fire burning slowly in the grate in the back room. During the summer the walled patio garden is my favourite spot but on a cold winter’s day inside was a preferable warm and cosy choice. They’re very much traditional tea rooms and seem as if they’ve always been here. Although no longer called Dolly’s Pantry, long-standing regulars like myself occasionally slip up in its nomenclature. You can tuck into soups, toasties, jackets and specials of the day and absorb some of its old world allure while facing off the inclement weather outside and refueling for the afternoon’s return walk.
The tea rooms have braved off competition before but the two new kids in the village come with their shiny stylish interiors and the vigour of just-opened new businesses. Only time will tell if there’s room for all three cafes in Ditchling. So even if it’s not buns at dawn there’s bound to be at least a battle of the cupcakes or maybe those giant scones will flatten any challengers.
It’s so easy to get distracted from what you want to do each day. I’ve just spent an hour or so browsing through the Guardian’s bookstore and then ordering a load of books recommended on the site from Brighton and Hove libraries. This is a bit of an austerity measure on my part and of course a way of supporting my local library service too. As I read on average a book a week then add to that number the books I start and decide not to finish that’s around 150 books a year. At say £8.00 per book new that would come to around £1,200 a year. An expensive pastime but as most of them are sourced from my local library, at a reserve charge of 50p each time, and the rest bought in charity shops and a few borrowed from friends I save around £1,100 a year.
Another money saving tip is to go to the Llama farm and just visit the cafe. I do have a soft spot for llamas as they are very cute. So combining the two, a cafe with llamas? When you enter the first thing you’re aware of is the pan pipe music of South America as you walk through the gift shop. The scarves and bags are made from the most incredibly soft wool but you have to be very determined and continue headlong direct for the cafe.
The cafe has wonderful views over the Sussex Weald being on a high point at the edge of the Ashdown Forest. There’s a patio and lots of outdoor seating but with the sharp easterly still blowing we decided on a table indoors. The colours are warm yellow and terracotta with light natural wood seating. The food is simple and all home made. I tucked into a warming and tasty butternut squash and vegetable crumble with salad while my fellow llama lovers went for the baked potato options, all very reasonably priced. There are Llama shortbread biscuits to continue the theme and some quirky Llama baked bites with the mantra ‘ One mammal’s mission to rid the world of boring snacks.’ The South American theme is evident in the ceramic vases on each table and the shelves of ornaments.
Suitably replenished we walked back through the gift shop again on the way out and marvelled for the second time at how soft the wool was and got distracted by the jewellery, pottery and musical instruments. We even spotted some llamas grazing outside. It’s probably worth the entrance fee to go and have a proper look at the llamas and alpacas but for this visit anyway the cafe for lunch and the browse around the gift shop was sufficient novelty for the time being.
Life offers many wonderful distractions from cafes to llamas and books to lunch. Some of them can save you money while others are worthwhile just for themselves. The trick is to combine these elements and make for an austerity rich sort of life.
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Find out more about the Llama Park