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.
With Christmas just around the corner it was time to escape the frenzy of the shops and indulge in some cycling with a well planned tea stop en route. Half an hour’s bike ride away is Shoreham airport along Sustrans route 2, winding its way through Portslade, Southwick and then Shoreham. The Adur was at high tide as I crossed over the Old Toll Bridge then turned south onto the airport perimeter road. The bright orange wind sock was showing a strong south-westerly wind though I knew that already on cycling the five or six miles to get here.
The airport cafe was reinvented as the Hummingbird some time ago, bringing out all the best of its art deco features with the huge windows overlooking the airfield being the prime ones. You get wonderful views out towards the South Downs with Lancing College in the foreground with merry clouds scudding across the wintry blue sky.
It’s a huge roomy space with light oak flooring and chalky walls offset by the dark wood tables and chairs. There’s a touch of greenery from the huge sprouting pot plants and there’s even a mini grand piano with a programme of live music to look out for.
Given the season there was the ubiquitous sparkling tree and uplifting Michael Buble soundtrack of all the festive hits. It’s a place for families, friends and work colleagues to meet up, it’s got a bustle and an air of conviviality about it.
As it’s Truffles Bakery who are the new operators, the freshly backed scones and cakes make a terrific spread and are very keenly priced. My pot of tea and delicious fruit scone came to just £2.80. Lunches are tasty too and they were doing a brisk trade. The friendly staff are kitted out in black with the white hummingbird logo and were busy keeping their customers happy.
Shoreham Airport has stacks of history surrounding it with the first flight taken by Harold Piffard on his self-built Hummingbird bi-plane on the 10th July 1910.
On the way back I cycled over the new Adur pedestrian and cyclists bridge and now with a bit of a tail wind behind me the homeward journey was a bit easier.
My daughter arrived back home for Christmas later in the day so it was business as usual with loud music blaring from her room and racket as she and her friend stumbled back in the small hours after clubbing. Or so she told me. I slept through it all, sound asleep after my blustery cycle ride to the Hummingbird.
Whenever I visit Charleston I always make sure it’s a gorgeous day so that I can enjoy my tea and cake in the folly garden. The main Outer Studio cafe is indoors but there is a small walled garden through to the back where you can easily pass some time admiring the plants and flowers in this lovely secluded little spot.
After walking over the Downs for a good few miles starting from Bishopstone station and continuing along the Old Coach Road at the foot of the Downs some refreshments were in order. The cafe inside has whitewashed walls and a blackboard listing the cakes of the day which were all under wraps to ward off the wasps. Sitting on ceramic cake stands atop tables covered with colourful Bloomsbury style flower prints, the choice of cakes was just about right to easily make up your mind. A vintage record player filled the interior with smooth jazz notes while we placed our orders.
Outside water lilies float on the small pond in the centre of the gravelled walled garden with a statue of a naked figure looking as if he’s just about ready to leap in. All manner of foliage and summer flowers surround this central feature with colour and perfume. With seating of just a few tables set out here it was fortunate that the rush had just finished and we were able to choose a place in the shade. The pear and almond tart was perfect with my pot of tea and the chance to sit down and rest a while was welcome.
Later I took a walk around the larger cottage garden in full bloom and bursting with flowers and fruit. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, the founders of the Bloomsbury group, lived in the farmhouse from 1916. They redesigned the garden in a style with more than a nod to the Mediterranean with mosaics, box hedges, gravel paths and ponds. It’s lovely to walk around and to come across secluded areas each with their own feature. Like the corner with the female torso with bright flowers bursting forth from it.
The Bloomsbury group were all about bringing together like minded writers, painters and intellectuals of the time and were fortunate enough to have such a beautiful house and garden to welcome them to. Most years I hold a summer garden party at home as an excuse to bring all my different strands of friends together. Even though many have never met before they usually all get on surprisingly well and it’s rewarding to see new connections being made.
It’s been a funny old time for me recently. I’ve lost a daughter to university, got a new job and lost that too. While working out what to do next I find that meditation is good for keeping myself centered as well as continuing with my cycling, seeing friends and getting out into the outdoors.
Saturday was a beautiful bright day and as we walked towards the ridge of the South Downs Way we spotted the parascenders and para-gliders floating high up in the blue sky. Some days there are none at all but when the weather conditions are just right it seems they all come out to play. I counted at least thirty of them letting the thermals do all the work while they watched the world from high above.
We turned southwards again along a different track with a tea stop in mind. A few miles of hiking later our next stop was in sight. As well as cafes I do like a bit of a browse and Emmaus in Portslade Old Village offers both. Emmaus is global charity for homeless people and is sited in a former convent just up Drove Road from the village centre. All the second hand goods have been well sorted through and you can pick up just about anything you’re looking for from the huge array of stuff on offer. I headed straight for the books and picked up three paperbacks for 30p each, considerably cheaper than the usual £1.50/£2.00 in a lot of other charity shops. We also managed to find some home ware that we were looking for all in wonderful condition. There is also a retro specialist area called the Emporium, set in the former church as part of the site, where items are priced considerably cheaper than in equivalent shops in Brighton.
The cafe has been revamped recently and extended and is much the better for it. The first thing I noticed on going in was the old boy playing away on the piano, he seemed quite happy and the sound of music always raises the spirits. All the furniture and pictures are original pieces from some decades ago giving an eclectic feel. The sun was shining through the south facing windows and I found a comfortable sofa once I’d ordered my mug of tea. There’s a huge menu of cooked meals and snacks so you don’t need to go hungry after all that bargain hunting.The cafe is missing a trick though as the serving area is just a small hatch with the service rather perfunctory. There are cakes on offer but they are not on display! It’s a lovely space but with a bit more insight into how cafes work it could be really great.
So another Saturday, another walk and another tea stop. The bus stop was just a short walk away through the grounds of St Nicolas parish church one of the oldest churches in Brighton. We picked up the number one bus for the short journey back home.
Life is about change and no more so when you are a mum of a teenager. My gorgeous eighteen year old daughter got her A Level results recently and she’s been accepted at Nottingham University to read American Studies. She’s about to fly the nest in a matter of weeks and all the adjustment that will come with that both for herself and for me. When there’s a lot going on in my mind getting on my bike to visit a cafe is a great antidote.
It takes about half an hour to cycle from my home in west Hove to Shoreham along the back roads which are fairly quiet with not much traffic at all. I had a picnic lunch sitting by the banks of the Adur first. The tidal river was about as high as I’ve ever seen it and there were great views over to Lancing College and the recently restored old toll bridge and of course the art deco airport. Some kayakers were paddling upstream, a father and son, and a few office workers crossed over the bridge for a lunchtime break from the engineering company based on the western bank. Lunch eaten I cycled over the bridge too taking the eastern perimeter airport road down towards the main airport terminal. I’ve been visiting this airport ever since I moved to Brighton. It’s an art deco gem and being on Brighton’s urban fringe you get a sense of getting out of town without having to go very far.
Straightaway on entering the cafe I noticed some changes and found out that Truffles, a local Bakery company, has recently taken over the running of the cafe. Food did look improved and there was an impressive line-up of cakes and scones on the counter. The cafe itself is spacious and light with plenty of windows allowing great views over the airfield. The best seating though is outside when the weather is good enough so that’s where I headed for. Being lunchtime there was plenty of take-offs and landings of mainly small Cessna aircraft and it can get a bit noisy at times. You get fantastic views of the Downs from here all the way from Annington Hill in the west over the Arun valley with the familiar landmark of the old cement works tower towards Beeding Hill and Truleigh Hill to the east with its communication masts and youth hostel.
Being a grade two listed building inside the main terminal there are loads of original art deco features such as the whispering gallery on the first floor. There is also an exhibition of black and white photography on the ground floor showing the even earlier days of the airport from around 1910 in the days when planes were made of wood.
I remember taking my daughter to the airport here many times during the school holidays when she was much younger and enjoying the cafe ambiance and the distraction of all the flight activity. Those days are gone in much the same way as the wooden planes have and its new pastures and new adventures for both of us.
I’ve recently been reading ‘Philosophy For Life and Other Dangerous Situations’ by Jules Evans. He talks about how the ideas of the ancient Greek philosophers still have a bearing on life today. The Stoics believed that the only thing you can have in your control is your beliefs. Attempting to have control of anything else just brings us suffering and grief. Resilience comes from focusing on what is in our control while not getting worked up about what isn’t. So really it’s all just about having a positive mind-set and focusing your attention on the things you can manage and direct. I’ve often described myself as being stoical, in relation to my walking and cycling, without understanding where the word came from. I tend to just go out in all weathers and just get on with it, taking what pleasure I can even if the weather isn’t what most people would call ideal for being in the outdoors.
We took the train north out of Brighton to Hassocks, just the other side of the Downs. Heading along the footpath just outside the station we followed the railway line to start with and then followed the lane that goes past the Jack and Jill pub. It started to get muddy as soon as we took the path that winds towards the top of the hill. The ground underfoot was particularly muddy with all the recent rain but we soon reached the ridge. The sheep didn’t seem to mind the wet conditions and neither did we really with our rain jackets on over our light summer clothing. Wolstonbury Hill is National Trust land and earthworks and findings date back to the early neolithic/ late bronze age. At 206 metres it’s not the highest point around but there are some fantastic views from the top looking down over mid Sussex. We sheltered from the wind to have our lunch. We had a clear-out from the fridge that morning and came up with some tasty morsels to make up our picnic. Today it was a mixture of felafels, olives, mixed leaves, tomatoes, oat cakes, avocado and fruit juice.
We weren’t too sure of the route back down but found the bridle way that led down towards Foxhole Cottages and then along Bedlam Street. The village of Hurstpierpoint was now within our sights and we started to look forward to the cafe stop of the day.
Kiki and Cole Flowers & Cafe has just been open for a year or so and I was eager to see what it was like. You have to pass through the florists area first where some furniture painting takes place too. The main cafe is very shabby chic, colourful and stylish and it all seems to work together. There are bright oil cloths on the tables and the wonderful cakes sit on a variety of stands on the old sideboard. there are lots of fresh flowers on the tables and the paintwork is that blue-sea green colour that reminds me of French shutters. Colourful bunting is strung across the ceiling towards the kitchen area which is integral to the main room. We went for a huge slab of the raspberry and white chocolate cake and lots of tea to refresh us from all the walking and fresh air we’d just experienced. It always seems a bit of a treat to relax in a cafe after having been out walking for a few hours. The bohemian outside loo is worth a look too but maybe only in the summer unless you’re very stoic indeed.