The mysterious chalk figure of The Long Man of Wilmington, which I wrote about yesterday on A Bad Witch's Blog, is close to the delightful East Sussex village of Alfriston. Do visit if you are in the area.
Nestling in the Cuckmere river valley, about a mile west of the Long Man of Wilmington over the South Downs Way, Alfriston has a long history.
Saxons first built a settlement there in the 5th century, although archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation since neolithic times. The village developed during the middle ages and was prosperous during the 18th and 19th centuries. It feels as though it has changed little since then, with medieval thatched cottages and a main street of Dickensian shops.
One of my favourites is Much Ado Books. Run by a lovely lady who originally comes from Salem, America's witch country, this bookshop is a maze of nooks and crannies stacked high with volumes new and old on every imaginable topic. I'm not totally surprised the owner was attracted to Alfriston, which had its own witch trial in 1580 when one Ursual Welfare was accused of bewitching a cow, eight chickens and two hens. Ursual was let off, unlike many unlucky inhabitants of Salem.
Tucked away at the back, Much Ado Books has a great secondhand occult section. I could have spent way too much when I was there, but restricted myself to only buying what I was prepared to carry around for the rest of the day.
I left Much Ado Books clutching The Element Encyclopedia of 5000 Spells, by Judika Illes, and made my way over to The Bats Wing Apothecary, just over the road. This wonderful shop looks like something straight out of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter books. The smell that greets you as you push open the door is amazing, from its shelves stacked high with dried herbs in jars, essential oils in bottles and lotions and potions to buy over the counter. It is run by herbalist Hera Jonas, who also offers herb walks along the edge of the River Cuckmere, looking for wildflowers and plants with medicinal properties.
Alfriston has a good selection of pubs and restaurants, but if you fancy a stroll across the river and over the fields to nearby Litlington, then I would recommend visiting the Litlington Tea Gardens. There you can sit in a peaceful terraced garden and be served English cream tea with scones, cream, jam and even cake and cucumber sandwiches if you want.
The gardens are also home to some more wonderful shops. If you like crystals, The Crystal Store is worth visiting. Not only does it have a great stock of stones and sparklies, its owner is extremely knowledgeable about the uses of crystals for healing and meditation and runs workshops. For more information, call 01323 871226.
Also in the garden is Cotyledon Country Crafts, which sells pagan books and new age music along with cards and ornaments. Di Webb, an artist who creates beautiful metalwork from recycled copper, has recently set up a stall there too. You can see examples of her work on http://www.creativecopperwork.co.uk/.
The shopping over, I settled down for a spiritually uplifting cream tea with my friends. This, however, sparked serious theological debate. Should one put the cream on the scone first, followed by the jam, or the other way around? One friend was firmly of the opinion that only jam followed by cream is the way to enlightenment, while the other followed with one true way of cream and then jam, and declared that anything else was heresy. I trod the middle path, putting cream then jam on one scone, and jam then cream on the other. I feel one should never be too dogmatic.