"It's a Waitrose bag town, but without any of the pretentiousness," said Nigel Large while handing me a sample of goat's cheese from his stall in Lewes high street.

Amid the unexpected bustle of weekday shoppers strolling between independent outlets, I spotted Nigel strumming his acoustic guitar outside a cheese stand.

He was the first person I bumped into after I arrived in the town on a mission to find out why it was voted one of the best in the country to visit by consumer website Which?.

And Nigel seemed to have all of the answers.

The Argus: A woman wearing a straw hat crossing over the Cliffe Bridge

The well-travelled Midlands expat said nowhere in the world quite compares to Lewes. He said: "It's a fascinating place with a fascinating demographic. It's liberal middle class, I would say. A Waitrose bag town."

This does not come as a surprise, though, since the nearest supermarket to the town centre is just that.

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Waitrose also has a firm presence in Brighton's city centre, and yet both places could not feel so different - despite the fact they are only 15 minutes away by train.

"Lewes is everything Brighton wants to be. Brighton is too frenetic," said Nigel before going off to assist a casual shopper who was "just taking a look" at his broad and strong-scented selection of cheeses.

His stall sits on the pedestrianised Cliffe High Street, in the east end of the county town, among several others stocking fruits, vegetables and trinkets.

The Argus: A fruit and vegetable stall in the high streetA fruit and vegetable stall in the high street (Image: Andrew Gardner / The Argus)

"The layout of the town helps. There is this nice pedestrian precinct which is effectively traffic-free, and it makes all the difference", he said.

The high street is surrounded by a mix of chain and independent shops turning it into a one-stop multi-stop shop for the discerning consumer.

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Gardener Becky Hill was enjoying the last of the summer sun with a shopping trip in the town.

She is one of 675 people who live in the small village of Isfield, which - to my surprise - is pronounced is-field, and not eye-field.

Becky has the choice of travelling to Uckfield or Lewes for her shopping, and opted for the slower pace of shopping in the town. She said: "I want to potter about and go into nice shops, and Lewes lets me do that.  It’s got a very chilled-out atmosphere."

The Argus: Becky said the range of shops in Lewes is what attracts her to the areaBecky said the range of shops in Lewes is what attracts her to the area (Image: Andrew Gardner / The Argus)

I sat down for lunch overlooking the River Ouse, tucking into a steak pasty and salad at the Riverside Cafe. It certainly beats the office view... and my embarrasingly regular diet of Tesco meal deals.

Lewes was given four stars for its food in the Which? poll, one mark higher than first-place Arundel. It's easy to see why, as tables and chairs sprawled onto the pavement outside a number of establishments on the high street serving everything from pizzas to pies.

The Argus: Cliffe Antiques Centre has sat on the high street for over 25 yearsCliffe Antiques Centre has sat on the high street for over 25 years (Image: Andrew Gardner / The Argus)

However, not everyone feels Lewes will stay on this list for much longer. Shortly after, I met with Lewes resident and shop worker at Cliffe Antiques Hilary Lloyd, who said the town is straying away from its independent past.

"The precinct was full of rubbish a few weeks ago, no cash in the cash machine, and Boots was closed," she said.

"People come out and say it is such a nice town, but I struggle to see this sometimes. People who are living here see and feel things differently to tourists."

The Argus: The WHSmith is one of the first shops pedestrians see when walking down Cliffe High StreetThe WHSmith is one of the first shops pedestrians see when walking down Cliffe High Street (Image: Andrew Gardner / The Argus)

Hilary has lived in Lewes for the last 39 years, but says it is becoming harder to live in. She added: "If you live here, where do you go to buy things? You used to be able to buy towels, bedding, saucepans, screws, everything you'd need, but now unless you want a coffee, that is about it."

"We have a peculiar shop that sells cash for gold, a cheap and nasty Domino's pizza, there is no thought to what comes into the town."

Numerous shops sit empty on the high street, which Hilary puts down to rising business rates in the town making it harder for independent stores to stay afloat.

The Argus: A shop to let in Lewes High StreetA shop to let in Lewes High Street (Image: Andrew Gardner / The Argus)

Perhaps the town is a victim of its own success. In many places, the new has blended with the old - or attempted to - in order to accommodate for a larger population and bigger tourist figures.

There is a strange transitional space between the upper high street and Cliffe high street, populated by college students and chain cafes and shops, but in a toned-back, classy kind of way.

The Argus: People walking down an alleyway alongside Lewes High StreetPeople walking down an alleyway alongside Lewes High Street (Image: Andrew Gardner / The Argus)

Similarly, the town is gearing up for one of the largest events in its calendar, with just a matter of weeks until it is transformed into the "bonfire capital of the world" on November 5. Some 30 bonfire societies will take to the streets in a torchlit procession, dragging effigies of political and current figures to be burnt at one of six bonfires, also marking the death of the 17 Lewes protestant Martyrs who were burned at the stake in the late 1550s.

Once a local event for local people, it now attracts spectators in the tens of thousands - leading the local authority, police and other stakeholders to limit visitor numbers by closing roads and axing the train service.

The Argus: Lewes Bonfire: credit - Andrew Gardner

Despite all of this, tourists continue to arrive in droves, though.

David Reeds travelled all the way from Sydney, Australia, to visit the town, and his family, said: "We went to the brewery and checked out some of the lovely flint walls here. There's not as much history in Australia as here."

The Argus: Tourists walk towards the Barbican Gate at Lewes CastleTourists walk towards the Barbican Gate at Lewes Castle (Image: Andrew Gardner / The Argus)

In his home country, he is one of twelve 'satellite controllers' which operate communication equipment in space. The ultra-modern spacecraft is a stark difference to Lewes Castle, towering over the town since the 11th century.

The Argus: David ReedsDavid Reeds (Image: Andrew Gardner / The Argus)