Brighton and (sensible) day trips from Brighton.
by MagdaDH_AlexH on July 21, 2012
We lived in Brighton for about five months in the late 1990s, in fact we got married in Brighton, in the registry office not a bouquet's throw from the wonderful, extrovert, mock-Oriental glory of the Brighton Pavilion. Alas, being poor as registry office mice we had never made it inside, and thus I only know the lavish interiors of that amazing building from photos. Still, it's almost certainly worth visiting if you can afford the exorbitant fees being charged (it is now 10 GBP to enter the Pavilion, it was 5 all those years ago - I still remember, but a fiver then was easily as much as a tenner is today) as much for the artistic and historical interest, as for the connections to the Regency romances (from Jane Austin to Georgette Eyer). In fact, the Pavilion would be a good introduction to the whole of Brighton and by proxy, to the Georgian and Regency periods in British history, very much iconic and exerting a powerful influence even now, and yet a very complex one, where the power of the Empire was just beginning to reach its apex and which marked flourishing of science, literature and particularly visual arts (painting and architecture), previously somewhat underdeveloped under the puritan/protestant influences. And yet the same time saw incredible poverty, rural and urban squalor of unprecedented extent, uprooting of the whole populations, and resulting crime and accompanying (harsh) punishments, all of which was only beginning to be alleviated in the Victorian era as a combined effect of actions of philanthropists, social reformers and increasingly influential socialism. Maybe the period owes its attraction precisely to this contrast between the highest sophistication of the mind and manners and the brutishness and squalor of the dark side of the era. Regardless of all this, Brighton is all about the Regency/Georgian periods, having been created as a fashionable resort by none other than Prince Regent himself, and until this day the most charming streets and districts of the city date to that period, with graceful crescents and terraces of creamy-white town-houses and delightful public squares. The later periods embraced Brighton as a resort too - it was too close to London to be forgotten - and thus, over time, it acquired a Victorian promenade, a couple of typical English seaside piers, one of the oldest aquariums in England and later on a modern marina, a nudist beach, a left-leaning 1960s university and a reputation for being a gay capital of Britain. At times counter-cultural, at times sleazy, at times snobbishly metropolitan with soaring property prices, Brighton remains a place that is very much alive and, despite all the posturings of the locals, incomers and visitors, very real, with a surprising variety of things to see and do for all types of visitors. You might not like it, but if you are staying in London or anywhere south of the capital, the trip is cheap and quick ( frequent trains or an hour's drive in good traffic from the southern reaches of the city). And if you never have been to an English seaside resort, this is your chance, and there is more to see there than just a crappy pebbly beach, tacky pier amusements and fish and chips on the promenade. But do go to the beach and the pier, the experience is incomplete without it.
I sometimes think I come from a completely different planet than all other people out there, but I have to say that, despite all the good reviews, one place in Brighton I would avoid is the small shopping district called the Lanes (or The Laines as the local spelling would have it). In my opinion it is a totally over-hyped and over-priced collection of stores that tries very hard to be interesting and ''quirky''. Yes, there are some places here that, if you live in Brighton or the area, you might have a genuine need for, for example bookshops and vinyl record shops; and there are cafes and eating places which is a nice thing for weary legs. But overall I really think the place is mostly a tourist trap mostly (I am sure I will now hear a chorus of locals that say it's nothing of the sort). It reminded me of Granville Island in Vancouver. In the final analysis, unless you need something specific (and if yes, why aren't you buying it online?) or shopping is something you do as a freely-chosen leisure activity, then The Laines is a place to visit in Brighton.
by MagdaDH_AlexH on July 22, 2012
Those of you that read my travel articles or the blog with any regularity have probably realised that I have a particularly enthusiastic response to the coastal landscapes, from the white sandy beaches that remind me of my native Polish coast to the rocky, rugged and cliff-formed shores that constitute some of the best coastal landscapes of Britain, and pretty much anything in between. The south coast of England is well known for its chalky cliffs, of which the most famous are the White Cliffs of Dover, a veritable and venerable icon of the country (we lived for two years less than two miles from those!). Possibly even more impressive, though, are the white chalk cliff faces that grace the Sussex coast east of Brighton, between Eastbourne and the mouth of the river Cuckmere. The most famous of these is the Beachy Head, the headland containing the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain which rises over 500 feet (more than 160m) above the sea. Beachy Head is famous as a notorious suicide spot, but on a sunny day it's a stunningly beautiful place to visit, best done as a walk from the old fashioned, genteel pensioner coastal town of Eastbourne. You walk along the promenade, then on a slowly raising track, on one side the Channel, on the other deep, green, rolling hills and valleys of the South Downs (this stretch of coast is technically part of the South Downs and has been incorporated into the recently created South Downs National Park, the newest in the UK). Once up the Head, the views stretch far and wide, from the Kentish Dungeness point with its nuclear power station and a lighthouse the east, to Selsey Bill headland in West Sussex. Below in the crashing sea stands a lighthouse on a rock (another one was located on the headland and although now decommissioned, the Belle Tout lighthouse is still a local landmark). A little bit east of the Beachy Head, separated from it by a lower area of the rock and a historical hamlet of Birling Gap, stretches a sequence of cliff hills and valleys known as Seven Sisters, another striking patch of a chalky cliff faces. West of these the character is the Cuckmere Estuary and beyond that, the coast changes becoming lower-lying and less interesting to fans of dramatic landscapes.
The South Downs is a range of hills stretching east-west between Hampshire and Eastbourne in East Sussex; north of the southern English coast. They reach the maximum height of 270m above the sea level and are the focus of a new national park (that also incorporates the chalky cliffs of Beachy Head and Seven Sisters, covered by a separate article).The South Downs are not serious hills for climbing by any means, but they provide very enjoyable walking environment that is within easy reach of the London conurbation as well as the seaside towns of the South Coast. The South Downs Way runs along the hills and some stretches of the coast, but there are many paths and tracks that criss-cross the area and give access to the uncultivated reaches of the Downs. The Downs landscape is the epitome of the ''green and pleasant land'' so beloved of the admirers of rural England, although much of it (especially near the coast and at the higher escarpments) is uncultivated and provides a welcome respite from the relentless farminess of much of England which is largely covered by arable and pasture land. When we lived in Brighton for a few months in the late 1990s, we walked several times on the South Downs, and it usually worked well, but in my experience it's worth doing a bit of research before setting off inland. Ditchling Beacon, at 248m the third highest summit on the Downs can be reached from Brighton along the Ditchling Road (there is also road access and an unfortunate National Trust car park at the top). If you have a car you can stop somewhere along the road and walk up onto the escarpment to the trig point and then down to the pleasant village of Ditchling, ideal for a some food or a drink; or do the whole thing from Ditchling itself. There is also now a regular bus from Brighton (no 79), but it's better to walk up the hill. The views are grand and Devil's Dyke is a popular spot very near Brighton (there is a bus from Brighton or a car park at the top), the largest ''dry valley'' in the UK at over 300 feet deep and over 1km long. I found it too developed and busy, with a crappy chain pub and a row of cars parked at the edge of the escarpment completely spoiling the view. Things might have changed now the National Park has been established though.East towards the Beachy Head cliffs lies the village of Wilmington and nearby the so-called Long Man of Wilmington, an 17th century hillside chalk image tracing a human figure with two long staves or sticks in his hands. If you have a car, you can park fairly nearby and have a hillside picnic with a good view of the Long Man.The South Downs are not exactly spectacular and I would not go much out of my way to visit the area - apart perhaps from the chalk cliffs of the Beachy Head and Seven Sisters if you never experienced any of the England's white cliffs - but if you are staying in the area, or even in London, for any length of time, the South Downs National Park is one of the nearest points for some pleasant countryside walking and comes recommended.
Arundel is a small village in the county of West Sussex near the south coast of England. Its main claim to fame, and chief visitors' attraction of the whole area is Arundel Castle, a medieval castle still owned and inhabited by the The Dukes of Norfolk family, but open to visitors seasonally. It was founded by Roger de Montgomery on in 1067, damaged in the English Civil War and then restored in the 18th and 19th centuries.There are three levels of admission charges, one that allows access to the gardens and chapel, the next one that adds the Keep, and then two more that admits the visitors inside (main rooms or bedrooms as well). We visited before the current system was introduced and there were only two charges – the grounds and Keep and the interiors and we satisfied ourself with the external visit.I somewhat resent paying very wealthy and powerful people for the privilege of gaping at their inherited riches. The whole concept of a ''stately home visit'', a favourite pastime of a certain type of an Englishman (and possibly even more of a certain type of an Englishwoman), and not unknown in Scotland either; leaves me a little cold. Unless the place is considered to be architecturally exceptional, or has a meaningful and informative display, in other words, contains a museum rather than just a random collection of heirlooms and family portraits and photos, I will not pay for a visit (and in all honesty I prefer my castles ruined anyway, at most times), especially if the place is privately owned (though staff in many National Trust properties often seem to be channelling the ghosts of feudal deference even more than those family-owned ones). There is a great deal of history associated with the Dukes of Norfolk: the Howard family played important role in the courtly intrigue of the Tudor court (both the executed wives of Henry VIII were Howard girls) and the Norfolks turned up repeatedly in important times and places for the last 1,000 years. Even without that history, though, Arundel castle is a picture-perfect one and the ''silver'' admission ticket (10 GBP per adult) gives access to possibly its best features: you can climb the battlements, visit the ancient Keep, see the beautiful medieval Fitzalan Chapel and peek over the wall into the private section where the owners or/and their guests play by the pool on hotter days, explore the amazing gardens and the rest of the grounds and admire the thick stonework and powerful, round towers of the castle. If you are staying within a reasonable drive's distance from Arundel, and you want to visit a complete, inhabited castle (or if you are collecting castles and stately homes of course), Arundel is a very good choice. Cheap it is not, at 17 GBP for the full entrance charge (family ticket is 41GBP which is a great saving if two adults come with one or two kids, but this option is not offered for the grounds' ticket) but not a bad castle if you are into This Kind of Thing.
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