Eastbourne.

Sunday 05 July 2020 – Eastbourne.

The day started like most others this past week; grey low cloud, drizzle and high wind. Coffee in bed seemed like the right thing to do; immediately followed by a second coffee in bed. We made it out of bed just before 9 for an enjoyable video call with my sister in New Zealand. During the hour we were online the rain stopped, the cloud was blown away by the strong wind; clearing the sky. A nice day beckoned. It was time to make the planned, yet to be achieved trip to Eastbourne, a 30 minute drive along the coast.

I last passed through Eastbourne in Jan 2018 when I took a walk along the cliff tops to Burling Gap. I vaguely recall visiting as a child in the 1970s, though that is as likely to be a false memory as it is true. Eleanor has been twice before, and it rained both times. We both wanted to visit on a sunny day.

I parked as soon as I found a spot within an easy walk of the yet to re-open pier. It is very windy.

As we walked towards the pier we came across an oddly shaped white beach hut, which turned out to be shaped as a tooth, and is a memorial to Beachy Head Lady, with this message on it;

‘Along this coast near Beachy Head a young woman of sub-Sarahan African origin was buried one thousand eight hundred years ago. She spent most of her life thriving on a diet rich in the fruits of the sea and from fertile downland fields. Her story is recorded in chemicals hidden within her teeth and in her fragile bones. But how or why she arrived on the shores to make a new home so long ago will probably remain a mystery.’ I really liked this message and it intrigued me enough to try to found out more; as every good message should.

Beachy Head Lady is thought to be the oldest known person from sub-Saharan Africa to be found in the United Kingdom. It is not known when her remains were originally found, though they were recently rediscovered in the museum in a box marked 1956-1959. Further information on the original discovery remain quite sparse, which adds somewhat to the mystery. I chose to not dig much further. Mysteries are good.

It is a funny old day, as many have been in these barely re-opened post-Covid emergency days. It is a sunny, though windy, summer Sunday. There are a few people about, but not as many as expected. The shopping areas are mainly open, so places for people to go. There is an air of reluctance and tension in the air, as well as a touch of the ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude you get from those who think Brexit is a good idea and social distancing is stupid. I did not see a lot of masks being worn, though they are yet too made mandatory in England.

We walked along the front, past the pier and the place where the street drinkers were gathered in a vaguely intimidating fashion when I was here last time. I don’t remember anything specific, but I knew I was very keen to use the public toilet and they were all bunched outside and I walked for ages till I got to the downs before finding an appropriately unpublic tree. The things you remember.

We walked as far as the Martello Tower where we stopped for a hot chocolate and sat in the sun feeling like our skin was being peeled from our faces by the sun and the wind. The hot chocolate was very nice, as was the Martello Tower and its little peace garden.

Leaving the tower we were walking in the direction of the Towner Gallery when the wind whipped the camera strap that was not around my neck or any other useful (or useless) part of my body and tore the camera from my hand, cracking the rear screen when it hit the ground. Damn. Three camera in three years; all broken by me not being careful enough. Lucking the camera still works,  and it has a viewfinder, though I have to use auto mode as the screen displays(ed) the exposure settings. I could at least take some more photos today.

Auto mode does not suit my style, and with three small scratches on the lens, it is now time to replace the camera. A choice I did not want to have to make again after the stress of finding and buying the small Panasonic GX800 last year, a camera I have not really learnt to love. It may be time to sell that as well and buy a single replacement. Choices and decisions. I hate them both.

The Towner Gallery is fabulous. I have seen photos and read about it, and it was a pleasure to see it at last, I love the look of it, so funky and modern. Sadly it was still closed, but it opening in a couple of weeks, a good reason to come back to Eastbourne.

We picked up lunch from a Mexican food cart, in a very un-social distant queue, not many people wearing masks either. My nachos were tasty, there was an awful lot, though the chips were stale which was a good thing really. They went in the bin, not that I like wasting food!

We walked along the sea front for a while, stopping for an ice cream in a faded little park with a faded little tea-shop and then walked back to the car and I drove us home.

Mission accomplished. A day out to Eastbourne and it wasn’t raining.

A brief moment of solitude – Beachy Head.

Saturday 23 December 2017 – Eastbourne and Beachy Head.

Not having had a weekend away on my own for months I booked a couple of nights in a bed and breakfast in the coastal town of Cromer in Norfolk. I had a full day of photography planned; sunrise at Cromer Pier, some nice ruins scattered around the county, sunset back at the pier, followed by some long exposures of the sea and clouds. A drive and walk on my own. Sea air to clear the head and a couple of days with my own thoughts; not having to speak to anyone, unless I was ordering food or drink.

It was a good plan. A shame it did not happen!

To reduce the stress of travelling on what was being billed as the busiest travel day of the year I had taken Friday off work. A bit of a lie in and then on the road for mid morning, allowing myself plenty of time to get to Cromer. There were a couple of interesting places on the way I was going to stop at to take some pictures.

I loaded up the car and headed off just before 11:00. I made it approximately 100 feet up the road before stopping at the top of the hill to change a flat tyre. Bugger! Not the stress free start I planned.

Luckily the spare was not flat and all the tyre changing bits were in the boot, it was my first flat in this car and I had brief moment of panic when I could not find the jack. Tyre changed and I was on the way. The car felt fine, even at 70 on the M11 it was running straight and true. However, as I approached the inevitable tailback at the junction with the M25 I tapped the brake pedal to shave a bit of speed off and the steering wheel kicked and bucked like a wild beast. Brake off and it was fine, back on and wildness.  It was too unsafe to drive any distance, so reluctantly I turned round and headed home.

The weekend was over before lunch on Friday. Not admitting defeat I spent the rest of Friday sulking at home. I did, however, book myself a return to ticket to Eastbourne for the following day. Today.

I was up early, fed and on the tube to Victoria by 8. ‘Early’ Saturday morning is an eye (nose?) opener on the tube, the carriage stank of booze, there was a dozing rough sleeper and a well dressed woman conversing loudly with her invisible friend. A fully immersive experience.

I dislike Victoria Station, it is my least favourite of London’s mainline stations. With two concourses it is big and confusing and always seems to be manically busier than the other stations, even, like this morning when it is half empty. Drunk youths staggering around on their way home to provincial towns after a night out in the city mixed with wealthy looking tourists lugging heavy cases looking for trains to the airport. Everyone looked dazed and confused, I just felt it.

The ride to Eastbourne was uneventful. I read, listened to music, drank the coffee and ate the sausage sandwich I bought as I waited for the train. It was overcast, but was not supposed to be too cold, too windy or to rain, I was only moderately prepared for all three of those things.

A five minute walk from the station got me to the waterfront. Christmas is approaching and the shopping streets were busy. The town is nicer than I expected, and that niceness is reflected in the property prices I noted when I got home, it is more expensive than its neighbours to the north.

I took a quick look at the pier, I thought about walking to the end, but the winter days are short and I had a bit of a walk planned, so I moved on.

I have been wanting to come here and walk the South Downs, past Beachy Head Lighthouse and on to Burling Gap for quite a long time, but never managed to get around to it. The walk along the front is really nice, and it was surprisingly busy this morning. The hills of the Downs were looking a little murky, and slightly intimidating under that low cloud.

Arriving at the foot of the cliffs I found a sign pointing to the South Downs Way and its 100 miles to Winchester. I wish I had the time, fitness and the will to do a long distance walk. I fill my head with so many ideas and plans, some get started, most do not. I blame time and work, needing money to do things, my age and my sometimes aching body. Maybe I should fill my head with only one idea and see it through to completion. I still have 500 or so miles of the Southwest coast path to do, I should not be thinking about other walks.

I started up the short, steep grassy climb, glad I had worn proper walking shoes, it was pretty slippery after all the rain. A teenage break means my left ankle hates these steep climbs, if I do not stretch it, which naturally I don’t, then it loses its full range of movement after a few weeks. I struggled up, knowing tomorrow it will ache like hell.

It was windy and quite cool, very damp, and there was limited view out to sea, but what there was was glorious. There are a lot of bent and twisted hawthorn trees, providing a clear indication of the direction of the prevailing wind.

Ahead it was looking a little less enticing and as I walked I wondered if that was going to be the end of the view for the day. I was quite surprised by the amount of scrub and wildness on this stretch, in mind the walk from town to Burling Gap was almost manicured lawn, the result of mis-seen photos. Those photos led me to believe it was always sunny here too. Maybe just mis-remembered.

After walking through the edge of a scrubby wood I was out on the cliff tops and the first view of Beachy Head Lighthouse. I took a lot of photos from various angles, so if you hate lighthouses, and Beachy Head in particular you should look away now. It is a spectacular piece of coast so your turning away would just be wrong.

The chalk cliffs look amazing in any light, though they seem dirtier than they were in older photos. At this point, which is roughly the highest, the cliff top is 162 metres above the sea. Given the cliff edge and the popularity of the area, I am surprised there are few fences, only where there have been slips is the edge closed to the public. I guess you cannot fence off the entire coast. I now see there are two people ahead of me. It almost seems a shame that I appear to not be alone, that I have passed through the dull low, damp mist and can see and hear further; and that people now occupy that new space.

Further out of the cloud I can see Belle Toute Lighthouse in the distance, at least there does not appear to be any more people than when I emerged, nor am I catching up on those ahead.

From Belle Toute I looked back up the cliff line towards Beachy Head.

There are more people here, even though Belle Toute is a privately owned B and B, it attracts visitors from the car park at the bottom of the short climb on the east side and a lot more from Burling Gap on the west. I was really looking forward to seeing the tiny community of Burling Gap. It features in numerous images of the area, though none of the ones I have seen feature a large orange crane and a large car park. I was a little disappointed!

There is a National Trust Cafe and I was pleasantly surprised to find it was open. It was a good excuse to stop for lunch and a coffee, though I did not linger as it was after 1 pm and I had taken almost two hours to do the 90 minute walk. If I took the same to return after eating it would be almost dark by the time I arrived. The view along the chalk white cliffed coast is breathtaking and I will certainly be back to walk more of it, perhaps on one of those blue sky days I see on the post cards.

The walk up to Belle Toute was the busiest it had been all day. 

I want to know what this is!! Why is there hatch with a padlock? There are other concrete pads where I am guessing lookouts, gun emplacements and other wartime things were located. Though this was the only one I saw that appears to have something underneath. Are there tunnels?

I took a few more photos of the lighthouse on the way back to Eastbourne, and I saved my favourite photo to share last.

The walk back was a lot quicker, the cloud seemed lower, though with the wind in my back it was not as cold and mist no longer formed on my camera lens. I did walk a more direct route, further away from the edges, though the mist was never that thick to be unsafe. I ventured almost alone back into the cloud. There was a walker behind me and I caught glimpses of him as I walked, seeing him for the last time on the train back to London.

As the light was so dim I decided to experiment with a bit of intentional camera movement (ICM) photography, something I did a lot of back in NZ in 2008/09. I have dabbled with it a little in the past couple of months. I am trying to achieve an impressionist painter effect; a work in progress.

As I returned to the top of the hill overlooking Eastbourne I could see the sun trying to work its way through the cloud, though it never quite managed to.

I made it back with plenty of time before darkness started to arrive, so took a round about way to the waterfront, strolling through the gloomy Italian Gardens,

before heading back down the beach. I love the way that over the years (decades?) the tide has finally overcome the steps, and every other set of steps along the front. I really want to know how deep they are and when the council gave up resisting the relentless move of the shoreline.

The waterfront was even busier than late morning, there were a lot of family groups out walking and a lot of older folk walking dogs. In fact there are a lot of dogs here, mainly small dogs. A heck of a lot of small dogs. So many I took no pictures of them. I did take a picture of a large building, a hotel I am guessing; and a street light.

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As I said before, I really liked Eastbourne, the waterfront is decaying less than many of the other coastal towns, especially in the south east. It is clean and tidy and most of the shops are open and active. There seemed to be a pretty good feel in the air, though so many bloody smokers!

It does have damn good pier !

I arrived in the small station about 40 minutes before the train I had booked was schedule to leave. I was going to sit in a pub over a quiet pint, but found there was a train leaving sooner, so I grabbed a bag of crisps and a small bottle of red wine and got on the earlier train.

The ride back to London was good, I read a book and then relaxed in my seat, Mogwai playing in my headphones  and reflected on what was a really pleasant day out on my own.