EAST SUSSEX

Brighton West pier stock.xchng stevekrh19

BrightonOnce an unassuming fishing village recorded as Brithelmeston in the Domesday Book, Brighton (pop. 134,300) owes its early fame to the Prince of Wales who brought his mistress its in the late 18th century for their so-called ‘dirty weekend’.  The construction of a railway in the town boosted its reputation as the perfect Londoner’s day trip destination in the 19th century, following the trend of sea bathing the years before.  Brighton, along with nearby town Hove and other tiny villages, now make up the city of Brighton and Hove.

Nowadays, Brighton and Hove is trying oh-so-hard to do away with its ‘dirty weekend’ reputation.   Yet it is quite hard to shake the Prince of Wales and mistress association when the city’s biggest and most popular landmark, the Royal Pavilion, was built as a symbol of the Prince’s decadence.

Brighton and Hove is a cosmopolitan city, sure, but despite its efforts to ‘straighten up’, the general attitude of the city remains laidback, Bohemian, and young, thanks to its vibrant gay community and its active student body, both local and international.  This is why summer or not, the kitschy city remains vibrating with action, on both the seaside and its narrow alleyways where pubs, restaurants, and boutique hotels rub elbows with the established curio shops.  

Layout
Brighton, Hove, and other villages were amalgamated in 2000 as a city.  In Brighton and Hove, you will find the train station at the head of Queen’s Road, which is half a mile north of the seaside.  The bus station is close to the Brighton Pier, south of the Old Steine.  East of the Old Steine is the heart of of Brighton’s LGBT community, Kemp Town.

The Lanes—the oldest part of the town—is located west of the city.  At the northern part, you will find Brighton’s signature Bohemian-style cafes.  Head east and you will stumble upon Brighton’s thriving centre for all things water sports-related.

Sights
Royal Pavilion in BrightonRoyal Pavilion (Pavilion Gardens, +44 3000290900, £9.50).  It was a humble farmhouse overlooking the Brighton shore before the Prince Regent came in and transformed it into the town’s most famous landmark.  Rebuilt by architect John Nash in 1787 under the direction of the Prince Regent (who later became King George IV), the Royal Pavilion went from being a ‘party pad’ to a historical landmark which ultimately gave birth to a whole new architectural genre—Oriental/Hindu Gothic.

Inside this royal abode, look for the Banqueting Room where you will find a dragon spitting, not fire, but a massive chandelier.  In the kitchen, you will find cast-iron palm trees acting as columns.  The whole palace does not run out of extravagant, almost outlandish décor.  The audio tour that comes with the admission fee gives you enough information as you gape at each room inside Brighton’s beacon of decadence.

Appropriately adjoined to it is the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery.  Look for its collection of classic Art Deco and Art Nouveau furniture, most notably Salvador Dali’s famous Mae West’s lips sofa.

Brighton pier Flickr Dominic's picsBrighton Pier (Madeira Drive, +44 1273 609361, free).  For an hour or so, stroll down Brighton Pier.  It’s tacky, it’s loud (both aurally and visually), and a little bit on the expensive side, especially the restaurants and food stalls.  For families with kids, the 25 tokens for £20 might be a good deal, if your kids want to try out everything.

West of the seafront, the West Pier sits in disrepair, but word has it that it’s being restored, but funding for the reconstruction has been delayed indefinitely.  However, one of the biggest plans for the West Pier is the i360, an observation tower to be built by the people responsible for the London Eye.

It is pretty much a no-brainer that the Brighton beaches are a must-experience, though it can get crowded.  It is enough perhaps to soak in its atmosphere, as this is what makes Brighton and Hove a thriving city.

Near the pier, you will find the antediluvian engines of the first electric railway in the country, the Volk’s Electric Railway (+44 1273 292718, £2.80).  They give folks a ride towards the Marina to the nudist beach and the Aquarium Stations.

The Lanes: A convergence of several streets, the Lanes is where it all began for Brighton.  Now its cobble-stoned streets are lined with age-old bric-a-brac shops, antique shops, side by side with pubs crowded with people from all walks of life, along with upmarket jewelry stores and designer outlets.  Quirky, kitschy, retro, lively and intimate – this is The Lanes.

Along Kensington, Sydney, Gardner and Bond streets, at the northern edge of North Street, you will find perhaps the queen of kitsch and cool in the Lanes—North Laine (with an ‘I’).   It is decidedly more bohemian, with assorted shops that sell anything secondhand and vintage—from clothes, homewares, and records.

Jubilee Library may be new (opened in 2005) but it’s definitely making its mark in Brighton’s contemporary history.  Its glass exterior gives it an ultra-modern look that complements the modern pieces that it houses.

In Jubilee Street where the library is located, you will find more distractions—many of the city’s cultural treats are in here, including theaters and music venues.

The heart of Brighton’s LGBT community, Kemptown takes its name from Thomas Read Kemp’s estate.  It is simply great to soak in the atmosphere of this side of town, along with its Regency and Victorian style residential structures.  If you’re lucky, you might chance upon a lively carnival parade along the streets of Kemptown.

There are also a few hidden museums in town worth venturing to.  For instance, the Brighton Toy and Model Museum (52/55 Trafalgar Street, +44 1273 74 94 94, £4) is one of the finest toy museums in the world and must-see for kids of all ages, including the adult variety.  It is easily accessible, just underneath the railway station.

Another curious museum is the Booth Museum of Natural History (194 Dyke Road, +44 3000 290900, free).  It might be a little out of the way, but it’s a good Victorian museum for those interested in quirky natural history.  The Victorian dioramas depicting birds in their habitats are a great, if slightly odd, highlight.

Hotels
 
Set in a spacious Regency House,
Baggies Backpackers (33 Oriental Place, +44 1273733740, £35) is deemed the best hostel in the UK, with its large dorms and decent, if tiny, showers.  The common rooms are huge, great for socializing with fellow backpackers.  This is one for the younger set of travelers.

 In a city where kitsch is the norm,
Hotel Una (55-56 Regency Square, +44 1273820464, £60-180) sticks out like a sore thumb, with its tan floorboards and- gasp!-lack of a theme.  Its main selling point is its great location, which is a stone’s throw away from the seafront.  It also prides itself on its great customer service.

Myhotel (17 Jubilee St., +44 1273900300, £89-150).  A new boutique hotel that looks like it came out of a science fiction movie, myHotel’s stark white walls with liberal splashes of all possible renditions of neon, reflects the cutting-edge side of Brighton.  Many love that you can hook up your iPod on a dock and the speakers are in the ceiling, which makes for a pretty comfortable and enjoyable bath time.
 
The Twenty One (21 Charlotte St., +44 1273686450, £90-110) is an early Victorian guest house located in lovely Kemptown.  The comfortable rooms are spotlessly clean, and the proprietors, Matt and Andy, go out of their way to welcome you to the guest house and the whole town itself.  They make great restaurant recommendations so do not hesitate to ask.

Drakes (43-44 Marine Parade, +44 1273696934, £105-170) is a minimalist boutique hotel to the core, but who needs distractive décor when you’ve got a floor-to-ceiling view of the seaside while relaxing on your huge free-standing tub?  Aside from the view, though, the overall cleanliness of the place is not guaranteed, and you have to be lucky to get the great view as well.
 
Another one of Brighton’s staple themed hotels,
Snooze (25 St. George’s Terrace, +44 1273605797, from £125) is a great combination of kitsch and retro, with a design aesthetic that’s still tasteful and not bordering on outlandish.  The rooms are not so spacious, but the beds are comfortable.  It can get quite noisy at night, especially if your rooms are near the pubs that litter the neighboring areas.

 The mother of all themed hotels in Brighton,
Hotel Pelirocco (110 Regency Square, +44 1273327055, from £135) proclaims itself to be rock ‘n’ roll.  It is definitely not for the faint-hearted. But aside from the loud décor, expect large and comfortable bedrooms, and a very late last call for its in-house bar.

 


Battle of Hastings field Flickr PhillipCLooking at Battle (pop. 5,200) , its quaint countryside and shopping malls disguised as medieval complexes, you would think that its name could not have been further from its actual personality.  That is, until you hear the pivotal role it played in England’s history.  Contrary to what the name suggests, the Battle of Hastings did not happen in Hastings; it happened a few miles away from it, in the area where the town of Battle would be constructed on.

Sights

Battle Abbey DormitoryThe town itself was built around William the Conqueror’s penance for the violence incurred during the Battle of Hastings.  This penance came in the form of the Battle Abbey (High St., +441424 775705, £7).  William the Conqueror, even before defeating the Anglo-Saxons and slaying their King Harold, said that he would build a religious fortress in the area should he win the battle.  And so he did.  Four years later, the Battle Abbey was built on the very spot where the bloody battle happened, and it went on to house a brotherhood of Benedictine monks for some time.  The high altar in the abbey is purportedly the very spot on which King Harold met his death.  Little of the original structure remains today, though.  It has been rebuilt for several years, though no amount of reconstruction and revision could take its defining role in the town’s identity.  Nowadays, part of the abbey also houses a school.  The admission comes with an audio tour that leads one through the most defining battle in Britain’s history.  During October, though, you can catch a live reenactment of the battle itself.

At the end of High Street, you will find the Battle Museum (The Almonry, High St., +44 1424 775955, £1.50) in the present town hall which was formerly the Almonry during the 1500s.  It houses the oldest Guy Fawkes effigy in Britain.  In fact, Battle is also the oldest site for the country’s Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Night—which involves beheading the effigy and burning the body of the infamous Catholic conspirator.   This Bonfire Night happens every year, on the Saturday nearest to the 5th of November.

Hotels
The Abbey Hotel (84 High St., +44 1424 772755, £70). The hotel is right in front of the Battle Abbey, so its location is unbeatable.  There is also a great beer garden for relaxing, with views of the East Sussex countryside.  The furnishings, though, need a little updating, and some rooms vary in terms of facilities.

Claverton House (Bluemans Lane, + 44 1424 751128, £75).  This Edwardian Country House is comfortable, reasonably priced, and offers a great view of the countryside.  In fact, you’ll be so immersed in the countryside you’ll actually hear birds chirping in the morning, or rabbits hopping outside your window.  The furnishings of the rooms are all updated, with free WIFI, and each room comes with either en-suite showers or bath and shower rooms.  The dinner in the in-house restaurant is quite expensive, but is definitely worth a try.


Pevency Castle ruins Stock.Xchng MarkHan Hastings (pop. 85,850) had the honor of being William of Normandy’s base in 1066 when he landed, but nearby Battle stole its thunder by being the place where William became England’s last conqueror.  Nowadays, it is a humble fishing port, with a history of being one of the great Cinque Ports that was washed away by the great storm, along with neighboring Cinque Ports Rye and Winchelsea.  It is now a popular retreat among artists, with a street named Bohemia actually dedicated to them.

In the old town, by the seafront, you will find the area called The Stade, where there are net shops that date back from the nineteenth century.  At Castle Hill, which separates the old town from the modern one, you can find the ruins of the Pevensey Castle  4.50), which was the site where William of Normandy built a fortress.  The infamous 13th century storm ravaged the castle, and what remains is an eerie reminder of Hastings’ past.  You can climb this hill via the West Hill Cliff Railway (George Street) or the East Hill Cliff Railway (Rock-a-Nore Road).  On top of the hill, relish views of the old town and compare it to the less exciting but thriving modern town.

Hotels
Lavender and Lace
[106 All Saints Street, +44 1424716290, ₤70-85].  A rather delightful 15th century Tudor townhouse located in the old town with very warm and friendly hosts. The rooms are spacious with clean and comfortable beds and with very tidy separate bathrooms and an organic breakfast is served.

Chatsworth Hotel  [Carlisle Parade, +44 1424 720188, ₤69).   A budget hotel with a good Indian restaurant and some rooms with great sea views, and quieter rooms at the back.  The hotel is a little tired, but distinctly close to the centre of town and the beach.

 


Bodiam CastleBuilt in the 14th century by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a soldier of fortune, with the superficial purpose of protecting part of the River Rother, this square-block moated Bodiam Castle (Bodiam, near Robertsbridge, +44 1580 830196, £6.80) boasted of advanced architecture, with its rounded corner turrets, its chambers not in a keep but around the defensive walls.  However, during the Civil War, it was compromised by a group of Roundheads (Parliamentarians in layman’s term) who removed the roof of the fortress, rendering it practically useless as a fortress for the king.  It was then hugely abandoned, until Lord Curzon, a former viceroy of India, had its exterior restored.  You can brave the steep staircase for a stunning view of the Rother Valley, but do consider yourself warned.



Bateman's Flickr davharuk A sturdy-looking Jacobean house tucked away in the southern part of idyllic Burwash, Bateman’s (Bateman's Lane, Burwash, +44 1435 882302, £8.20) was originally built by a local ironmaster in the 17th century, and was given new life when writer Rudyard Kipling set his eyes upon it during the early 20th century.  Most of the rooms are left as it was when Kipling inhabited it, with some mementos like Oriental rugs from his travels, and some letters and first editions of some of his works.  The atmosphere of the house, especially his study, is that of a writer who was secure in his own abode and his works, and you can greatly feel this in whichever room you enter.  Its great gardens include a watermill that Kipling himself converted.  It is still working, grinding corns on schedule.




Rye streetscape Flickr StormyDogCobblestoned streets, timber-framed medieval house crowded against each other, clay-tiled roofs, narrow lanes that seem fit for only five pedestrians walking abreast—this is Rye (pop. 4,200), a town that sits on a hill overlooking the Romney marshes.  Be prepared, though—even though it looks quaint, because the town earns mainly from tourism, it is likely to be quite commercialized.  However, that doesn’t detract from the charm of this small port town.  

Historically, Rye was one of the two ancient towns to be used as a limb of the Cinque Ports, and was considered one of the finest ports.  However, a violent storm in the 13th century cut off the town from the sea and changed the course of the River Rother.  The arrival of bigger ships and larger ports caused the decline of this humble port town, but it has managed to come back in different ways—as an agricultural centre and a market town for instance.
 
Sights
You can get the best of Rye by simply walking and taking in its medieval small town atmosphere.  Mermaid Street is Rye’s most picturesque cobblestoned street.  Walk ahead towards its eastern end, and you will find the Lamb House (West St., +441580 762334, £4), the former house of novelist Henry James, and then E. F. Benson.  Up ahead the sloping street, you will find the oldest working pendulum clock in England inside St. Mary’s Parish Church (Church Square, +44 (0)1797 224935, www.ryeparishchurch.org.uk), which has been the parish church of the town for 900 years.  Climb the tower for some great views of the town.  

Ypres Tower, Rye Flickr JL2003The oldest building in town is the Ypres Tower, built with the purpose of being a watchtower to keep cross-Channel invaders at bay.  It is now part of the Rye Castle Museum (3 East St.,+441797 226728, £5 – joint ticket for the Castle Museum and the Ypres Tower).  The East Street site was formerly a brewer’s bottling factory and is the main exhibition area.  It contains many interesting relics from the town’s past as a Cinque port.

If you’re willing to walk miles, you will be rewarded with the spectacular ruins of the Camber Castle (+441797 223862, £2), which is in the middle of a vast field, right in between Rye and neighboring town Winchelsea.  It sits on the shallow harbour that used to separate the two towns.  It is located a mile south of Rye, off the Harbour Road.  You can download a map for a footpath guide to the ruins in the website so you won’t get lost in the big field among the sheep.  

Hotels
Jeake’s House (Mermaid St., +44 1797222828, £70-90).  Formerly the house of writer Conrad Aiken, this lovingly restored 16th century house which is actually composed of 3 adjoined cottages fits right in Rye’s prettiest street, with its ivy-covered walls.  It has a very welcoming and homey atmosphere, and its cosy rooms combine shabby chic (read: four-poster beds) with contemporary (read: flat-screen TVs).

Hope Anchor Hotel (Watchbell St., +44 1797222216, £75).  A family-owned hotel that’s been around for almost thirty years, the Hope Anchor Hotel’s structure dates back to the 18th century.  The size of rooms depends on which apartment you book.  Apartment A boasts of bigger rooms and a terrace overlooking the cobblestoned streets.  Some rooms are on the small side, but whether big or small, all rooms are well-equipped.

The George in Rye (98 High St., +44 1797222114, £135).  The rooms are not so spacious, especially for its price, but well-appointed with boutique hotel amenities.  The location is right on the main street, so it’s very accessible. Its restaurant has some of the best local wines and local contemporary cuisine so it’s worth checking out.



Eastbourne Flickr me'nthedogsNow an old-fashioned seaside town filled with old-timers and retirees, Eastbourne (pop. 106,600), was one of the resorts in the Southeast that boomed when sea-bathing became a popular weekend activity among Victorians.  This coincided with the construction of a railway station that bought more people more quickly to it.  These visitors included writer George Orwell, composer Claude Debussy, as well as Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.  

Most sights here are dedicated to nostalgia and a fondness for the way things were.  The How We Lived Then Museum of Shops (20 Cornfield Terrace, +44 1323737143, £4.50) lovingly depicts old-time consumerism, with artefacts such as vintage bottle crowns and packages, obsessively collected, and mock-up shops displayed.  

The Eastbourne Heritage Centre (2 Carlisle Road, +44 1323 411189,£2.50) is an irreverent museum detailing the town’s history with good humor.  It includes a lively digression on Donald McGill, “the king of saucy postcards”.  

These looking-back museums are then balanced by the freshness of the forward-looking Towner Art Gallery and Museum (High St. Old Town, +441323 415441).  As of now, the museum is closed for renovation, but it has offsite exhibitions.  

Hotels
Da Vinci Eastbourne (10 Howard Square, +44 1323 727173, £70) is UK’s first ‘artist hotel’.  This simply means that each room has an artwork by an artist, either well-known or bourgeoning.  The bathrooms are being refurbished and will reportedly be done by December 2010.  The rooms themselves are spacious, though not the lift (some can only fit up to two persons), but that is part of its old-world charm.

Devonshire Park Hotel (27-29 Carlisle Road, +441323 728144, £55-80).  A relatively new hotel in Eastbourne, Devonshire Park Hotel boasts of a great location, ideal for strolling around.  The lounges are cozy and well-furnished, and the rooms are spacious and comfortable, with modern amenities.  It is also a great base for people who want to explore the South Downs.


Beachy Head Flickr PhillipCPeople visit Eastbourne as a springboard to the great South Downs, which you can explore via the South Downs Way.  Head west from Eastbourne, and you will be afforded with spectacular chalk cliffs by the great stretch of coastline.  The most beautiful chalk cliff here is the Beachy Head, which is actually quite far from the beach (its name comes from the French phrase ‘beau chef’ which means beautiful head).  People have been known to commit suicide on this 557 feet-high headland.  Friedrich Engels was so enamored with the beauty of this cliff that he ordered that his ashes be scattered all over it upon his death.

Head further west towards Seven Sisters if you would like to continue your walk through the splendid countryside.