Brighton by the Sea

Brighton, England | A Life Exotic

England turns into another world between March and April.

The fog, clouds, and drizzle have given way almost exclusively to blue skies, sunshine, and temps in the 50s.  The cherry trees and dogwoods have been exploding into bloom all over the city (just check the Instagram feed of every single London resident for evidence).  It’s official: spring is here.

The arrival of this lovely weather also coincided rather conveniently with the end of my classes.  My friend Nausheen and I were starting to feel a bit stircrazy, and even though we still have plenty of dissertation work to be getting on with, we figured a day trip wouldn’t hurt.

It had been three months since I was in Cornwall with my family over New Year’s, and the former beach bum in me was itching to breathe salt air again, so we decided on Brighton as our destination.  Nausheen & I caught the train from Victoria Station one morning and settled in for a couple hours’ journey through Sussex.

My life came full circle when we unexpectedly chugged past Arundel Castle, which I did a huge project on in fourth grade, including building a detail-accurate scale model of it out of cardboard.  I also wrote a letter to a brave knight pretending the castle was under siege and telling him where the magic sapphire (a gem of my own invention) was hidden.  Cool.



Soon enough, we pulled into the station at Brighton, pointed our toes towards the sound of seagulls, and walked down sunny Queen’s Road with the sea rising up in front of us.  What a sight!


It almost didn’t seem like the horizon should be up that high!  In fact, it reminded me a little bit of what the ocean looked like from the Kitty Hawk dunes during Hurricane Sandy.


We ran out on to the beach – there’s no sand in sight, only smooth reddish-grey pebbles that crunch deliciously and give you a foot massage as you walk along.

It was a weekend, so the whole town seemed to be having a lie in, and we got there right as everyone was stirring and getting a start on their day.  A few guys were unlocking a little shed and setting out these old-fashioned candy striped beach chairs, which you can rent for £2 a day.


We found a picnic table and sat, enjoying the breeze while we waited for the nearby cafés to open up.  When they did, we were first in line and garnered a few odd looks for our 10am order of fish & chips… but it just struck us both as the perfect brunch on the beach!


I was amazed at how calm and flat the sea was!  Technically it’s the English Channel, which is relatively protected by land, but it still seemed funny not to see and hear huge crashing waves.  The light wind was just enough to keep it from looking glassy, and conjured little baby waves that lapped at the shoreline.


Isn’t the color awesome?  It’s so green!  The ocean on the Outer Banks is always deep blue.  The sea in England seems to be more greeny-turquoise a lot of the time.  Science & climate people, care to explain?


There was a funny sort of haze rolling in which made the sky look almost exactly the same color as the water.

The beach is a bit of a drop from the road that runs along the shore, so there are a handful of little shops and eateries under the built-up part, with long pedestrian ramps to get to and from the beach.


Including this rather enigmatic potentially nightclub-ish venue.


Shall we zoom in a little?


Oh yes.  Brighton’s hottest club is Shooshh…

We decided not to risk it, but continued on down the beach towards the pier we could see in the distance.  After stopping to see who could chuck rocks farther out to sea, of course.



The area around Brighton Pier is like a funfair.  The pier itself is packed with games, rides, food stalls, and arcades, but the carnival spills over and starts before you even get there.  Jane Austen wouldn’t even recognize it (although she wasn’t very fond of Brighton anyway).

We stopped to watch a few teenagers take on the human slingshot…


The beach and the area around the pier were starting to fill up now that it was getting towards late morning.



The Brighton Eye is a really neat addition to the shoreline.  We started making our way along the pier, which was full of kids running wild and families trying to reel them in.  It was actually Mother’s Day in England, which the Brits call “Mothering Sunday” (hilarious), and it was really sweet to see how many people of all ages were out with their mums!



The weather was perfect and it was so pleasant standing out by the railing and people-watching (it looks pretty overcast in these photos, but it really was just sort of hazy and bright).  If we hadn’t still been so stuffed from our fish & chips, it would’ve been the perfect opportunity for ice cream.

We wandered further down the pier in hopes of walking up enough of an appetite for later…


The interior of the main pier house was a flashing, blinking, beeping mass of video games and arcade sports.  Nausheen remarked in surprise, “It’s like a casino for children!”  I guess Chuck E. Cheese didn’t experience that 1990s heyday in Australia that it did in America.


The mack daddy rides were all the way at the end of the pier (sorry for saying “mack daddy” – it’s because I mentioned the ‘90s).



It was fun to walk around, but a bit of a lame carnival overall.  I was happier to just lean over the railing and enjoy the view.



We started back up the pier…


…were momentarily caught in the stuff of Hitchcock’s nightmares (or fantasies?)…


…but emerged without being pecked to death or pooped on.  So that was a win.

Our next stop was one of the most unique and interesting places in Brighton: the Royal Pavilion.


It was built beginning in 1787 for King George IV, but before he was king – back in his wild young prince days.  It was basically his party pad (although you probably won’t find that phrase in the history books).  I thought it looked like the Sultan of Agraba’s palace.  Well, Georgie was known for being rather extravagant.



We walked around back and through some rather lovely lush gardens.




There’s a big sprawling lawn out behind the Pavilion, where a man was playing guitar and a bunch of people were camped out, just enjoying the day and listening to the music.  Not a bad view for a picnic!



We decided to head into the city centre, which was spacious and clean and full of pedestrian lanes and open-air markets.  We wandered down this wide road (I think it was New Road, but I’m not positive) and found a little café to stop and have iced coffee – first time it’s been warm enough this year!


Down one of the side streets was this cool old building, the Brighton Dome & Corn Exchange, which was playing host to The Chocolate Festival (no, we didn’t go, biggest regret of my life, don’t talk to me about it).


We continued on to Jubilee Street, lined with red bricks and market stalls.


Seriously – when is the last time you saw a Slipknot hoodie?!?  The answer is 1997.  When I was in elementary school, all the coolest and scariest of the highschoolers had them.  Man, there is a serious ‘90s theme developing in this post.

We felt more like walking than browsing, so we didn’t really stop in anywhere but just took everything in as we breezed past.  There were such charming little shops, like this florist:


And this little bakery with awesome yarn ball lights:


The town of Brighton rolls over and around a lot of hilly terrain, so we could see the long North Road sloping down and then back up again in the distance.


We walked away from the bustling market area and found some delightful little rainbow rows:




As well as some really great street art:


“Tread softly, breathe peacefully, laugh hysterically.”

We spent the rest of our afternoon skipping through charming little alleyways and picking out our favorite flats and pubs.


With a bit of time to spare before our train, we traipsed back down the hill to have a look at St. Peter’s Church and the Victoria Gardens, which were just starting to blossom.



I paid 75p for a tattered Agatha Christie novel to a jolly old man with a book table set up along the street, and we climbed back on board the train for our journey home.  (Traveler’s tip: if the train is full and you sit in first class, nobody will question you.)

We zoomed back through the countryside, and passed Arundel just as the sun was setting.


Now, if only I could remember where I hid that sapphire…

GIF source

As I Was Walking to St. Ives…

Oh, St. Ives.


What can I even say about you?


Imagine the most quintessential little seaside village you can think of.  The picture of the peaceful English coast.  Blue ocean and bluer sky.


You’d be imagining St. Ives, I guarantee it.


We spent our last morning in Cornwall visiting this lovely little harbour village on the north shore.  On the excellent advice of John, our host at The Old Vicarage, we took the train from St. Erth instead of driving.  Fifteen minutes, £8 for all five of us together, and a picturesque ride on a railroad that ran right along the coast.


We arrived in no time and set off to explore the narrow cobbled streets, which made my mom & I supremely glad that we weren’t driving.  Yes, there were cars driving down this:


St. Ives is the kind of place you just want to go on looking at, so I’ll let the photographs do most of the talking.




My dad said he thought Cornwall must be the happiest place on earth to be a dog.  I think he’s probably right – although Scotland might be a close second.




We followed the beach as it curved around the harbour, and paused to look out over the sea.



We continued on and wandered about, picking out our favorite apartments and the cottages my parents would buy if they retired to St. Ives.


My mom settled on Pelican Cottage for her & Dad, while I liked the look of the one right across the street.  It was the fish knocker that sold me on it.



We climbed up some stone steps for another great harbour view.



The sea was a sparkling turquoise that seemed much more reminiscent of a Caribbean island than of England in January!



When the wind started getting too chilly, we ducked back in to town to continue our stroll.



Mum & I even found our own Cornish version of the Idle, just like in Geneseo!




We had tea & coffee at a little café with big windows, where you could see slivers of the ocean through the rooftops of buildings below.  From there, there was just time to pop out for one last look at the beach before boarding our return train to St. Erth.



Views like that make me want to throw all my grad school notebooks in the air and move out to the beach, where I will sit in a rocking chair and knit big squishy afghans and paint my watercolors on the porch.  I need some saltwater back in my veins.

I’d say St. Ives was a perfect note to end our trip to Cornwall on.  (Sidenote: I tried for ten minutes to figure out a way to not end that sentence with a preposition.  I can’t do it.)

EDIT: Wait, I figured it out!

I’d say St. Ives was a perfect note on which to end our trip to Cornwall.


New Year’s Day in Cornwall

After a pretty crazy and exhausting New Year’s Eve, I think all five of us were more than ready for a calm and relaxing New Year’s Day.  We decided to take it easy, and after breakfast we all threw on wellies or sneakers and headed out our own front door to explore the grounds.

Since we’d arrived at The Old Vicarage after dark, we hadn’t been able to tell what the bed & breakfast or surrounding area really looked like at all.


It’s a lovely little collection of old stone buildings surrounded by meadows, horse pastures, and even a little stone church with a crumbling cemetery.


Pitted dirt roads and mossy stone walls wind through the whole place, and we all just kept picking paths as we came to them, splitting up and meeting again at the next corner.

The church on the grounds is Saint Hilary Church which dates all the way back to the 1200s.  Parts of the building and the cemetery are much newer, but we still spotted gravestones from the late 18th century.




We were wandering along the path that leads around the church when a sweet lady came bustling out of nowhere in her wellies & dressing gown and asked if we’d like to see the inside.  She unlocked the church with a big old-fashioned iron key, told us we could stay as long as we liked, and showed us how to turn the lights off when we left.


The entire floor was a beautifully tiled clay mosaic and the Christmas decorations were still up from the week before.



We flipped the lights off and pulled the heavy wooden door shut behind us before we continued our exploration of the property.


The gloomy weather actually added to the feel of the place, and everything looked brilliantly green against the gray sky and gray stone.

Doesn’t this just look like quintessential old English countryside?


Having enjoyed a sufficiently leisurely morning stroll, we figured that we should probably extend our experience of Cornwall at least slightly beyond the boundaries of our accommodation, so we piled back into Hip Hop Yellow and drove along the coast.

Just offshore from the little town of Marazion (or Marzipan, as my dad called it) is St. Michael’s Mount, a tiny island that’s home to a castle, chapel, fishing harbour, and even its own little village (sorry my spelling is so mixed up now – there are just some words that look better British).


The island has been inhabited for over 1500 years, and used to be the Cornish counterpart to Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, although the official connection ended when Henry V went to war with France in the 1400s.

Fun fact time, everybody!  Mont Saint-Michel was the inspiration for Minas Tirith in The Return of The King and St. Michael’s Mount is its English twin, so basically we visited the capital of Gondor that day.


During low tide, the island is accessible by a stone walkway from the mainland.  We lucked out and happened to get there while the walkway was fully exposed, so even though it was misty and wet, we decided to check it out.


Not much was happening on the little ol’ island that day, but on Tuesdays and Fridays you can take a tour of the castle, and during nicer days in the summer there are cafes and little shops in the village.  St. Michael’s Mount also has its own underground railway through the island, which is still used to transport goods between the harbour and the castle.


It was raining lightly but very consistently at this point, and we were all soaked after about five minutes on the island.  Just then, the top half of the closest house’s Dutch door swung open and a guy in a big knit sweater leaned out.  The world’s most perfect Cornish fisherman told us that we’d better scamper on back to the mainland if we wanted to make it, or else he’d worry about us in this weather.

Apparently the tide was coming in quicker than we’d realized, and the island’s last residents were currently hurrying home in a little white van before they were marooned for another cycle.


We quickly thanked the fisherman and started our mad dash back along the walkway.  Before we were halfway along, the water was already lapping at our toes.


The rain was coming down in earnest by this point, and the rocks were slippery with seaweed and slime.  The wind was picking up and the waves were getting bigger, and being swept off the path and into the sea did not seem that far outside of the realm of possibility.  If I were a mermaid I would not have been concerned.


We made it back to shore with a little slipping and sliding, hightailed it away from the beach, and dove headfirst into the first open coffee shop we came across.

It was The Coffee Lounge attached to The Marazion Hotel and we spent the next hour warming up our toes and letting our jackets drip dry while we had tea and scones and chatted with the manager, Susie.

By the time we were ready to venture back outside, the rain had stopped and the sun was desperately trying to poke through the dark stormclouds.


The walkway out to St. Michael’s Mount was just barely visible as it slid off the beach and into the water, and after a few more minutes, it was nowhere in sight.


There were a few daring kiteboarders taking advantage of the wind and swells.  It made me miss my Outer Banks friends & coffee customers – I know so many of them would’ve been out there, too, despite the rain and freezing temps!



Paul, Amity, and I hopped back in the car while my parents decided to brave the three-mile coastal walk to Penzance.  Good on them, but I was getting brainfreeze from the wind.  By the time they met us back at The Longboat Inn, us kids were properly warmed up and a couple pints ahead of them.

We all relaxed in the pub, caught a bit of whatever football match was on, and were glad to fulfill our promise of returning and giving those fine folks some patronage after they’d been so jolly nice and helpful to us during the previous night’s wild goose chase!

The afternoon held another exciting adventure for us, but I have altogether too many pictures of it to keep going right now, so you’ll have to come back again soon…

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