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.
IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL.
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…