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.


At the End of the World

Hey!  My post about our disastrous roadtrip out to Cornwall has been featured on a great travel site called See Something!  Head over there to check out their awesome collection of travel stories from people and places around the world.

Following a morning of nearly being swept into the sea at St. Michael’s Mount, we decided we hadn’t had nearly enough of it, and off we went to the edge of the map.


Land’s End (the inspiration for the one of polo shirts & yoga pants fame) is the aptly-named westernmost point of the English mainland, meaning there’s absolutely nothing between you and America when you stand on the cliffs.


The stormclouds were rolling in mighty fast, but my dad & I couldn’t pass up the chance to venture out a little further.


It was pretty windy on the point…


The waves were crashing like crazy against the cliffs on either side of us.



It was hard even then (and moreso in pictures) to get a feel for the true size of those waves because of how high we were and how vast the rest of the ocean was, but they were massive.  The kind of waves that would’ve turned a boat to matchsticks in minutes.


(Ooooh!  Everyone marvel at my impressive crashing-wave GIF.  Thank you.)


There’s a visitor’s centre and restaurant atop the highest cliffs near the carpark.  It’s a pretty big sprawling complex, but it looked so little from out on the point!


Once in a while, a wave would hit the coast just right and spray up higher than the cliffs themselves, and seawater would rain down on us from overhead.


Oh, want to see?  Okay:


(Guess how much I love making GIFs now.  A lot.)

The ominous cloudline (scroll back up to the first GIF to check it out) had been charging straight at us when we first arrived, but after about fifteen minutes it dissipated and blue sky began to peek through far out over the ocean.


Up the hill, behind us, the sky was still that weird cloudy yellow that usually precedes a big summer thunderstorm.  The threat of being swept out to sea was not completely gone yet.


And to up the creep factor even more, we spotted a cave where LORD VOLDEMORT MOST DEFINITELY HID ONE OF HIS HORCRUXES!  Whoa, sorry.  I was very scared.


One of the coolest features of the view was the Longships Lighthouse out on the horizon.  It’s actually 40 feet tall, but it’s over a mile offshore so it looked tiny to us.  A few times, the waves slammed into the rock that the lighthouse is built on and burst upwards, completely obscuring it for a few seconds.  Every time it happened, it looked like the spray from a gigantic whale’s blowhole, and I could imagine how legends of sea monsters used to spring up from waves hitting invisible rocks or shoals.


This spot reminded me so much of Nugget Point in New Zealand.  I’ve often said since that Nugget Point is one of my favorite spots in the entire world.  I love “edge of the map” places.  Something about staring out at that much ocean is just exhilarating.  It makes you feel so, so small – but not in a bad way.  (Alright, let’s reign it in – getting a little philosophical here.)


If you position yourself without the rock or the lighthouse in view and just look straight out over the ocean, it’s easy to understand how past explorers thought that it was possible to sail off the edge of the earth.


With another batch of dark clouds rolling in ahead of us, we raced the rain back up the hill and towards the glorious sunset that was emerging.


With a final glance back at Land’s End, we bundled ourselves into the car and drove back into charted territory.  It was definitely a magical way to start off 2014.


Visiting Land’s End was a completely last-minute decision for us, but it was one of my favorite parts of our trip to Cornwall.  I think I might embark on a lifelong quest to visit all the edges of the world that I can.  If you’ve been to a spot like this, let me know and it’s going on the list!

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