With lockdown extending into indefinite dreariness, I wanted to reminisce over a trip I enjoyed to Brighton last year. Personally, I am of the belief that, whilst the city does have much to offer, the surrounding countryside and South Downs are an underappreciated gem.
My outing swept me away for a mid-week, during a brisk but unexpectedly warm November, with the intention of exploring two beautiful sites – Ditchling Beacon, and Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters Cliffs.
Brighton, of course, has several notable attractions – the pier (if you want to throw coins away and be attacked by gulls), the many museums, the shopping Lanes. But, on my first day, I ventured towards Ditchling Beacon.
Accessing the Ditchling Beacon peak is relatively simple by car, since there is a National Trust car park, though it can be reached by foot. As I pedestrian, I was slightly mis-directed onto a bus that deposited me six miles from my target, which was less than ideal.
Undeterred, I managed to trek cross-country, soon finding conveniently connected footpaths, by following the handily signposted map below.
It was fortuitous, in part, since the scenery was absolutely stunning, boasting impressive views over the Brighton skyline.
Additionally, I passed the Chattri War Memorial. Constructed from white marble in 1921, ‘Chattri’ means ‘umbrella’ in Hindi, with the dome sitting over the cremated remains of the Indian soldiers who died during WWI.
Despite the season, much of my walk was enjoyably temperate, guided by expansive, rolling hills, and vibrant fields. Visibility was spectacular, perfectly exposing the endless, picturesque landscape.
The peak of Ditchling Beacon itself, situated adjacent to the carpark, is actually slightly underwhelming. It’s the surrounding reserve that provides a worthy draw for walkers, with enough acres to now cooperate with adequate social distancing.
Stranded at the top with no other method of returning home, I managed to hitch-hike back to the city centre, for which I was greatly relieved.
My accommodation that evening was a shared dormitory (definitely not COVID-proof), which left a couple of hours to fill. This, I utilised by sampling Brighton’s famous nightlife. I had supper by the pier, before hopping between a couple of different pubs, all of which felt youthful and friendly.
The following day, my target was Birling Gap. I had ambitious plans to navigate from Eastbourne station (ten minutes outside of Brighton), since Maps appeared to show an easy walk traversing uninterrupted countryside.
Perhaps naively (stupidly), I failed to check what this would actually entail. The reality would have been following a pavement-less A-road for an hour.
Instead, I discovered I could cross through fields again, emerging at Beachy Head lighthouse, and then walking towards Birling Gap following the coast.
The Seven Sisters Cliffs are wonderfully pretty, and made for an amenable walking companion. Further on, I had lunch in the National Trust Café overlooking Birling Gap, which was relatively expensive, but nice.
The Birling Gap beach is lovely too, and typically so quiet as to feel secretive. This summer, the same, sunny day over 500,000 people descended upon Bournemouth, I visited again and found it almost deserted.
From there, I was able to follow the coast back to Eastbourne, before completing the gentle train journey back to London.
The South Downs is a lovely region of countryside, and very accessible from London. Since my trip, I have also visited Devil’s Dyke, and though I inexplicably returned without any photos, I can assure you, it’s worth the trip.
Ultimately, I found my time in Brighton thoroughly enjoyable, even if most of it was passed outside the city. Over the span of those two days, I walked a collective 40km. Outings into the South Downs should be considered, especially if they are within your local area.
Thanks for reading! I regularly post short stories, contemporary commentaries, or travel blogs like this, so stay tuned!
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