May 10th, 2015
Since the weather has been improving recently, we decided that a trip to the seaside was in order. For most Londoners, Brighton is the obvious choice. Besides being directly south and an easy train ride away, it is a lively, happening place. After bandying the idea around rather unenthusiastically, we realized we wanted a bit of a respite from all of that. We decided to save Brighton for another time, and we started looking at other alternatives. Eastbourne was mentioned as quite a nice place with large white chalk cliffs in the background and all of the lovely architectural remnants of a once widely-popular Victorian resort. Nowadays it is known as more of a retirement village, but since we were looking for some peace and quiet, that suited us just fine.
When we got to Eastbourne, the weather was several degrees cooler (in Celsius!) than London, and the sky was grey and overcast, which couldn’t help but color our first impressions of the town. It was all very Victorian and spotlessly clean, but we thought it looked tired. We walked around for half an hour or so, and we saw only a handful of people, none of whom looked particularly pleased to be there, either. All of the cafes and restaurants appeared to be closed, but on closer inspection, they were just completely deserted, even though it was 12:30 on a Sunday. We must have looked a pretty miserable pair as we sat down to eat. We were both regretting not going to Brighton and wondering if the train fare had been worth it.
We still had the chalk cliffs to look forward to, and while they weren’t the white cliffs of Dover, they were going to be the first ones we had ever seen. We had high hopes that the landscape would justify the time and money.
The walk to the cliffs is along a pedestrian promenade, with the English Channel on one side and flower beds, hotels, and “chalets” and beach huts on the other. We had never seen these beachside accommodations before but they are little rooms and huts with patios that you can rent as a base camp for your day/week/year at the seaside. People had chairs set up on their patios and were reading books, eating lunch, and talking to their neighbors. While you couldn’t live or even (comfortably) sleep in one, it is like a very tiny condo for a fraction of the price. Some even had hookups to the water main.
All along this paved walk, the cliffs loomed large in front of us, and we walked for ages without making any discernible progress. Finally they were right in front of us, and the sidewalk ended, so we made our way across the pebbles to get a closer look.
Incidentally, this was also our first experience with a pebbled beach. I couldn’t have cared less since I have never liked sand one bit or its pervasive habit of finding its way into your shoes. Stephen, however, has very strong opinions about beaches, and he came perfectly prepared to hate it. I could tell he was already thinking of how he would describe pebbly beaches and all of their faults to his coworkers. But he was wrong. While it is not nearly as fun to walk on as a sandy beach, it does have two major draws that neither of us where expecting.
- It is comfortable. No, I don’t mean comfortable like lying on a sand beach. It isn’t like that at all. It is BETTER. You would think little jagged bits of rock would poke and jab you in all the wrong places, but they don’t. The endless tide going in and out polishes even the scariest-looking shard of flint until it is smooth and soft to the touch. And since the majority of the rocks are small pebbles, when you sit down, it felt a lot like lowering yourself onto a beanbag chair, as absurd as it sounds. You can feel the pebbles shifting and moving underneath you until you’re left with a perfect you-sized indent in the beach. I don’t know if all pebbly beaches are as comfortable as this one, but Eastbourne had it going on. A perfect beach to nap on.
- It is adjacent to chalk cliffs, so there are lots of bits of chalk interspersed with all of the “harder” rocks. And these chalk pebbles are, well, chalk. I doodled on my jeans, I doodled on other rocks, I doodled on my backpack. It was great fun, like being in grade school again. If you bring a chalkboard along with the normal pails and shovels, you could keep a kid entertained for hours. Or maybe more like half an hour depending on your child’s attention span, but still.
As we were reclining on the beach, staring up at the cliffs and out over to the Channel, the sun finally decided to make an appearance. With the sun warming our skin and our stomachs full, we walked back to the pier in a much lighter mood.
…And suddenly there were people everywhere! I know the Brits do a lot of complaining about the weather, but it really makes every sunny day feel like a gift. No one ever takes a sunny day for granted.
We walked along the promenade to the pier, seeing everything through much happier eyes, and we found that we quite liked Eastbourne. We had completed misjudged it. We went from regretting coming to being so happy that we did. It had beautiful buildings, clean bathrooms, easy walking paths, beachside cafes every hundred yards, a bandstand where musicians were playing jazzy tunes, and a pier that had both a chippy and a candy floss stand. They sold french fries and cotton candy, in American-speak. What more could you really want?
(Stephen’s response: “Popcorn. Barcelona had popcorn.”)
In the end, we didn’t get chips or candy floss (or popcorn.) We got this toffee-covered masterpiece. It just isn’t a trip to the seaside without ice cream.