New Series: Great Weekends By Train - Brighton
In the first of a new series of posts about easy weekend breaks from London, VisitEngland's editor Emma Field visits Brighton, armed with our Green Brighton Guide that we produced with VisitBrighton and VisitEngland.
Being a north Londoner, I thought I'd have to travel across London to Victoria Station to catch the train to Brighton. I was wrong. You can take a direct train to Brighton from St Pancras Station, and the journey time is just 1 hour 20 minutes – only 20 minutes longer than from Victoria.
As soon as I arrived in Brighton I swapped railway for two wheels, at Amsterdammers' Cycle Hire. Brighton is delightfully compact, if a little hilly, and the city's distinct neighbourhoods can be easily explored on bike, or on your own two feet if you prefer. Desperate to brush away blackened city cobwebs, I pedalled straight to the seafront.
Brighton seafront stretches for seven miles. I started my ride at its newest addition, the Brighton Wheel, which gives panoramic views along the coast and inland to the South Downs, and headed west. Just next door, the iconic Brighton Pier juts into the sea, pumped full of neon-clad rides and arcades, while the creative displays of The Artist Quarter spill onto the promenade. Half-way along, I stopped to admire the bleak ruins of the West Pier, before reaching a colourful row of beach huts in Hove in the west, where kite surfers swooped and skimmed the waves.
Invigorated, and hungry, I cycled back inland to Fishy Fishy restaurant for some seasonal, sustainably sourced seafood. Whole grilled Cornish sardines went down very well to start, followed by Channel-caught, beer-battered fish and chips and washed down by Hepworth Organic, a Sussex-brewed light beer.
Tummy full, I headed to the nearby Royal Pavilion. The opulent Oriental appearance of the Prince Regent's pleasure palace is brilliantly out of place among Brighton's Regency heritage, but perfectly suited to Brighton's bohemian soul. Inside, the Oriental touch intensifies and I wandered open-mouthed through flamboyant rooms stuffed with gilded domes, flying dragons and carved palm trees.
Desire to own beautiful things ignited, it was time for some serious shopping. The Lanes used to be the centre of Brighton's fishing community. Nowadays the flint-covered fishermen's cottages are filled with boutique, designer and antiques shops. There's something incredibly romantic about the tiny shopfronts jostling for space in the narrow winding alleyways.
>> Download the Green Brighton Guide [16mb]
A short bike ride back towards the station and I found myself in the North Laine, Brighton's Cultural Quarter and a hubbub of creativity. Hundreds of bright, innovative shops, galleries and studios overflow onto the streets and, as you can imagine, the people watching is just as absorbing. I browsed the heaving racks of vintage clothing shops Hope & Harlequin and Beyond Retro, picked up some Tabasco chocolate in Chillipepperpete's Chilli Shop, and checked out local urban art in Ink'd Gallery.
That night, I stayed in The White House across town in yet another of Brighton's neighbourhoods, Kemp Town, known for its chic and trendy bars, clubs and restaurants. That was my evening sorted! The White House is two minutes from the seafront and £10 is donated to Chestnut Tree House children's hospice for late check out. Oh, and the breakfast is phenomenal. If you stay here, book peaceful room one and make the most of the suntrap balcony.
I really wanted to escape city life completely for a few hours, so I took a short train ride to quaint Lewes for a guided walk with Maria, from So Sussex. Maria suggested a five mile stroll to Glynde. We sweated our way up a steep hill, past cute cottages, through woodland and emerged onto a golf course at the top. Crossing a meadow of wild flowers just past their best, we stopped to take in the view. Standing there, it was clear why Brighton & Hove and Lewes Downs is applying to become part of UNESCO's global network of biosphere reserves, which promotes areas with a balanced relationship between man and environment. Beneath us was a patchwork landscape of hillsides wrinkled and puckered by parallel sheep trails, as if the altitude lines of an Ordnance Survey map had been transplanted onto the ground itself.
We stopped for tea and moist, homemade chocolate-and-banana bread on a bench at Mount Caburn, a Bronze Age Fort perched at the top of an escarpment. On the horizon was Firle Beacon, at 190m the highest point in the area. The River Ouse, where Virginia Woolf drowned herself in 1941, looped a thick brown thread through the valley.
Heading down into Glynde, the views in the other direction took in the Weald, Ashdown Forest and the Glyndebourne Estate. Glynde itself is a chocolate-box cluster of flint-encrusted cottages, with a Post Office, pub and even a working blacksmith open for tours if you catch him at the right time. We didn't, so settled for a drink in The Trevor Arms before hopping on a train back to Lewes, on to Brighton, and then home in time for supper.
Getting there: Emma travelled by train from London St Pancras to Brighton.
Journey time: 1 hour 20 minutes. Cost: from £15.40 one way.
>> Book tickets via thetrainline.
For more ideas for days out in Brighton: www.visitbrighton.com/eco-brighton
For more ideas of weekend breaks in England: www.visitengland.org