After leaving Wells I made my way to the south coast and entered Sussex, passing Stonehenge along the way. It may puzzle you that I didn’t stop there, but I’ve visited before and the crowds and traffic do nothing to encourage me to return.
And so I made my way to another iconic location, one that has featured in numerous films and television programmes ranging from Brighton Rock to Harry Potter, yet its reputation is for a darker reason. According to some sources this is one of the top three places in the world… to commit suicide. Beachy Head’s chalk cliffs are an obvious choice for their height, but on the day I visited, bathed in the warm light of a setting sun they were positively uplifting. Their added draw was that they provided me with not one, but two lighthouses to add to this year’s collection.
Beachy Head light, just offshore was built when the original cliff top lantern (Belle Tout) was found to be useless in misty or foggy conditions. Years later it had to be moved to a more secure location in any event due to cliff erosion, but despite being decommissioned as a lighthouse, it has continued to be useful (featuring in the BBC’s adaptation of Fay Weldon’s Life & Loves of a She-Devil). It is now in private ownership and available as holiday accommodation.
From there is was a short trip to Eastbourne, traditionally viewed as a “dormitory town”, a seaside spot to enjoy retirement and await the grim reaper (without resorting to the cliff tops). That image is fading as the average age of the the town’s population is falls due to an influx of commuters and also immigrants.
What isn’t changing is the look of the seafront where the hotel facades are much the same as they were in the resort’s Victorian heyday. That is largely due to a decision by the landowner to prohibit any shopfront developments here. The hotels themselves point to that landowner’s identity as a member of the aristocracy. The Dukes of Devonshire’s home is the Chatsworth Estate in Derbyshire, and their family name is Cavendish.
There are other more interesting structures to view though.
There’s a Martello Tower, one of numerous squat circular defensive structures built across the British Empire in the 19th century. A beautifully tiled bandstand unique in its Neo-Grec design dates back to 1935. And then there’s the pier.
Opened in 1870, the pier has survived fires and wartime conversion to a machine gun post. It certainly wasn’t at risk of damage by visitors on the day I was there. The Great British Summer had put paid to that.