Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A pootle around Eastbourne


After  a rather busy period at work over  the past few months, @potoft and I  have been feeling in need of a break. When we realised that the touring schedule of one of our actor chums would take him to Eastbourne in the run up to Easter, we packed our bags and packed up work at lunch on Maundy Thursday.

Eastbourne  is quite cheap to travel to, with  a single costing 5-15 quid if you're willing to, or, able to commit to catching a specific train, and is a little over an hour from London Victoria. My preferred mode of train travel is on long distance, high speed trains with luggage racks, seat reservations and a cheap first class upgrade. Unfortunately, the train to Eastbourne doesn't really offer any of these, but Eastbourne's relatively short distance from London means the journey is tolerable.

On  the way out, we had the privilege of being joined by family with three children named Tarquin, Tabatha and Jeremy. Their company made the journey more noteworthy as I was able to catch snippets of conversation of them fretting about where the children should put their violin, cello and cor anglais (oh for a luggage rack), with the mother expressing frustration that the rest of the passengers on the train had chosen their seats to prevent the von Trapp family orchestra from travelling in their own compartment all whilst father (pater or papa interchangeably) scattered fragments of pain rustiqe across the train.

Noel  Coward sang 'why do the wrong people  travel?', whereas I, with slightly more egalitarian views ask 'why do the wrong people travel at the same time as me?'. However, whilst the scenery makes the journey pleasurable, it is the conversations of one's fellow passengers that make journeys memorable.

On exiting the station we discovered that Eastbourne is particularly well serviced by charity shops and their are perhaps 8 within 100m of the railway station. We looked in about 5 shops (after the third I start to forget which type of animal they are supporting), and acquired 2 LPs for the princely sum of £2- the soundtrack to Oklahoma! and a Music Hall album.

We stayed at the 'Eastbourne Centre', which  sits on the sea front and despite being owned by a trade union is a very modern and pleasant hotel, with most rooms having their own balcony with a good proportion having sea views for £90 per night. We treated ourselves to a larger room with a sofa and two balconies (we like the option of not spending time with each other) in the expectation that poor weather might force us indoors.
Room 306

The view from the balcony

View towards the pier

Our  friend's landlady had provided a list of recommendations which included the 'Holiday Inn' as the best fish & chips in Eastbourne. There are three important facts to understand about this: 1) it isn't an Inn, 2) it isn't part of a hotel chain and 3) you won't find Bing Crosby in black face there. However, it does have a choice of 4 sherries (fino, amontilado and two cream) and includes a pint of shandy on the menu. This is not what I think of as the typical chip shop. With slightly odd decor, which included canvas prints of photos of Tower Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge, they couldn't be accused of overplaying a seaside theme. What the Holiday Inn does have is a collection of the world's tallest stacks of serviettes, beautifully arranged with spiky leaves.

I'm  not sure which came first, the decorative place-mats and sherry or the senior citizens,  but the restaurant clearly does good business - there was space for at least 50 covers and all of them were in use whilst we dined. This is a popular, but, based on the quality of fish an overrated restaurant. If this is the best, I wouldn't recommend eating fish in Eastbourne.

Eastbourne  is a strange town, being surprisingly  large and well apportioned with facilities - it hosts the Eastbourne tennis championships which acts as the ladies' warm-up for Wimbledon. It also has two decent sized theatres - the Devonshire Park Theatre (capacity of over 900), with a pleasing frontage flanked by two Italianate towers (originally housing water tanks in case of fire), and the larger 1600 seat Congress Theatre, and is identifiably from the 1960s (there's also a third theatre, the hippodrome, which predates both, but I'm not sure what it's like inside as it looks a bit grotty).

By chance, when looking at tickets for Driving Miss Daisy at the Devonshire Park Theatre, I noticed that Joe Brown was playing the Congress Theatre. Joe Brown is described as a 'legend of rock'n'roll', perhaps mainly because of his longevity, given he is still gigging spritely at the age of 71 and it is now 53 years since his first hit single. We'd seen Joe Brown in concert before, supporting Status Quo at Wembley, and we enjoyed a bit of old fashioned rock'n'roll,to complement the Quo's own 12 bar boogie rock.What particularly interested me was the fact that he has recently released a ukulele album which he was incorporating into his set.

@potoft  and I often find ourselves in situations  where we are somewhat younger than the rest of the clientèle  but waiting in the bar of the Congress Theatre, we were confronted by a sea of grey permanent waves and realised that everyone in the theatre could easily have just been eating with us in the chip shop. I'd estimate that the average age of the audience was easily over 70. This was definitely the first gig I'd been to with valet parking for walkers, mobility scooters and zimmer frames.

I  had booked tickets on the centre terrace  - seats running perpendicular to the stage  and only once I had booked and paid was I informed they might be restricted view in music events. They were actually restricted view because of the speaker stacks which sit at the front of the stage on either side, whilst Joe and his band were sat about 7 metres back from the front edge of the stage, which meant that his son (who also does a lot of the fancy guitar work) and his drummer were largely obscured from view. However, it was a fun concert, even if devoid of dancing in the aisles and largely consisted of new arrangements of classic rock songs on either ukulele or guitar, with accompaniment from a double bass.

After the show, we met up with our friend and the rest of the cast and crew of Driving Miss Daisy in a nearby pub and we had the privilege of meeting Gwen Taylor and Don Warrington.

On Good Friday morning, we repeated the events of the last time we were in Eastbourne (same hotel, also at Easter) and went for a walk, this time up to Beachy Head.


Walking down the seafront towards Beachy Head we stopped off at Meads Village, which is at the West end of Eastbourne and the large Victorian, Edwardian and later houses are of a consistently excellent standard. Other quirky buildings we stumbled upon included a bus shelter with a viewing platform on top for seaviews and a former nunnery and chapel, with the nunnery buildings now converted to flats.

Double decked bus shelter with viewing gallery

All Saints Chapel and former nunnery

We met our friend (who is used here as a model for photos below) at a cafe in Meads village and we ordered two lattes and I enquired if they had any hot cross buns (it being Good Friday), and was told by the server he'd find out. I assumed the delay in returning was because he had sneakily popped to Tesco next door to buy some to toast them for me - alas it wasn't to be, they just forgot. We set off on our walk.

Reaching the beginning/end of the South Downs Way, the signpost said 1 mile to Beachy Head. Google maps (and past experience walking the other way suggested 2 miles) - it transpires that just like South London, the South Downs also has dodgy signage. Had we followed the more well trodden footpath, which is rather more undulating and hugs the coast more tightly, the distance could easily have increased by another mile.
View back towards Eastbourne just after the start of the South Downs Way
As we reached Beachy Head, it was quite a solemn experience, seeing memorials for those who took their own lives and the various crosses could not but remind me of the hills of Golgotha/Calvary. In some ways walking up to Beachy Head feels like rubbernecking the suffering of others, but the height of the cliffs (the highest in England) and their sudden drop to the sea make it a stunning and beautiful location that people rightly enjoy walking to and past. That said, when we visited two years previosuly, as we we finishing our walk along the Seven Sisters, we did encounter someone on a mobility scooter out for a ride.

Easyrider Beachy Head
It was a bit sunnier two years ago

The weather was not kind, and we suffered from wind, snow and hail as I struggled to enjoy my ice cream (no raspberry sauce!), forcing our actor friend to don special weather protective clothing.

He might be an actor, but he's not dramatic

Taking in the view, Beachy Head

Beachy Head Lighthouse

Pensive actor- takes direction very well

@potoft slightly more cautious

Memorial to someone who had taken their life



Heathcliffe - it's me, it's Cathy
Our return to Eastbourne was a circular route, following the Beachy Head Road towards the Old Town. We had the foresight of booking a table at what our friend's landlady described as the oldest pub in Britain, and specifically requested a fireside table, despite not actually knowing if there was a fire, but one assumes that the oldest pub in Britain should have a fire. Needless to say, the need to reach the pub for a 1.30pm reservation, howling wind on our backs and in our faces led us to trot on at speed.

Wind-shaped barren trees dotted the landscape and we sought refuge from the wind by walking through a small wood, and enjoyed watching a very large family of rabbits playing hide and seek in a thicket, whilst the babies played catch up with their family.
Wild wind

A little bit of woodland we went 'off piste' through
We made it to the pub with 10 minutes to spare and settled down for some traditional pub grub and real ale. It turns out there was a fire, and a pleasingly warm one at that.

A brief history of the Lamb Inn
A warming welcome fire at the Lamb Inn
After dinner, we had a short walk back through the town centre, where we were able to appreciate some of Eastbourne's specialist retail offering.
Camilla's Bookshop - possible haunted bookshop

Posh & Decks bridal shop with a number of 'gypsy wedding' dresses


That night we saw Driving Miss Daisy and then headed over to the Belgian Café, which I can confirm to be the only decent restaurant near the seafront in Eastbourne - we all enjoyed dishes from the special Scallop Festival Menu, washed down with a bucket of 5 different Belgian beers. I had recommended the café to our friend and he had dined there everyday of his week long stay, and his meals included a 30 oz t-bone steak and all you can eat mussels for £15 on successive nights - not a bad deal!

Our concluding comments on Eastbourne on the way to the station the next morning were 'why you can't get a nice toasted teacake for breakfast?'.

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