Britain is well-known for its “two weeks British summer” so when you get a few hot or sunny days, you feel almost compelled to seek some of its seaside shores. So if you live in London you might just think that the south-eastern coast around Brighton and Eastbourne (less than 2 hours from London by car or by train) will do OK for the weekend. And with a bit of luck, the waters of the English Channel will be warm enough for bathing (to non-believers: yes, the sea does get warm enough for swimming during some hot periods in summer).
With this thought in mind, we went to Eastbourne for the weekend, finding some last-minute accommodation in one of the many B&B villas in town, somehow sorry we couldn’t get a place at the Lighthouse (the Belle Tout Lighthouse is an atmospheric local landmark, an old lighthouse now transformed into a hotel), fully booked until September – hmm, I guess we were not the only ones to think that spending the night in an ex-lighthouse, right on the spectacular sea-shore and waking up with the sun in the morning would be cool.
Eastbourne is a place hard to define. It mingles some tacky decadence (the Victorian and Edwardian infrastructure on the Pier looks set in time but the exfoliating paint kind of tells you the town will do with some additional funding for restorations) with some really beautiful gardens, many along the sea-shore parade.
Although the Sussex town seems to be ageing (both in terms of population and infrastructure) and the visitor numbers are less than in its hey-days, we really liked the relaxed atmosphere and locals’ friendliness.
As you would expect for a town by the sea, there are plenty of fish dishes, but be aware that people around here really seem to like fried stuff (probably unsurprising for England). Our English breakfast for example included fried bread (which you can swap for toast!) along with the usual fried egg, fried bacon, fried sausage, fried tomato and fried mushrooms. However, if in doubt about local eateries, there is always a good choice of Italian and Asian restaurants.
During sunny days, Eastbourne has its own particular charm, especially seen from the cliffs nearby. The beauty of the surroundings with the Beachy Head and Seven Sisters’ tall chalky cliffs, the Belle Tout Lighthouse and the many little and picturesque villages and farms around, make it a worthwhile destination.
Let alone that when we were there, in late July, the sea water was very warm for swimming and as we went early during the low tide, we could also enjoy entire portions of sandy beaches (I have to admit I am not a great fan of rocky beaches where I have to fight my way to the water and back, flapping on the pointy pebbles).
To attract tourists (its main source of income) Eastbourne organises and hosts several events during the year. So as soon as we got there we were surprised by the Lammas Festival, that we completely unaware it was taking place that weekend (27-28 July). This old pagan ceremony, with vivid dances and songs (including variations of the famous English dance the Morris) is a harvest festival that the locals have been organising for the past 12 years. It is run by volunteers and supported by donations and the music, dances and arts & crafts are full of force and colour. And above all, it’s FREE – so I guess any donations or acquisitions of crafted souvenirs and goods are more than welcome.