It was a sunny Saturday morning and we were up early to catch the train down to England's south coast.
We were staying with a friend in Shoreham-by-Sea, so it was an easy 90 minute journey from Farringdon station in the center of London.
Shoreham-by-Sea (or ShoBe as the locals seem to refer to it) is a quirky slice of English seaside, but has real appeal. The town center has a number of very nice cafes and coffee options - as we walked through we picked up some raspberry and almond friands from the recently opened Real Patisserie - amazing.
ShoBe has an unusual mix of architecture styles - some sleek and modern show-stoppers with direct beach access, some art deco treasures, quite a bit of post-war temporary looking pre-fab, plus an entire street where boats have been turned into unusual dry-land homes.
The beach itself is a classic English pebble beach - what makes the beach at ShoBe slightly unusual is that it is also covered with native grasses (that flower impressively during June).
We stopped in to check out the Shoreham Airport - a remarkable art deco building. You can sit outside in the sun, watching the small planes land and take-off, looking out across to nearby Lancing College and its enormous and impressive Harry Potter-esque chapel.
This area of the southern coast is defined by the rolling hills of the South Downs National Park, which almost seems to create a unique micro-climate for the coastal communities. We drove up to the Devil's Dyke look-out which affords spectacular views across the picturesque Sussex countryside. If you fancied some challenging walking, this would be a good place to begin your rambling adventures.
Our next stop was Brighton - well known as a major tourist destination and party town. On the face of it, Brighton can seem a bit tacky and obvious. It was great to have some local guidance to help us find the best that Brighton can offer. Tightly packed and busy, you can spend hours exploring the shops, markets and cafes of The Lanes precinct which showcases Brighton’s beachy vibe at its best.
Having refueled with some delicious bagels from Bagelman, we wandered down past the bizarrely exotic Royal Pavilion (built by King George IV as a pleasure palace to entertain fashionable Regency society) and then on to Brighton Pier which defines for the world everything that is English seaside culture.
A good game to play on holidays is trying to find the best possible ice-cream in whatever location you’re visiting. There’s two ways to do this - either stop at every ice-cream vendor you see and then rate them all to find your winner; or scope out all of the options as you wander past and try and select the best - hoping that you’ve made the right choice and not missed out on something amazing. Feeling slightly diet-conscious, on this trip we opted for the more sensible approach and so saved our ice-cream blow out for Boho Gelato - pretty good choice, who knew that carrot cake ice-cream would be so delicious?
The day that we were in town it was the annual pier-to-pier open water swimming race which is organized by the Brighton Swimming Club. From the shoreline it doesn’t look too big a distance, but it is 1,056m which is a solid open water swim although fortunately the conditions seemed relatively calm. We spoke to a number of swimmers after the race, they were all tired but happy with their times.
The local gay and lesbian swimming club train on Saturday nights at Roedean Girls School on the outskirts of Brighton. It’s a really nice pool with spectacular coastal views. After training we joined the team for drinks at nearby pub The Rock - a neighborhood pub where the staff were friendly and the nearly 20 swimmers could relax, catch up and share plans for the night ahead.
Driving along the beach road, heading west through Brighton’s coastal conurbation, you get to appreciate some of the unique character that makes this area quite special. The brightly painted changing huts on the beach at Hove; the mustard yellow grandeur of Brunswick Terrace; and the Grand Hotel where then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously survived the 1984 bombing by the IRA.
For dinner we had our hearts set on traditional English fish and chips. Our host took us to The Fish Factory in Worthing. Worthing is a quiet seaside village, but The Fish Factory was busy - we were glad that we’d booked a table. This restaurant offers an extensive menu of a variety of different types of fish that you can have grilled, battered or in a matzo crumb. I opted for halibut, cooked in batter with a big serving of chips. Really delicious.
After a really solid night’s sleep in superbly quiet ShoBe, it was with some regret that we boarded the train back to the hustle and bustle of London. A great weekend mini-break.