I know that London isn’t perfect. But sometimes it’s not until you leave it (however briefly) that you start to appreciate it.
Today I found myself in Eastbourne. Before going any further I suppose I’d better point out that:
A) Before pedants pick on my choice of title, I know that Eastbourne isn’t a city.
B) I have nothing against Eastbourne per se. I’m not picking on the place for any reason.
I just happened to find myself in that particular part of East Sussex because I had an urge to go walking. By the coast. Along cliff tops. And Eastbourne happens to be a rather convenient starting point for Beachy Head and the South Downs Way. And I hadn’t been there since I was a kid.
So what does Eastbourne conjure up in your mind’s eye. Edwardian? Elegant but a little elderly now? Faded gentility? An echo of an era past? The 50s perhaps?
On the walk from the station to the promenade I was left with the distinct impression of chavs by the coast. Not quite as bad as, say, Clacton, but very noticeable. And a gaggle of goths in the vicinity of McDs.
If you want to size up anywhere by the coast then study the gulls. In Brighton they are brash. Hovering, just waiting to pounce when some unsuspecting visitor leaves their lunch or ice-cream unguarded for a moment. In Eastbourne the birds skulked and sulked, giving the distinct impression that they’d really rather be somewhere else. Suddenly, London didn’t seem quite so bad. And that was before the weather took a turn for the worse.
It was only serendipity (perhaps a desire to walk in the direction that would mean I was facing the sunset) that I hadn’t started at Seaford. So at least I had the wind and rain at my back most of the day. People I met coming the other way seemed to be suffering much more having to walk into it.
The climb from Cow Gap up to Beachy Head is a bit of a haul, but with some throaty panting like a steam-train tackling an incline I did it without a pause. The top seemed like a good place for a chocolate break (blueberries coated in Belgian white) and to take a look back over Eastbourne.
I read somewhere that back in the 19th century Eastbourne was planned to be a pleasant place. So what did I see? The sweep of the coast? The pier? No, the only thing that poked through the mist was a bloody great tower block. So much for town planning.
Beachy Head and Belle Tout lighthouse beyond are both easily accessible by car. A few tourists had obviously decided that, despite the weather, they’d venture out into the countryside. So how do you tell the difference between a walker and a tourist? No, it has nothing to do with anoraks. Just about everyone (apart from the really foolhardy) were hunkered down in shapeless, sensible clothes. But walking across a muddy field in white trainers, or trying to cling on to a brolly while the wind whirled and eddied is a dead giveaway.
You also get a better class of dog out in the wilds. None of those whiny snappy little rat-like things. Ones that look like their coat was designed to repel the damp, and their paws were meant to get muddy, and they were meant to be chasing rabbits rather than on a leash.
Birling Gap provided welcome shelter for a brief refuelling stop (cheese, chorizo and ciabatta should you care). After which the Seven Sisters were a pushover. The wind was backing, the rain wasn’t easing, and there was no sign of a break in the clouds.
A brief respite as I gazed over Cuckmere Haven from the top of the cliff. The shingle scrunching underfoot along the beach. Watching the run-off rainwater rip down the river and out to sea.
A warm welcoming pub at Exceat Bridge. Just over 16km according to the GPS, so let’s call it an even 10 miles for those of you who don’t do metric maps.
As a rule, I’m a fair-weather walker. But there was something about today. Soft suffused mist. Wind, rain, and a sense of achievement. A day spent doing nothing other than having a great day. Triumph out of adversity. Who would have thought that a rainy Easter in Eastbourne could have turned out so well.
So what did you do today? Because life is there to be lived.