Dover, East and West Sussex

Much of our travel in southern England was in 1984 (just a little while ago now) and information is quite possibly out of date. Timeless, though, was the magnificent sight of the famous white cliffs of Dover as we arrived by sea from Belgium. Subsequent arrivals have been by air and, once, the Eurostar train from France. Take the time to catch a cross Channel ferry as the cliffs are really spectacular.

Dover was memorable for three other things, though I’m sure it has more to offer.

It was here we first experienced pebble beaches, (Dover’s pebbles were less pebble-like and more good-sized-rock-like), and the fun, as Australians, of mocking English beaches.

We happened upon a military tattoo at Dover Castle. Unlike Edinburgh’s tattoo this was a daytime event and we basked in the summer warmth (29° C; not kidding!) whilst enjoying a really entertaining afternoon. We actually enjoyed Dover’s Tattoo more than Edinburgh’s; it had greater variety and was more relaxing as we weren’t packed into the seating like sardines.

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Dover Military Tattoo 1984.

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Dover Military Tattoo. The goat is the regiment’s mascot.

The Roman Painted House: this was a very interesting exhibit as it is not often you see the colours preserved so well in such an ancient building.

“The excavations of 1971 and 1972 revealed parts of the south and west ranges of a substantial house, built of bricks and flint and consisting of at least six rooms, believed to have been constructed around AD 200. The rooms had floors of red mortar and the larger rooms had an under-floor heating system, or hypocaust. The internal walls of all the rooms had brightly coloured wall paintings on their plaster walls. It is the survival of these wall paintings that makes the house so remarkable, they are the best preserved in Britain, or almost anywhere outside Rome or Pompeii. The house may have been part of a mansio, an inn or guesthouse for travellers.”

Staying with impressive ancient Roman sites – some distance along the coast in west Sussex is Fishbourne Royal Palace. Thought to have been constructed by Rome for a loyal, local chieftain this is a vast structure and houses the best display of mosaics in Britain. The gardens have been recreated to reflect how they might have been in Roman times and you can even sample foods typical of the period. For a great story based around the construction of this palace read A Body in the Bathhouse by Lindsey Davis. Whilst not essential it is desirable to have read the previous books in this series to gain a feel for the characters. If you don’t read anything else, read the first book, The Silver Pigs.

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Mosaic floor discovered at Fishbourne Palace, West Sussex

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Samples of Roman recipes. Click on the image to enlarge. From Fishbourne Palace.

In 2008 we were visiting our daughter who was living in Brighton, Sussex. Brighton is only an hour from London by train and is a popular holiday destination. According to Wikipedia Brighton “is characterised by mild, calm weather with high levels of sunshine, sea breezes and a “healthy, bracing air” attributed to the low-level of tree cover.” Sea breezes are somewhat of a misnomer, gale force winds would often be more appropriate. The school where my daughter worked was built high on the cliffs above Brighton marina and had “wind days” where the students were not allowed outdoors because it was too dangerous! We arrived in pouring rain and howling wind and I was stupid enough to try to use an umbrella – exit one brolly.

Brighton is famous for two attractions, namely the Victorian pier and the Brighton Pavilion. The pier, which is so much more than a pier, gives you an insight into what was an essential seaside experience in Victorian England, and even today. We ran out of time to visit the Pavilion and only caught a glimpse of its exterior. It is a bizarre place.

Further east, Eastbourne also has a fine example of an Edwardian pier. Eastbourne pier has a camera obscura which has been renovated and can be visited. A camera obscura is an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings onto a screen. It led to the development of the camera and photography.

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Eastbourne pier.

Rather than pay exorbitant rates for accommodation in touristy Brighton, we opted for a self-catering apartment in a small village, Pevensey Bay, situated on the coast between Eastbourne and Hastings. This turned out to be a great choice as it allowed us to explore areas we had never heard of and wouldn’t have if we’d stayed in Brighton. Most people are familiar with the Norman Conquest of Britain and the Battle of Hastings in 1066. What they don’t know, though, is that the Normans actually landed at Pevensey Bay and the Battle of Hastings was fought, not in Hastings, but further inland at a place now aptly named Battle. Hastings itself is very similar in style to Eastbourne and Brighton.

Lewes (pronounced Loo-iss) is an historic market town in east Sussex, inland from Brighton. Attractions include the house of Anne of Cleves, (King Henry VIII’s fourth wife) and the ruins of the Priory which was destroyed during Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder treason and plot …”
(V for Vendetta 2005)

Best of all, though, if you are in the area on 5th November, is Guy Fawkes Night. Lewes is famed for hosting the UK’s largest Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night festivities. This event marks the date of the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, and also commemorates the memory of the seventeen Protestant martyrs from the town who were burnt at the stake for their faith. There are a number of different societies putting on multiple parades and firework displays, with up to 3000 participants. The events attract up to 80,000 spectators in the small town which has a usual population of about 16,000!

Whilst I have visited Lewis I was there in September not November. My daughter, however, has been to Lewes for Guy Fawkes and described it as an extraordinary experience. For photos click on the link above.

As I’ve said, staying in Pevensey Bay allowed us to discover some exceptional places “off the beaten track”. One of these was Michelham Priory which we visited because it was hosting a mediaeval day. The priory was founded by Augustinian monks some 800 years ago and is now a country house. It boasts England’s longest water filled moat, dating back to 1229. The fair was small but very interesting, with lots of demonstrations about life in medieval times and plenty of entertainment. A tour of the manor house was also included.

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Mediaeval Fair at Michelham Priory

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Best bubbles ever! Michelham Priory.

Rye is a small, interesting town in east Sussex some two miles from the sea. In medieval times it was an important part of the Cinque Ports confederation and was almost entirely surrounded by sea.There is no major tourist attraction in Rye; it is just a lovely and fascinating place to potter around.

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Fourteenth century bookshop, Rye.

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Rye street scene.

Arundel is a typically quaint market town in west Sussex with a castle and a cathedral. We went to the area because it boasted a very attractive walk which interested us. I will let the pictures do the talking:

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Arundel

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near Arundel

On the coast near Arundel, is Littlehampton where we came upon the most curious sight: surfing swans! You never know what you will find when you stray from the tourist path.

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