diamond geezer

 Monday, March 21, 2011

Seaside postcard: Newhaven
Unless you count a glorified garden centre, or a few nice information posts along the quayside, Newhaven has only one decent tourist attraction. On the top of the cliffs overlooking the mouth of the river. A Victorian fort.

Newhaven Fort: Most ancient monuments are more than 140 years old. But this defensive structure was completed only in 1871, at the behest of Lord Palmerston, in readiness for a French invasion that never came. It's well placed for a gun battery. Sheer chalk faces the water on two sides, while deep trenches defend against invasion from inland. But its timing was poor, built only a few years before the deployment of metal-hulled warships, and made entirely redundant by the advent of aerial bombardment in World War One. The Army kept it on as a training barracks until the 1960s when it was sold off to the local council. They passed it on to a private developer with plans for a holiday village, who promptly demolished most of the interior and went bust. A few years later the council tried again, teaming up to create an ambitious leisure destination called Fort Newhaven, but that collapsed too. So now it's run as a military heritage attraction - understated but realistically pitched. And, more than I initially expected, well worth seeing.

Head south out of Newhaven, past the "last public toilets before France", and the fort's up the top of a hill. Entrance is via the main drawbridge (it'd have to be via a rope otherwise), then past the nice lady at the turnstile in the gift shop. Rest assured that the interior's far more than a shell - the last round of private renovations saw to that. Along one side are fifteen 'casemates', which may look like railway arches but were where the officers used to sleep. Each has an exhibit or display inside, ranging from how the place was constructed to the failed WW2 invasion of Dieppe. I've heard the D-Day story many times before, but it hit home much better with a local connection. A filmshow explains the history of the fort, less amateurishly than usual, while another contains eerie Cold War memorabilia from a nuclear watch station. There's even an air raid simulation on the hour, every hour, which is exactly like the real thing except shorter, 100% safe and you don't emerge to find your house destroyed.

Along the eastern perimeter is a similar multi-room display based on World War I. The presentation's not especially modern, no touchscreens or interactive videos, but there are buttons to press throughout for a variety of well chosen soundscapes. The right side of educational, I thought. Round the back, dug into the cliffs, is the Eastern Magazine where explosives and shells were stored. There are plenty of whitewashed rooms to explore, lit and unlit, as well as a terribly narrow 'lighting passage' descending all the way along the back. For fitter visitors a 70-step staircase leads down to the ground level Caponier - that's a brick-built protrusion on the foreshore with several small windows for firing at passing ships. The lower tunnel's a little spooky, and yet somehow Yvette never brought the Most Haunted team here.

But it's more fun to climb the ramparts. A series of steep grassy banks lead up from the parade ground, first to a series of tunnels and chambers carved into the hillside. Even though you're not the first explorer around these parts there's still a feeling of discovery as you poke along each passageway, ascend crumbling staircases and emerge back into daylight somewhere else. 'Children must be supervised by an adult at all times', say the signs, but only because of a healthy lack of safety barriers around the edge of a variety of slippery slopes and gun emplacements.

The best views are up on the clifftop where the largest guns are/were sited. To the east is the shingly arc of Seaford Bay, ending with a majestic chalkface (though blotting out the Seven Sisters beyond). To the west a huge breakwater curves protectively against the prevailing winds, ending at the distant Newhaven Lighthouse. Whizzing inbetween come various motorboats, yachts, dinghies, whatever, making best use of the best harbour facilities for miles. And down below, temporarily moored up for the winter, are two massive (and I mean massive) salvage platforms. They're Karlissa-A and Karlissa-B, both 'jack-up barges' used in the Americas as temporary bases for recovery work. Each has six metal feet which can be extended down into deep water, but which currently stick up into the sky and are visible right across Newhaven. They'll not be around for much longer, but their presence sealed a most interesting visit. [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]

Open: daily 10:30am - 6pm (1st March - 31st October)
Admission: £6
Brief summary: coastal fortification & military museum
Website: www.newhavenfort.org.uk
Time to set aside: half a day

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream