Newhaven (Harbour Heights): My westward walk kicked off from the car park at Newhaven Fort, where a path heads up into gorse-covered heathland. There was a fantastic view from the summit of Castle Hill - across to Seaford, out into the Channel and down to the pebbly beach below - and the perfect spot too for a coastguard tower. A temporary sign warned ramblers off a short strip of coast path for fear of landslip, although there were no such warnings for the next couple of miles. The footpath hugged the clifftop with no barriers whatsoever, just a sudden precipice a few grassy metres (or feet) to my left [photo]. At one point I became totally absorbed in a map, wandering forwards oblivious to the precipice alongside, before suddenly remembering where I was and snapping back to reality with a jolt. This was the best stretch of the entire ten mile walk, striding between elevated fields and the sea, with only the occasional pause to peer over the rim at the stupendous chalk cliffs below. [photo][photo][photo]
Peacehaven: And then, suddenly, civilisation [photo]. The fields gave way to a line of houses, almost entirely bungalows, with residents out tending their gardens in the first flush of spring. Peacehaven started out 100 years ago under the auspices of founder Charles Neville. He planned a garden city by the sea, based on a regular grid of roads and avenues, although the end result is more hundreds of acres of residential sprawl. One thing Charles got right was to keep all commercial activity away from the shoreline. A grassy promenade follows the clifftop, undulating past successive south-facing bungalows, and with only the occasional flinty track to carry residents' cars into the town proper [photo]. The promenade's a popular dog-walking spot, mostly small yappy dogs of the kind favoured by retired Daily Express readers. At the foot of Horsham Avenue is the point where the Greenwich Meridian passes out to sea, and the spot is marked by a MeridianMonument. Up top is a symbolic green globe, while a plaque on the northern face informs readers that the spherical distance to Greenwich is 58 statute miles. The monument was erected in 1936, and also commemorates the death of 'beloved sovereign' King George V [photo]. Apparently the memorial's twice had to be shifted slightly inland during its lifetime, thanks to coastal erosion, but if it shifts too much further it'll first block the road and then make a mess of the nearest bungalow's garden. [photo][photo][photo]
Telscombe Cliffs: My attempt to walk solely along the clifftops foundered immediately after the Badgers Watch pub. The local water company have carved a ramp down through the chalk to give access to a new pumping station, part of a coastal sewage system currently being bored out by tunnelling machines. A much smaller path leads down the cliff to Brighton's second nudist beach - this far more secluded than the one near the centre of town. Telscombe Beach has an alienlandscape of strewn white boulders, not welcoming sand, and its naturist credentials are entirely unofficial. Defiant strippers have scrubbed out the word "not" to create a "Nudism allowed" sign at the beach's entrance, so maybe the imposition of an adjacent sewage pumping station is the local councillors' way of getting their own back. [photo]
Saltdean: At the heart of Saltdean, in a natural dip facing the coast road [photo], lies Oval Park. And at the front of Oval Park is one of the finest Art Deco buildings on the south coast - SaltdeanLido. I may be compromised by seeing it in bright sunny weather, but ooh it's gorgeous. A gently curving façade, creamy walls, elegant terrace and two sparkling blue pools. And empty. According to the current owner the lido makes a large annual loss because repair bills are too high and the outdoor bathing season is too short. So he has plans for flats, an indoor pool, an extended library, and all sorts of things which aren't a simple 1930s lido. Locals are up in arms, or at least they were until last week when the government conferred Grade 2* listed status on the structure. This may protectthe building for the future, allowing families to come splash their summers away, yet still may not be enough to make the place viable. But for the time being, as lidos so often are, it's gorgeous. [photo][photo][photo][photo]
Rottingdean: A little further along the coast and Saltdean rolls almost imperceptibly into Rottingdean. Less of a suburban estate, this is a proper historic village with bijou high street and big black windmill on the hill [photo]. A short distance inland is the village green, with village pond, and local village celebrity [photo]. RudyardKipling used to live in the house opposite St Margaret's Church, circa 1900, and upstairs at The Elms is where he wrote his famous Just So Stories. Alas sightseers would deliberately ride the horsedrawn bus from Brighton in an attempt to peer over the wall and catch a glimpse of the great man from the top deck, so he soon moved on to a quieter village elsewhere. Kipling's story is told in a free museum across the road at The Grange, which doubles as an art gallery and the local library [photo]. Meanwhile his former backyard is now open as a municipal garden, in March not yet at its best, but evidently a summer jewel.
Roedean: The cliffs go on and on and on and on, as does the grassy promenade alongside. If you get too tired, these fields have one of the best bus services you'll ever find on a clifftop, so hop aboard and skip the final trek into Brighton. But oh look, that's the famous girls' boarding school facing out across the Channel like a grand stately home. [photo]
Brighton: Brighton goes on a bit too. At its easternmost extreme is the Marina Village, an extreme hybrid of berthing platforms and luxury living [photo][photo]. Thousands of well-off folk choose to live in high-rise apartments at the foot of the cliffs, protected behind a sturdy breakwater and conveniently close to their yachts and a giant Asda. Sooner them than me. From here I could have taken the pioneering Volks Electric Railway along the beach (except it wasn't running). Or I could have taken a stroll along Madeira Drive past the crazy golf and a gathering of souped-up boy racers (except I was determined to continue at clifftop level for as long as possible). So I continued for another mile and a half along Marine Parade [photo], the crowds slowly building to a tourist crescendo, until finally reaching the legendary Palace Pier [photo]. And I would have nipped to the fairground at the end, honest, if only my legs hadn't decided that walking four hours from Newhaven was quite far enough thankyou.
If you fancy a walk round the Brighton area, check here. For the wider South Downs area, click here. And to get down here from London for a good ramble, why not buy a special "All Network Downlander" rail ticket. This allows one day's unlimited off-peak travel on any of Southern's services (including via Crawley, Horsham, Redhill, East Croydon and London Victoria) plus unlimited bus travel within the South Downs area. You have to book online, at least two days in advance, but at £12.50 for adults (and £2.50 for children) I think that's an absolute bargain.
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.