A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about coast

A very English county

East Sussex

In my previous entry I described our recent visit to East Sussex (and a bit of Kent). Here are some of the other places we have visited and enjoyed in the past:

Seven Sisters and Seaford Head

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Seven Sisters

One of the loveliest spots from which to view southern England’s classic chalk cliff scenery is here at Seven Sisters. They take their name, logically, from their number, and the line of seven white cliffs, especially when gleaming in the summer sun, is truly quite striking – and very photogenic.

The cliffs are the remnants of dry valleys in the chalky South Downs, which are gradually being eroded by the sea, creating this wave effect. As the Seven Sisters Country Park website explains,

‘The cliffs are receding at about 30-40cm each year on average. The process is intermittent with major falls occurring after heavy rain or rough seas, often two of three times per year. Where these falls occur they protect the base of the cliffs from the sea and usually there are no falls in the same places for eight or nine years until the sea undercuts the cliffs again.’

(The same web page, by the way, also has a nice diagram showing the contours of the cliffs and the individual names of each).

These views are only accessible on foot, although you can get fairly close by car, as this map shows: How to see the Seven Sisters. We have in the past followed two different routes. Firstly, parking near the Visitor Centre on the A259 (for which there is a charge) and walking along the lovely Cuckmere Valley for about three miles to the beach below the cliffs, Cuckmere Haven. From here you need to climb the hill to your right if you want to get the classic view in my photo above. You can also get a bus from Eastbourne, Seaford or Brighton to the park entrance.

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Seven Sisters from Seaford Head

Alternatively you can drive via Seaford to Seaford Head, where a free car park gives you access to several walking trails across the cliffs leading to the same hill-top view, from where you can descend to the beach for a closer look.

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The path down to the beach

Once there you can of course enjoy the views, but it’s also worth taking a closer look at your immediate surroundings. Wild flowers abound on these chalky cliffs (but please don’t pick them), there are shells and pebbles to pick over on the beach, rock-pools to explore for shrimp and other small sea creatures, and sea-birds galore.

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Seven Sisters from the beach, and in the Cuckmere Valley

Battle Abbey

At the eastern end of Battle High Street is Battle Abbey. This abbey, much of it now in ruins, was built by William the Conquerer to commemorate the thousands who died in the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings – which, despite its name, took place here.

The main attraction here is the opportunity to walk around the battlefield and learn about the events that shaped English history. That may sound dull, especially as an initial view of the area shows nothing more than a slightly muddy field, but the excellent audio tour populates the field in your imagination with soldiers and other significant players. When you first put on your headphones you are invited to choose a character to follow through the events of that day – a great way of bringing history to life. I chose one of the women who followed the soldiers and cared for the wounded, which gave me a very different perspective on the battle.

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Battle Abbey, evening light

There is also a small museum devoted to the history of the abbey, with various artefacts found during excavations. Nearby you can see the spot where King Harold is said to have died. You can’t go in the re-built abbey itself however as that is now a private school.

Bateman's

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Roses above the door

This lovely Jacobean house was once the home of the author Rudyard Kipling (from 1902 to 1936). It has been left just as it was when he lived there, decorated in his exotic oriental tastes. If like me you like to see where well-known books were written, you’ll like the study with his collection of books (many unsurprisingly from India) and the original illustrations for The Jungle Book, drawn by the Detmold brothers, which are displayed here.

Outside are pretty gardens to explore, with traditional roses and a lovely lily pond. This garden was laid out according to Kipling’s own design, which still hangs in his study. They run down to the River Dudwell with its working watermill, dating from c. 1750. You can also see Kipling's 1928 Phantom 1 Rolls-Royce in the garage here.

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The lily pond

Carr Taylor Vineyard

England may not be well-known as a wine-producing country but for some years now pioneers have been establishing vineyards in the southern counties and trying to change that image. At first their attempts were laughed at and their wines dismissed as sub-standard, but increasingly both the casual drinker and the wine connoisseur have come to take their efforts and their results much more seriously. Indeed some of the wines produced here have won awards in international wine competitions.

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Carr Taylor Vineyard
(early in the growing season!)

This site was first planted as a vineyard in 1971 and consists of 37 acres of land which slope gently towards the southeast, creating the perfect micro-climate in which to grow grapes. The owners claim to produce ‘a truly English style of wine which is crisp, aromatic, fresh and fruity’. Certainly we were impressed by those we tasted when we visited.

As well as tasting and shopping for wine (and a whole host of wine-related products) you can follow a trail around the vineyard, where signs along the way give information about the grape varieties grown there and how they are cultivated. All this is on a very small scale compared to in major wine-producing countries but is a novelty here in England.

Pashley Manor Gardens

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Pashley Manor - the house

Pashley Manor is a beautiful Tudor Manor House, although only its gardens are open to the public. But these are well worth a visit, and a walk around them will easily occupy an hour or two.

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Flowers at Pashley Manor

Nearest to the house, are several well planted formal gardens with beautifully planted borders. There is even a vegetable garden that looks more attractive than many flower gardens!

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The vegetable garden

Interspersed with the planting, and on the lush green lawns, are a number of sculptures by various artists, all of them for sale (no, I didn’t ask the price!) One section here holds a lovely swimming pool which would be so tempting on a hot summer’s day. The plants in the borders are labelled, so it’s easy to identify ones you might want to try at home, and there are also helpful gardeners working here and there, willing to stop what they’re doing and chat about the plants.

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One of the borders

Beyond these more formal gardens you come to a landscaped area with a woodland walk and a small lake. Everything is very photogenic, with carefully planned views. When we visited, though, I did have a small mishap with my camera, when a black swan on the lake attacked my camera when I was taking his photo and left a small dent in the bodywork with his bill!

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Beautiful but aggressive!

There is also a lovely café here and a small shop selling good-quality gifts and a small range of plants. Alternatively, there are picnic tables in the field where you park, although picnicking isn’t allowed in the gardens themselves.

Church of St George, Brede

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Church of St George, Brede

The small village of Brede lies about five miles (eight km) north west of Hastings. We stopped here for a drink at the village pub, and sitting outside our eyes were drawn to the attractive old church on the other side of the road, so when we had finished our drinks we crossed over for a closer look. It was the church of St George, originally Norman but with considerable additions over the centuries. It sits in a picturesque churchyard with wonderful views on one side over the Brede River Valley. We spent some time strolling around looking at the old gravestones and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere. I found lots of details that appealed to the photographer in me.

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Fallen angel in the graveyard

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Lichen on an old tombstone

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View from the churchyard

Inside, the church retains some of its Norman features, including a window (at the west end of the north aisle) and the pillars of the south arcade. It is worth a quick look, but for me it was the exterior and churchyard that made this such a lovely spot.

De La Warr Pavilion

Bexhill-on-Sea is a quieter seaside resort than Hastings, best known for the De La Warr Pavilion on the seafront. It was built in the 1930s, the result of an architectural competition, in the Modernist style of that era. The architects, Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff, were leading lights in the Modern Movement. The project was initiated by the 9th Earl De La Warr, then Mayor of Bexhill – hence the name. His vision was of a public building that would put Bexhill on the map, culturally speaking. When he opened the new building, he described it as:

‘a modernist building of world renown that will become a crucible for creating a new model of cultural provision in an English seaside town which is going to lead to the growth, prosperity and the greater culture of our town.’

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Staircase in the De La Warr Pavilion

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Staircase lighting

After some damage during the Second World War, and subsequent deterioration of the building, it was restored in the early 2000s and reopened as a contemporary arts centre, with one of the largest galleries on the south coast of England.

If you are interested in 20th century architecture this is a must visit. Its elegant lines epitomise the Modernist style at its best, in my opinion. Whether or not the current exhibitions are to your taste (they change regularly) do go inside to admire the staircase in particular.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this wander through some of the sights of East Sussex. There is lots more to see and do in this lovely county, and as I said, we visit quite often, so I will add another page to this blog when we’ve made some new discoveries.

But meanwhile I need to introduce you to Hastings, the town we visit most often …

Posted by ToonSarah 10:45 Archived in England Tagged landscapes architecture flowers coast history views church vineyard garden wine author Comments (7)

At the edge of England

Dungeness

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On the beach at Dungeness

As I said in the introduction to this blog, I plan to mix entries from recent outings and those taken some time ago, and to mix entries on London with some from further afield in the UK. So today we are on a short visit to the Kent coast.

For those who like a coastline to be photogenic rather than picturesque, and who are more interested in exploring than lying on a beach, Dungeness is close to perfect. But don’t come here expecting to swim, to eat ice cream and to make sandcastles. Dungeness is for fishermen, walkers, photographers and lovers of the wild and windswept. Oh, and it just happens to be Britain’s only desert – yes, really!

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Old fishing boats, Dungeness

We visited on a chilly but bright February day and we spent a couple of hours wandering around and taking photos. We were on our way to visit friends so couldn’t stay long enough to go to the nearby RSBP nature reserve, so that will have to wait for another day.

There’s lots more we didn’t have time for too, or weren’t able to visit because our timing was wrong. There’s an old lighthouse to be climbed (closed in the winter), fish and chips to be eaten at what has to be one of the more unusually-located pubs in the country, a lifeboat station to be visited and an old narrow-gauge railway to ride (but not in January or February). We will definitely have to return.

Houses at Dungeness

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Houses in Dungeness

Scattered almost at random across the shingle banks are a number of houses. Some are little more than shacks, others more sizeable, and a few are quite attractive, up-market looking homes. Many of the more down-to-earth properties are owned by local fishermen and you’ll see their boats pulled up on the shingle alongside. Others are the homes of artists who are drawn by the unique light and atmosphere. Some of the smarter ones are holiday homes, some of which can be rented. Many of the houses are made from old railway carriages, abandoned here when the old South Eastern Railway Marshlink line stopped serving Dungeness in 1937. You can still see the track in places too, and part of it has been repurposed as a freight only line to serve the power station.

Unusually (in England at least) there is for the most part no distinct boundary to these properties which sit amongst the shingle. Their age and unusual design makes some of the more characterful of them ideal for photography, but remember that they are private property and keep a respectful distance – just because there isn’t a fence or wall, it doesn’t mean you should be peering in through the windows!

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On the beach at Dungeness

Along with the fishing boats, random bits of disused railway track and assorted rusting metal objects whose former use I could only guess at, the old houses and shacks made for some very satisfying photography and we spent a happy hour or so wandering around to get the most interesting viewpoints.

Prospect Cottage

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Prospect Cottage, Dungeness

While we were exploring the headland we were always on the lookout for what is probably the most famous house here, Prospect Cottage, the former home of the late artist and film director Derek Jarman. We didn’t see any sign so I decided to do a Google search on my phone to check where it was, and as soon as I saw a photo we realised we had parked right next to it!

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Prospect Cottage, Dungeness
- poem by John Donne

The house is quite striking, being of very dark tarred wood with cheerful yellow window frames. On a side wall raised letters form a quotation from a poem by John Donne, ‘The Sun Rising’:

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Prospect Cottage

‘Busie old foole, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thou, Sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls thy sphere.’

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Prospect Cottage garden

But the house is best known for its garden, made with pebbles, driftwood, scrap metal and a few plants hardy enough to withstand the bleak climate. The garden carried lots of meaning and was very important to Jarman. He had retreated to Dungeness, drawn by its desolation, and used it as the setting for a film, “The Last of England”, an allegory on the social and sexual inequalities in England under Margaret Thatcher. He had been diagnosed as HIV positive and started to campaign on gay rights while throwing his energies into the creation of this garden using plants that grow naturally in this environment and found objects.

The garden featured in his 1989 film ‘War Requiem’, and the next year was the focal point of ‘The Garden’ (which he described as, ‘a parable about the cruel and unnecessary perversion of innocence’), serving as both the Garden of Eden and that at Gethsemane.

Lighthouses old and new

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Dungeness lighthouses

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Distant view of the High Light Tower

This headland, though not rocky, sticks out into the English Channel and thus poses a danger to ships and sailors, so warning lights are needed. The first lighthouse was erected here in 1615, replacing a simple beacon. It was probably made of wood and had a coal fire at the top – which sounds a bit risky! As the sea retreated a new one was needed nearer the water’s edge, so in 1635 a replacement, known as Lamplough's Tower, was built.

But the sea continued to retreat, and more shingle was piled up on the headland, so in 1792 a third lighthouse was built. This was taller, at 35 metres, and was painted black with a white band, colours that are still used on today’s lighthouse. The light was powered with oil, though in the 1860s this lighthouse was chosen by Trinity House to pioneer the use of electricity, which however proved too expensive at that time. This third lighthouse lasted until 1904, when it was demolished (though some associated buildings, such as the keeper’s cottage, still remain).

The so-called Dungeness High Light Tower was built to replace it and was first lit on 31st March 1904, almost 110 years before our visit in February 2014. It was opened by the then Prince of Wales, later George V and its light, flashing every 10 seconds, could be seen from about 18 miles away.

This one still stands but is no longer in use, though it is possible to visit and to climb to the top for (I have read) great views of the headland. Unfortunately it was still closed for the winter when we were here so we couldn’t visit. Details of opening hours etc are on the website.

When the Dungeness Power Station was built in the late 1950s / early 1960s it blocked the view of the lighthouse from the sea, so this fourth one was decommissioned and a fifth built closer to the water’s edge, which opened in November 1961. This one is automatic in operation (that is, it needs no keeper) and is still in use today. In my photo above the old High Light Tower can be seen on the left, next to the power station, and the new lighthouse on the right.

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The new lighthouse

RSPB Reserve

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At the RSPB Reserve

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has a nature reserve at Dungeness, located just before the land turns into shingle. We ran out of time to explore this properly, only stopping for a few photos by the roadside, but it seems to be such a worthwhile place to visit that I am including a mention of it here. You can find out all about it and see what’s happening at the time of your visit on the website.

As you’d expect given who runs it, the emphasis is on the local birdlife which is very varied. Many water species are attracted to these wetlands and there are hides from which to watch them and trails to follow. There are also special guided walks and events, all listed on the website.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:43 Archived in England Tagged beaches boats coast history houses lighthouse photography Comments (9)

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