Harry’s Ramblings Eastbourne Seafront
This is an hour long stroll along Eastbourne’s seafront from the pier to the bottom of Beachy Head, called Holywell. It is all on the flat, is about 4 ½ miles return, and as long as it doesn’t rain will be one of the most pleasant walks you have ever taken in your life.
All the time you will be alongside the sea, listening to the gulls, watching the occasional shipping on the six mile horizon, every step appreciating just what Eastbourne residents have on their doorstep. All this superb exercise for free.
The pier has been in current ownership for not long, but it has always been controversial. An Eastbourne hotelier purchased it for a rumoured £1 when the previous owners suffered an extensive fire in July 2015. The £10m insurance payout came without financial strings or commitment, so when the Blue Room from the 1930s played host to public dances with live bands, latterly an amusement arcade, there is now a barren space, occupied by benches and that is that.
There is a tea room, not that expensive, and some rooms hosting amusement machines with tickets redeemed against prizes. The bar is reasonable, there is an ice cream room, the disused nightclub and closed theatre after a 1980 fire are inaccessible, and the steps leading to the camera obscura are barred. Fortunately the pier admission price is nil.
After a ten minute stroll on the pier’s wooden decking, return to land and walk in a westerly direction. Five minutes later you will be at the 1935 bandstand, the third structure on this site. It is the busiest on the south coast, the season can easily last six months, every Wednesday is a band concert culminating in the 1812 Overture, complete with fireworks off the beach. Easily four nights every week has some show or entertainment, always under £10 before concessions, performances except Wednesday starting at 8pm, finishing 90 minutes later without interruption. It is also open during the day for public to sit on the deckchairs.
A further five minutes takes you to the Wish Tower, the fortification erected to keep Napoleon at bay. It must have worked because he never invaded. It is called a Martello Tower, after the 17th Century designer, has served many functions from residence, WW2 defence, to puppet museum in the 1990s. Now closed, a new Bistro Pierre restaurant is scheduled to open very late 2019, apparently a quality signature restaurant with superb ocean views.
From here, you decide which level you want to walk on. When constructed over a twenty year period in late Victorian times it was designed to reflect your place in society. If gentry, then upper level, you looked down on everyone. Lots of wooden benches. Mid level was for those aspirational betters, gravel paths, shaded, more benches. The lower is alongside the sea, common bathers using the changing huts, mothers and nannies pushing their charges, children playing on the beach with balls, they should have known better but just simply didn’t care. They were there to enjoy themselves.
This section of seafront stroll is about two miles, lots of benches, also three huts with thatched roofs that have sometimes been occupied overnight by rough sleepers. They are not in evidence during the day, your walk is not marred in any way. The three levels are connected by narrow, steep paths.
Towards the end of your stroll you will walk past a long line of beach huts, owned by Eastbourne Borough Council and available to rent for a weekly to season long contract. Holywell is a popular area for visitors, at the bottom of landmark Beachy Head, with well maintained free public toilets. The tea rooms are privately owned and run, clean, good choice of snacks. Sit on the outside bench, look out to sea, and see a small reef, where 200 years ago long-gone fishing families created a break by hand so they could land their boats at low tide.
This is almost at sea level, don’t be concerned about high tides because even in extreme conditions the waves don’t reach this high. Too much shingle. The tea rooms are elevated, carry on puffing up the narrow hill road and you will find the Italian Gardens, a hidden pleasure. These are secluded gardens, free public access, about a third up to the top. Superb views, peaceful, nod off in the shade, read your book, or attempt the crossword.
During July and August and summer weekends the Dotto train travels frequently along this wide lower promenade, waits at Holywell while driver and ticket issuer have their refreshment, then returns along the same route. The engine pulls three carriages, one open, two closed, crew provide a step for the less able to climb aboard. Pull the rope, ring the bell, and off we go.