Harry’s Ramblings. Eastbourne Sovereign Harbour
Eastbourne has a reputation for having a population of white-haired seniors, wheelchairs, walkers, miseries sitting on seafront wooden benches waving their sticks as pointers. Yes, they do exist, but there is a feeling of gentility, being amongst civilised people who remember good standards which are still available.
It is a town of over 100,000 people on the South coast of England mid-way between Brighton and Hastings. It is in a protected bay, with the South Downs hills five miles inland, Hastings the eastern end of the bay, the 600ft high Beachy Head cliffs to the west.
Eastbourne has a clean, comfortable feeling, with a promenade 3 ½ miles long on the flat that leads to the reason for this article, the Sovereign Harbour. Walk, ride on the occasional Dotto train, or drive to the harbour, the car park is free. There are four linked harbours with quaint small metal bridges that rise to allow access to the inner areas.
The harbour is on a site called The Crumbles, lots of beach but little else apart from a Martello Tower that was partly demolished in the 1860s, and had been frequently used for target practice in wartime. This was also famous as the home of the 1924 suitcase murder, more of which in a future article.
If you walk from Eastbourne pier, it will take you about an hour, which is an extremely pleasant stroll alongside the sea, passing various landmarks but few comfort stops frustratingly closed out of alleged popular visitor season. Approaching the harbour and passing the Tower, the first thing you will see will hopefully be a seal, basking on a sandspit approach to the double lock gates of the harbour entrance. It has adopted this spot as convenient to swim out to catch passing shoals of yummy fish, as well as pose for photos.
That is fascinating to stand and watch the locks fill up as the quite large boats access their sheltered inner moorings. Visitor berthing is from £3.10 per metre per day, latest information available on VHF Channel 17. There are three shower and toilet blocks, as well as two launderettes, all facilities available at all times throughout the year.
About a further five minute walk finds the main shops and restaurant area. The restaurant part is buzzing, Eastbourne locals, harbour residents, boating enthusiasts, strolling around, looking at the new moored boats. I have seen one huge vessel that seems to never move, getting on for 15 metres of hedonistic indulgence, when you have a yacht that expensive, why count the piffling mooring fees. This is the main inner harbour area, with the smaller ones accessed by narrower channels that have footbridges over. These are controlled by the harbourmaster, button pressed, siren sounds, bridge rises, boat passes under, bridge goes down again, all returns to normal within two minutes. That is serene harbour activity.
These smaller inner harbours are mainly used for residents for their private moorings. 24% of all boats moored in the whole of the harbour area never pass through the harbour gates, owners paying mooring fees and annual maintenance just so they can invite weekend friends to indulge in deck G&Ts. Suppose if I had that kind of money, I might consider, but seems like excessive indulgence nonetheless.
There is a surprising choice of restaurants, from the always busy Harvester restaurant, with many others locally owned. The Thai Marina is especially popular, book first, Pablo’s, Harbour Grill, Ganges, Simply Italian, 4 Seasons Brasserie, this is just a few. I have eaten in 4 Seasons twice recently, both times a good experience. They have no idea I am mentioning them.
There is a thriving atmosphere, with a daytime electric powered boat called African Queen round the harbour usually from Easter to long season’s end, this costs £6, or £5 concessions. Taking just over an hour, you travel serenely and noiselessly at under 4 knots, learning more about the harbour, its wildlife, fish, residents.
The large-ish retail park, Asda predominant, is for locals as well as visitors. There was a Cineworld multiplex, but this is now vacant thanks to moving to the town centre shopping mall. Quite a controversial decision, as the free parking is a major pull.
There is also Sovereign Harbour Yacht Club, superb modern facilities welcoming visitors, quality restaurant, Google their web site for more. Adjacent is the boat sales section. Across the road is the chandlery, not being an expert I understand from those who know that it is very reasonably priced.
Don’t think that Sovereign Harbour is just for those on the sea. They are only a very small part of this thriving community, with residential blocks of quality flats, holiday homes, and houses that start at £1m. Lots of Eastbourne people come here as well to visit, during the day or evening, the Harvester has the reputation of being the busiest of the lot on the south coast.