Brighton: Closer than you think!
I had one of those weeks recently where I had to see the sea. I don’t know about you, but being near the water does something for me — it’s healing and rejuvenating, and makes me feel centered. Plus, the kids love it. Sometimes, in the middle of this city of 8 million, I forget how close the sea is, and how easy it is to get there. And in case you do too, here’s a little reminder.
We woke up on a Sunday when the sun was shining and hopped on a train for Brighton with an aim to be there by lunchtime. We’re in Wimbledon, so we simply caught a South West Train, changed at Clapham Junction, and were walking on the beach an hour and a half later.
If you’re coming directly from London, trains leave every 15 minutes from St. Pancras, and take about an hour and 20 minutes, or from Victoria, (again, about every 15 minutes), getting you there in under an hour! You heard me: under an hour from “I’m bored” to this:
AND, I didn’t have to drive, sit in traffic, find a parking spot, or really anything; I sat in a comfortable seat, looked out the window, checked Facebook, and even had some time to myself to read. The train trip was short enough that the kids didn’t get bored with the books and activities they brought, and my daughter even spent her time working on maths. Really. Look, here’s a photo to prove it:
The sunglasses, mind you, are not for fashion, but because it was that sunny out, and where she was sitting, the sun was in her eyes. And yes, this was November. See, the beach can be amazing at any time of year, especially if the sun is shining! But I digress.
Once we arrived at Brighton, we walked out of the train station and headed down the hill to the beach. It’s easy to find your way, because you can actually see the sea at the end of the road from the train station, but if you get lost, simply head downhill; the land slopes toward the sea. It’s about a ten-minute walk — longer if you get sidetracked.
Along the way, if your kids have behaved really well on the train and given you a few minutes peace to yourself, you might stop for a treat at Cocoa Patisserie, just minutes from the train station and on your way towards the beach. The Parisian cafe serves gourmet sandwiches and soups, but it’s the pastries that will catch your eye in the window — colorful macaroons, fluffy meringues, tarts, biscuits and jams — how could you resist?
Once you’ve had your sugar fix, continue down the road towards the beach, take the pedestrian subway under the busy seaside road, and you will find yourself face-to-face with a beautiful, pebbly beach that will make your kids smile.
The pebbles may prove difficult walking for smaller children, but mine (age 7 and 9) instantly busied themselves with collecting pebbles. My husband and I simply sat back, listened to the sound of the waves, and served as a parking place for the prettiest stones as the kids ran about. (One note: while the sun had dried the top layer of pebbles on the beach, underneath they were wet, so I’d advise bringing a blanket to sit on to avoid a wet bum.)
There are always interesting finds at the beach, and my kids would have been happy searching the beach for ages.
However — it was lunchtime, and you can’t go to the seaside without eating some lovely fresh seafood while smelling the sea, can you? Luckily, Brighton’s boardwalk is filled with cafes and restaurants, and you can take your pick whether you want to go for some simple fish and chips and sit on the beach, or go for somewhere with table service. We went for the latter, but chose a spot with tables directly on the beach, so the kids could continue their hunt for the perfect pebble while we enjoyed our drinks. What is it about eating seafood on the beach that makes it taste so much better?
I mean, can you see the ocean in the background? And look how the sun shines through the wine glass — I mean everything is better at the sea. You can see my husband went for traditional fried fare, and I had a special seafood platter with prawns, crab, mussels and salmon — it was perfect. Here’s a closeup just so you can remember that you really want to be eating seafood at the beach.
There are so many places to choose from, though, and one of my favorites was this little shack, where you can buy pots of fresh seafood to walk around with.
We went for the mixed seafood, which was a perfect appetizer before our meal.
(Sorry, there was a lot more in there to begin with — just scarfed it down before I remembered to take a picture!)
The “appetizer” was to tide over my gets-grumpy-when-he-doesn’t-eat husband, who needed a little something while the kids played around on all the old boats that are perched around the boardwalk. I’m not sure if these are “officially” for kids to play on, but that’s what was happening the day we were there! Even my bigger kids needed a boost to get up and into some of them, but once they were up, they loved it, even though there were no bells and whistles — just old, wooden boats, and opportunities to play captain like this:
After lunch, we walked down the beach a bit more, and since it was November, the sun set soon after. Who doesn’t love watching the sun set over the water? On top of everything else, it means getting fun silhouetted photos like this:
After the sunset, the lights and music of Brighton’s famous pier called to us. We walked down, through the migraine-inducing arcade (you can skip this part and walk the outside route, which we did on the way back), and stopped for endless silly photos at place like this — I mean, how can you resist?
The pier gives you a gorgeous look back at the city with its Victorian whitewashed buildings, but it’s also full of restaurants, rides and attractions. My kids were most excited about the carousel, the shelter skelter slide, and the horror hotel — but there are plenty of thrill rides for the more adventurous, and even a few kiddie rides like cup and saucer.
It got cold fairly quickly once the sun was down (I don’t have to remind you to dress in layers and bring waterproofs, do I? Of course not — you’re a smart London Mum!), so for this trip, we just looked at the rides — to see what we want to do next time. Because we’ll be back. And London Baby will be back, with a whole list of more detailed family-friendly itineraries. Remember, Brighton is just over an hour away — how could we not?