An easy, (relatively) cheap and absolutely brilliant day trip from London

You might have noticed the lack of a “Week in the Life” post this past Sunday. It wasn’t because the preceding week was uneventful; it’s because I was here:

Thanks to the UK being such a small, densely populated country, there are plenty of day trips one can take from London that will see you back by dinner time. Here’s a less-travelled one we embarked upon last Sunday…

Southern Railways (and others, I’m sure) have a DaySave ticket that allows you to travel anywhere within their rail network for a day. Our off-peak (i.e. all-day weekends and weekdays after 10 am) passes were only £12 per person.

Now, there are a lot of places within Southern’s network one could travel, so I picked a few that were relatively close to each other in East Sussex. We set out from London Victoria station at  8:47 am; our first stop was Lewes, the county town of East Sussex.

Looking out the train window.

Looking out the train window.

The scenery was pleasant enough en route; even Gatwick airport wasn’t so bad! We arrived at Lewes just before 10 am, and sauntered up the steep streets of the town to Lewes Castle, our main object of interest. While we had been commended ourselves for getting such an early start on the day, it turns out we needn’t have: The castle doesn’t open to visitors until 11am. Take note!

The 14th-century Barbican house at Lewes Castle

The 14th-century Barbican house at Lewes Castle

This was but a minor inconvenience. We simply turned back round to the train station and caught the next train to Seaford, originally meant to be our second stop of the day. The ride was very short (less than 20 minutes) and the sea soon came into view. Upon reaching the tiny train station at Seaford, we continued down toward the beach. The view to the right (west) was already quite lovely:

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Looking toward Newhaven

But we knew even more spectacular sights awaited us just a short jaunt eastward, so we meandered that way. The tide must have been coming in while we were there as the waves were roaring in with fury. It leant a dramatic air to the otherwise quaint and quiet  seafront. Within a few hundred meters, we espied the first of the Seven Sisters, a series of chalk cliffs along the south coast between Seaford and Eastbourne. Although I was eager to scamper up them, Faith suggested we walk out onto a protrusion of rock that might generously be labelled a ‘pier’, in order to get a better look at the cliffs.

Us, the cliffs, and the “pier”

The shoreline is covered in small rocks, and the sound of the water rushing through them as the tide ebbed was quite eerie. Chased away by the crashing waves, we began our ascent. Even though the ground going up the backside of the cliffs was a bit muddy, it’s a rather easy climb, and we were soon cautiously peeking out over the top of the first cliff.

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What’s a matter? Scared?

The streets of Lewes

The streets of Lewes

I’ve known at least one fried who hiked the entire Seven Sisters, but we had other things to see that day, so we just walked far enough to be able to see the other sisters in the distance before retracing our steps back down to the beach. The trains from Seaford back to Lewes only leave every 30 minutes, and we timed it poorly, such that we had about 20 minutes to idle around the town while waiting for the next train to come. But we were soon off again to Lewes.  This time we decided to stop for lunch at a pub before returning to the castle.  We were made to wait a while for our fish and chips, but that was  mostly alright as we did so while sipping quite cheap (compared to London!) drinks by the fire.

Having supped and quaffed, we returned to Lewes Castle. PROTIP:  If you’re visiting anything in the UK that has an admission fee, and you’re travelling by train, always check 2for1entry  to see if such place as you are visiting is listed. Lewes Castle, for one, is. Construction of this castle began shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066, and much of what remains today dates from the 13o0s or earlier.

The shell keep at Lewes Castle

The sunshine from earlier in the  day had disappeared, and the clouds rolled in, making the inside of the castle feel all the more medieval (i.e. drafty).  The views from atop the shell keep are excellent, but because this was originally built to protect archers on the lookout for coming invaders, it’s difficult for anyone of average height to get a panoramic view. Rather, you have to peer out a crennel in one direction, then walk across to another opening to look in a different direction.

Looking out over Lewes

Looking out over Lewes

After the castle, we started to make our way toward the ruins of St. Pancras’ Priory (which was abandoned after Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries). But the sky was growing ever more ominous and we felt several drops of rain. After looking at the map to see how far we still were from the priory, and looking at the sky to see how close a downpour was, we resolutely turned back toward the rail station. And not a moment too soon either. As we waited for our train on the platform, the rain pounded the awning overhead.

At this point we took another short train ride to Brighton (and by the way, were able to get a good look at the priory out the train window). For many a Londoner, Brighton is itself the focus of a daytrip to the coast. On this particular day, it was rather anticlimactic. The Lanes are charming enough, and the bizarre Royal Pavilion was amusing (from the outside), but we probably spent no more than an hour in Brighton before hopping on the train to London Bridge.

All in all, a splendid day out.

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