I recently found myself spending some time in a truly beautiful part of England. And my reason for being there meant that I got to know the area from a different perspective to the average tourist.
The South Downs are a series of smooth rolling hills covered in a very short grass that maybe struggles to grow fully on the chalk that makes up this landscape. The hills stretch as far as the coast where they suddenly give way to the sea in quite dramatic style with white cliffs that run for miles until they reach a relatively flat coastal area where the vibrant city of Brighton can be found.
I first visited Brighton when I was 18 and was amazed when I walked into a pub to find Nicholas Parsons and the late Mel Smith sat at the bar enjoying a drink together. Seeing these two famous stars from British TV made me realise that this was, and continues to be, a happening place that reminds me a little of London. Its large student population and lively music scene give it a real buzz of excitement. And with its wonderful architecture, I am sure it could provide the perfect setting for a Hugh Grant movie! The cream coloured regency houses stand tall in a crescent that is formed around a green with commanding views of the sea below. There are other more modest crescents, where the greens are protected from the city by black wrought iron fencing and surrounded by less grand but still very attractive rows of Victorian terraced houses which are now occupied by small guest houses or student accommodation.
My children used to say to me that most people where we live in Germany follow the same fashion. I used to argue that that was not correct for not everyone wore the same colours, jeans, footwear or skirts. But after just 2 hours in Brighton, I realised that they had a point. I saw a man in jeans and high-heeled shoes. A woman with green hair. A girl with a skirt and Dr. Martens boots. A young man with a long beard and rolled up jeans that revealed the full length of his socks. A man of similar age with a 1920s style tweed jacket. These clothes were unlikely to have have been bought from the high streets in which only large corporations can afford to trade. But just a short walk from the main shopping center is an area of Brighton called the Laines. These narrow streets, with their quirky little shops really could be a set for the film Notting Hill. And this is definitely the area where these more individual styles are catered for.
Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, we also spent time in the surrounding countryside. We stayed in a cottage near the village of Glynde. This enabled us to go into Brighton everyday to do what we needed to do whilst also giving us access to some beautiful English villages and country walks. And most important of all, it was not far from the steam railway that I had wanted to see for some time.
Two years before my first ever trip to Brighton, I visited the Bluebell railway with some friends from the Severn Valley Railway. I remember viewing the Bluebell railway as our main competitor and a good benchmark against which all preserved railways should compare themselves. Thirty odd years later, I was not disappointed by what I found here in Sussex. I didn’t have time on this occasion for a proper visit, but I did have time for breakfast at Sheffield Park Station and a short visit to Horsted Keynes station. There’s something about a full English breakfast and steam engines. There’s also something about real ale and steam engines, which can also be enjoyed at this station. Working on the railways in the olden days was something to be proud of. The driver would have worked with grease and oil, shovels and coal. He may have carried around an oily rag and sweated on the hot engine footplate. But he might also have been clean shaven, had a neat hair cut and wore a shirt and tie beneath his clean and freshly pressed overalls. He deserved a good traditional breakfast before his work began, and an equally traditional pint of ale after his long hard shift had finished. I enjoyed a delicious breakfast at Sheffield Park whilst watching the trains and allowing my imagination to run wild with these kind of thoughts! But I didn’t need to use my imagination to notice that the staff I met at the Bluebell Railway were all friendly, smart, enthusiastic and helpful. If I ever decide to return to live in England, I can well imagine wanting to make this area my home and this railway my passion.
Below is a selection of images from this area which I hope you enjoy. I would also like to point out that this is the first blog post I have ever written using my mobile phone – I hope I am not embarrassed when I check it out properly next week using my computer! 🙂
All pictures and text. © Chris Robinson 2014. All rights reserved.