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Eastbourne and its Environs

The town of Eastbourne it is claimed, attracts more than a million visitors a year. This Sussex seaside resort is said to have one of the grandest piers on the south coast, and it also has a particularly long promenade. Its main claim to fame, however, is its proximity to ‘Beachy Head’ – that spectacular stretch of white cliff coastline that towers above the sea at a height of 575 feet.

Described as an awe-inspiring and perilous place, it is also a favourite suicide spot, and a member of the ‘Samaritans’ is said to be always close at hand. Situated some distance away from the precipitous cliff edge is the ‘Beachy Head Countryside Centre’, which provides information about the area – such as its history, geology, flora and fauna and its rural past. Here too there is a restaurant and bar. Seen from the cliff edge, seemingly lying far below, is Beachy Head’s unmanned lighthouse, which, observed from such a height, appears positively diminutive.

No vestige of beach is visible. The whole scene is dominated by the towering white cliffs and the distant sea. The name ‘Beachy Head’ is apparently derived from the French expression ‘beau chef’ – meaning ‘beautiful head’ – and bears no relation whatsoever to the word ‘beach’.

West of ‘Beachy Head’ a series of other chalk white cliffs can be located, which are known as ‘Seven Sisters’, and which are part of the 700 acre ‘Seven Sisters Country Park’. Owned by the National Trust, it is claimed that this particular country park provides some of the most impressive walks in the county. And these walks include walking along the cliff-top path.

The whole of this area extends from Eastbourne to Seaford, and it’s claimed to have been the first stretch of coast to have been designated a ‘Heritage Coast’. Eastbourne itself is described as being ‘the youngest of the south coast resorts’. It is also referred to as ‘a retirement town by the sea’. ‘East Bourne’ as such was first mentioned in the 16th century, and at that time it had a population of about 800. It was visited in the year 1780 by the children of George III, by which time its population had doubled.

Then, during the Napoleonic Wars Martello towers were built along the coast, and officers were posted there in anticipation of a possible invasion. And the officers brought their families to live in the area – and the town of Eastbourne was born! However, it was not until the middle of the 19th century that building on any large scale was inaugurated. Now, however, it’s estimated that Eastbourne has a population of 84,000.

And it’s even referred to as ‘one of Britain’s stalwart resorts’. It’s also referred to as ‘a smart place’, and has 200 acres of public gardens. Large conferences are held in the town, and it also has numerous schools and colleges. And the resort’s many hotels include ‘Sea Beach House Hotel’, originally a Regency town house situated on the sea front, which was built in 1790, and where Alfred Lord Tennyson is said to have stayed on two occasions.

Other famous Eastbourne holidaymakers also include the author George Orwell – of ‘1984’ fame, and the composer Claude Debussy, who finished writing ‘La Mar’ in the course of his visit. Bedecked with chandeliers, ‘The Grand Hotel’ is considered to be one of Eastbourne’s top hotels, and its amenities include both indoor and outdoor pools.

And the hotel’s ‘Mirabelle Restaurant’ is rated as being one of the best ‘eating places’ in Eastbourne – laying claim not only to an elegant environment but also to providing excellently cooked meals. An interesting ‘eating venue’ too is ‘The Wish Tower Restaurant’, which is situated at the edge of the promenade, near the Western Lawns. It has both a restaurant and a sun lounge, and provides a panoramic view of the sea. In fact, it’s considered the ideal location for ‘Afternoon Tea’. The Wish Tower itself represents one of the 143 Martello towers that were erected along the seafront in the past.

Nearby is the former lifeboat station which is now the Lifeboat Museum. An area known as Devonshire Park is described as ‘the cultural zenith of the town’, and it is here that Eastbourne’s Lawn Tennis Championships are held. The event takes place each year just prior to Wimbledon. And a wide range of entertainment is also staged at the Devonshire Park Theatre and the Congress Theatre throughout the year The Eastbourne Heritage Centre, which gives a history of the town, stands directly opposite Devonshire Park. The Towner Art Gallery and Local History Museum is also considered to be an interesting place to visit. Assembled here is a collection of contemporary works of art, including local scenes. Among them are the works of Eric Ravilious, who died in 1942 while on duty as a war artist during World War II.

A rather unusual museum which can be located at Eastbourne is the Museum of Shops, which is a four storey 19th century house, fitted out with ‘period shops’ that are claimed to be ‘brimming with nostalgia’. The wide range of artefacts on display feature items that hail from the last hundred years of consumerism – and even include unfulfilled novelties such as Edward VIII coronation souvenirs!

The town also has what constitutes a military museum, which is known as Redoubt Fortress, and is said to be ‘a moated circular fortress built in 1810 for a garrison of 350 men’. Featured in the museum are collections from the Sussex Combined Services, the Royal Sussex Regiment, the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars, and the British Model Soldiers Society. It’s also a venue where military band concerts are held – together with firework displays.

Not far from the Redoubt Fortress is a children’s adventure park and boating lake, which is known as ‘Treasure Island’. Eastbourne also has another children’s adventure park, which is known as ‘Fort Fun’, which features a ‘Western’ theme. And near ‘Fort Fun’ is the Sovereign Centre Leisure Complex.

No holidaymaker staying in Eastbourne should miss the opportunity of making a brief coastal drive eastwards to visit Pevensey Castle, which is also an English Heritage site. And it is also believed to be the site of the landing of the Norman Army in 1066. Eastbourne is not only considered to be an elegant seaside holiday resort in its own right, but it also offers easy accessibility to two of England’s top tourist attractions – namely Beachy Head and Pevensey Castle

Roberta Crookes has worked as a newspaper journalist throughout most of her life, writing news stories, editorial features, advertisement supplements, and reviews. And in the course of her work she has interviewed many famous people from all walks of life. She has also managed to combine parallel careers in both journalism and acting, and, being Welsh speaking from North Wales, her main television featured parts have been Welsh language roles with BBC Wales.