Eastbourne station has noisy gulls that walk along the platform, bold in their approach, hoping for food. At first I think this particular gull has a piece of red meat (or blood) staining its lower beak. Later, I realise it is a coloured mark characteristic of Herring Gulls; a species in decline at the moment – although you would not guess it from their intrusive, noisy presence on this railway platform.
I catch the train to Cooden Beach, just to the west of Bexhill. The train trundles along, at a leisurely pace, past houses, lakes, countryside and then along the beach itself. Cooden Beach station is deserted and I am the only person making my way off the platform, down the gently sloping ramps, to the street. The beach is a short walk away.
I reach the beach, stumble over the shingle and head for the waterline. The tide is low, and there is a narrow band of sand close to the waves. I walk here, dodging the occasional incoming wave, where the ground is firmer and progress possible.
Further ahead, around a gently curving bay, I can just make out the squat shape of a Martello Tower. This is shown on my map as being the other side of Norman’s Bay. Norman’s Bay, despite its name, appears as a straight piece of coastline on the map. I have become so used to seeing curves in the coast where none exist on the map, I have given up wondering if this is my eyes playing tricks, a phenomenon to do with the earth’s curvature, or the result of a misleading straightening out of coastline curves by mapmakers.
After a while, the strip of sand becomes covered by waves and shingle walking becomes too tiring. I move up to walk along the top of the beach, where the shingle is more impacted and the going becomes a little easier.
Here I see posts with life rings. They carry, as usual, warning signs.
For some reason, councils seem incapable of simply putting up a post without attaching bossy signs of various sorts. In Kent, I became used to seeing signs listing the dangerous things to be found on the beach (slippery rocks, hidden obstructions, deep water, mud, etc), so the simplicity of these warnings intrigues me. Apparently, the only thing I need to worry about here is the possibility of oil on the beach. And, if I find any oil, it is definitely NOT the fault of the council. Jolly good.
As I near the Martello Tower (number 55), I see that it is in the process of renovation. The external stone seems far too clean and new – so I suspect most of the tower has been rebuilt. These towers are covered by conservation orders and the outer shape has to be preserved with only a limited number of small windows allowed and, therefore, most conversions involve roof skylights to channel the light into the interior of the structure. This conversion seems to be following the usual pattern, with an intriguing top deck involving large amounts of glass. When it is finished, this will be a fantastic place to live – with wonderful panoramic views over the sea.
I see a large, hunched bird – black and brooding – perched on one of the groin markers. This must be a cormorant. There is something both magnificent and sinister about these birds.
I have no real experience of bird watching but, with the aid of photographs and the wonderful RSPB Bird Identifier page, I am learning to recognise and name the common sea birds as I meet them.
After walking through Norman’s Bay, and past its scaffolding-clad Martello Tower, I approach a place called ‘Beachlands’ on Pevensey Bay. Pevensey Bay runs from Beachlands up to the beginning of Eastbourne.
There are more people around now, walking with dogs, sitting on the shingle, and walking along the top of the beach.
Meanwhile, the sky gets darker. Storm clouds are gathering and I wonder if it is going to rain. I pull my waterproof jacket, neatly packed into a roll, out of the bottom of my rucksack and stow it on top of my water bottles, just to make sure it is easily accessible in case the promised thunderstorms start. Although I don’t mind getting wet, I worry about my iPhone and my camera.
There used to be numerous Martello Towers on this section of coast and, although only a fraction of them remain, there are another two here; number 61 and number 62. Both appear to be in use as residential dwellings. One, although unfortunately positioned in the middle of a static caravan park, has a most amazing garden – full of ornaments and statues.
As I get closer to Eastbourne, I come across a new development. Tall blocks of apartments, with large balconies and fantastic views, line the beach. Behind these are even more apartment complexes. A whole new section of Eastbourne has sprung up here. It is all neat, tidy and organised. I even spot a bus, winding through the estate.
And in the middle of this high-rise modernity is a lone Martello Tower (number 64), sad, dilapidated and falling into ruin. I imagine there is some grand plan for it. But at the moment, it looks very out-of-place with the modern buildings alongside.
At this moment, I hear a rumble of thunder and the heavens open. I pull out my rain jacket and seek shelter under one of the balconies. The rain thuds down with satisfying vigour. There is that wonderful smell of newly wet dusty earth. The world turns grey. The sky grumbles. My path becomes a giant puddle.
During this wait, under the dripping balcony, something surreal happens. I see another walker coming towards me. He is young, tanned and muscular, wearing shorts and proper walking boots, enveloped completely in a transparent plastic raincoat, which covers not only his upper torso but is stretched over his rucksack as well. So he has a strange appearance as if his upper body is swathed in clingfilm. I turn away for a moment and, when I look back, he has disappeared.
The rain lessens slightly and I continue walking. Passing a recess in the buildings I discover the young walker. He appears to be lying face down on the ground. Slightly alarmed, I begin walking towards him. Maybe he has been struck by lightning? Then I realise – he is doing press ups. He is using his knuckles (not the flat of his hands) to push up with. The ground is soaking wet, it is still raining, he is wrapped in his plastic rain jacket with his rucksack on his back. What an odd sight.
And there, in the midst of this modern developement, I see another cormorant at the water’s edge. It is standing with its wings outstretched, drying them. I can’t resist taking my camera out (despite the rain still falling) to catch a few shots.
Another mystery occurs to me. Earlier on, I saw a few boats pass passing into the harbour, heading for shelter from the weather. Although I saw them moving into the harbour, now I have a clear view of the harbour itself, I can’t see the boats. Where have they gone?
A few minutes later the mystery is solved. There is an inner marina, crammed full of boats; mainly yachts and small motor craft. To access this inner waterway, you pass through a lock. In fact there are two locks. One of them is currently in operation, with a ship being slowly raised as water pours in, getting ready to dock in the safety of the protected marina.
I was anticipating a trudge around the marina area to reach the coast on the other side and to continue my walk into Eastbourne. This turns out to be unneccessary, as I can cross over the mouth of the marina using pedestrian walkways that run across the locks. A system of traffic lights controls where and when these walkways can be used. I linger here for a while, watching the locks in action and marvelling at the mechanical means by which large masses of water can be raised and lowered.
Amazingly, in this newly developed area, I see a small white egret on the edge of the water, seemingly oblivious to the high rise apartments, the cyclists, joggers and walkers who have emerged as the rain subsides. I wonder how long this area will continue to be attractive to the cormorant and the egret.
On the other side is Langney Point and here, in a dilapidated state, is another Martello Tower (number 66). Again it looks as though this is in the process of renovation, surrounded by scaffolding and draped in plastic.
By now the dark skies are lighter and the rain has cleared. We were promised huge thunderstorms but the whole event has lasted less than an hour.
(Later I learn some local houses were hit by lightning strikes and, in retrospect, I was lucky to have experienced little bad weather during this walk.)
As I round Langney Point, I can see Eastbourne ahead and Beachy Head rising beyond. My legs are tired and I am looking forward to ending my walk for today.
Now I find I am walking past a large building with a modern design and nice, flowing shapes. A sign tells me it is water treatment centre. Really? It looks far too imposing to be a sewage works. But that is what it is. And I gather, according to the local news, all has not been smelling sweet in the locality. But today there is no whiff of sewage in the air.
I head towards Eastbourne along a lovely wide promenade, with a cycle track and a pedestrian walkway. On my left is a patch of shingle with natural plants growing, including flowers and the shingle beach beyond. There are also fishing boats and tackle, sailing dinghies and windsurfers. It is a wonderful amble and, despite the grey skies, I enjoy it thoroughly.
Unfortunately, it is too dull for good photography and I am too tired to linger and struggle with the finer points of camera control. But I do snap these colourful deck chairs. How could you resist advertising your local business here?
Beyond the pier, at the Western end of Eastbourne, is another Martello Tower (number 73 according to the classification)
I am very impressed by Eastbourne. I expected a run down seaside resort, full of old people. Yes, there were many elderly people, but there were also middle-aged and young people with families. Due to the shingle beach, this will never be a bucket-and-spade resort for young children, but I found it attractive and pleasant.
Finally, here are two photos of the lovely pier. One is taken in the morning light and the second in the evening.
Vital stats: miles walked = 9 miles, rainstorms = 1, Martello Towers = 6.