Our Brighton afternoon started the way many English seaside stories begin - by checking the weather app. One week before, it was going to be 26 and sunny. Five days before black rain cloud icons appeared. One day before, that typically British 'rain cloud/sunshine/cloud' icon stood boldly over our proposed beach trip and at this point we held our hands up to the weather gods.
Alas, picking up the Brighton train at Clapham Junction. whilst shivering in a thin t-shirt I was quickly regretting, we boarded regardless and put our most optimistic smiles on as the rain splattered city turned to fields outside. We took along two friends of ours who live in London but are from abroad, so during the journey we introduced them to such lines as 'what's a bit of rain?!' and 'I'm sure it'll brighten up' - staple phrases of any British vocabulary.
In fact, it did brighten up when we arrived at 12pm and after an hour spent sat around the teeniest tiniest table for tea and cake (what a mouthful!) in a place aptly named 'The Little Teashop' we headed outside and worked our way up and down The Lanes.
I'll be honest - I've never been to Brighton before. I've had people constantly tell me that I'd love it and despite living so close I always thought it would be a right mission to get to, so I never bothered. How I wish I had sooner! Norfolk beach towns hold a very firm place in my heart and perhaps, deep down, my stubborn Norfolkian mind didn't want to accept any contenders! Brighton isn't like anywhere else I've been, so there was no such competition. It's cool, but not in an intimidating way. Not like Shoreditch cool, where I've often been forced to reconsider the socially acceptable amount of b-sides I listen to, but a welcoming sort of cool.
You'll need at least a couple of hours to explore The Lanes, especially the very long and hugely covetable North Laine. We didn't so much walk down it but ping-ponged back and forth, the girls dashing into shops to fawn over bed throws and crockery that we know we didn't need and the boys making regular pit stops at fancy coffee shops, where they ask you not only what kind of coffee you'd like but which bean you fancy too.
By this point it was nearing 2 o'clock, which meant it had been at least two hours since we last ate and naturally a full on lunch was in order. The Lanes are closed to traffic and we found ourselves beautifully positioned outside the front of the FilFil Cafe. Table on the street amidst a flow of well-dressed pedestrians, glass of rose lemonade in front of me and what turned out to be the tastiest Middle-Eastern platter soon in my belly, I was more that refueled to continue explorations.
I'm someone who would quite happily spend a day rummaging around an antique shop, even if I came out the other end smelling like a scout hut. As such, Snoopers Paradise has long been on my radar and upon entering I was happily met with an array of old painted furniture, pop culture memorabilia, and of course, postcards! They also have a fantastic old photobooth in there, which we all piled into after slotting in £3 and then promptly forgot to pose for the first picture.
After we tried and failed a number of times to get out of the kitschy labyrinth that is The Lanes, we slipped down a side route and came across the Royal Pavilion. I didn't know much about this place before it erupted before me, but it really is a shock of architecture in the middle of the surrounding coastal townhouses and pleasure gardens. It's beautiful and weird and strangely Gothic but then also Indian in style. I can't analyse it in more detail than that, but it made the craziest shadows across the lawn as the sun went down and for that, I felt a very compulsive affection.
At around 4pm we finally caught up with the sea. The iconic eye, pier and prom stretched out before me and I felt strangely starstruck after seeing it spread across Instagram for so long. I was half worried that the hipster-fied popularity of Brighton would have wiped that wonderfully tacky beach feel from the place, but 45 minutes on the 2p machines and a ginormous Mr. Whippy later I was quite literally, eating my words.
The weather was a cruel mistress that afternoon and before the beautiful burst of sun spread along the beach at 7pm, we resolutely, if stubbornly, lay on the pebbles with a bright orange frisbee tucked by our feet in a moment of wishful thinking. Observations included late-afternoon swimmers bravely wading into the (probably) freezing sea, seagulls swooping around a man and his near-stolen sandwich, and a snotty kid kicking over sandcastles. There's always that kid at the beach!
The little craft, print and art shops that run parallel to the beach were packed with items from locals and rang with a distinct, Brighton flair. I was a very modest shopper and only purchased a postcard displaying a print of skinny dippers, which I felt oddly fond of.
shed off our meander down the prom at around 6pm and sat outside a rather shady part of a seafront restaurant for fish and chips, but I shan't cast too many words about this experience as the food wasn't great (no crispy batter in sight!). However, the view of the burnt out pier made for and eerie, yet beautiful backdrop.
Back on the train by 8pm, we unanimously agreed that the air felt cleaner in Brighton and that the well-known urban myth about seeking the sea to cure ailments simply must be true. We passed around our photobooth pictures and crowded around each others iPhones to compare images from the day during the 45 minute journey back, achy feet propped up under the table, as our speech became slower and sleepier.
Brighton, you were a pleasure to be in for an afternoon and I'm sure I'll be back to see you soon!
What are your favourite day trips from London?