The journey from London to Brighton by train takes any visitor out from the City then south through suburban Croydon. If you are lucky, the train will speed through the dormitory towns of Surrey, stopping briefly at East Croydon and Gatwick Airport. The slower services grind their way out of town and only pick up speed when they reach the South Downs. And, that’s the point where I am personally quite happy if there’s a points failure or problem further along the line.
The Thameslink service from London Bridge crosses the downs using the Ouse Valley Viaduct – a stunning Victorian Grade II listed structure. From the train window, the view is of rolling green hills interspersed with cuts and embankments, at this time of year liberally scattered with primroses.
It’s the moment I know I’ve left London. Many years ago when I first took this journey it was the moment I first fell in love with Brighton.
I first reached the station, on my way to an interview at University. I was on edge and nervous and I needed to pee. Following the mosaic tiled stairs down, I found myself in a beautiful Victorian ladies restroom – sadly now replaced with modern fittings. With the transience of youth, I fell in love all over again with the mahogany seats, marble countertops and brass taps. While the loos are no longer there, the Station itself is another listed building, thanks to the Italianate ironwork and double-spanned curved glass and iron roof. And, the odd seagull or two.
On this occasion, the trip was something of a retrospective. My first visit had a purpose. But, although I’d arrived at Brighton on my way to Sussex University for an interview I was early. With just an hour to spare I decided walk down to the beach, see the pier. I was sold – it was love at first sight for me. This was definitely somewhere I wanted to spend the next three years of my life.
But, despite spending three years living in Brighton, there are plenty of things I simply didn’t manage to do. Thameslink and Great Northern Railway have a whole series of 2 for 1 offers for rail travellers visiting Brighton and just browsing through the list I could spot several things I know I should have done already…
Joined by Adrian, probably my closest companion during my Uni days, it was a great opportunity to tick a few more things off the list…
Of course I’d been on the pier at Brighton, though in my days it was called the Palace Pier. In fact there were two piers in Brighton until 1975 – the Palace Pier which can be found by walking due South from the station and West Pier, most of which was destroyed by a fire in 2003. Both are listed and both, to me at least, are iconic. I can remember walking underneath and climbing up one structure late at night and I can remember visiting in the middle of winter when the place was deserted.
Once the tourist season started, we avoided the piers and in any case Fish and Chips on the pier was a luxury my student budget wouldn’t stretch to. Thameslink has a 2 for 1 offer to takeaway fish and chips from the Palm Court bar and restaurant so that you can enjoy your traditional seaside fish and chips at a decidedly untouristy price. So we did, watched carefully by several seagulls who were clearly hoping there’d be something left for them.
Brighton has evolved. But, my impression walking around the lanes, was that the spirit of the City remains the same.
I was there when Anita Roddick opened her first Body Shop in the Lanes. As students, we queued with our own plastic bottles, keen to be part of a green revolution. The Lanes are still full of quirky shops and stalls where you can buy anything and everything, from tattoos and piercings to beard oil.
There seems to be fewer antique and junk shops now, or perhaps I simply forgot where they were. There is definitely a coffee culture with plenty of independent coffee shops and cafes. And, the vintage clothes shops range from what I’d describe as retro styled through to the kind of second-hand clothes shops we all used to frequent as students.
I still remember one of my friends looking doubtfully at Adrian, who dressed alternately in PVC and satin from the Worlds End store on the Kings Road and suits from the 1940s and 50s that he bought in the Lanes.
He’s not really ‘people like us’ is he?
she remarked. But he turned out to be very much ‘people like me’ at least – and we’ve stayed friends ever since.
The Brighton Pavillion is another of those things I know I should have done already. It was, as I remember, horribly expensive. Once again there’s a 2 for 1 offer from Thameslink and Great Northern Railway so we decided to take advantage of that and I finally got to see the splendours that are hidden inside. Sadly I can’t share them here because photography of the interior is not allowed, but it is an amazing building with many fine works of art. Originally a farmhouse on the Steine, the building was enlarged first by Henry Holland in 1978 and later by John Nash, as a palace for George IV who had been renting the farmhouse as a discreet location for his liaison with Maria Fitzherbert. Much of the design was to cater specifically the portly king – with extra wide doors and a downstairs bedroom to accommodate him.
The Pavillion was also popular with his successor, William IV, but Queen Victoria disliked both the location and the size of the property and the Brighton Pavillion was sold to the town in 1850. Now open to the public, entry is normally £12.50 for an adult.
And, it was fabulous, with the help of the Thameslink Railway and Great Northern 2 for 1 offers, to try a few experiences that were simply outside my budget as a student, thirty or so years ago. There are more offers available in Brighton and some pretty amazing opportunities in London and Cambridge too. So now that the weather seems to be getting better why not Shout HELLO to spring and make the most of the lighter evenings when you go on an adventure by train! You can get your hands on over 150 fabulous 2 for 1 offers on a range of museums, zoos, attractions and more for a fantastic fun filled day out / weekend and say hello to super savings on spring time adventures by train!
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Disclaimer: I was provided with expenses and a fee to cover my time for this trip to Brighton, all views are editorial and I selected which of the 2For1 offers I wanted to try.