Since our plans to visit the English countryside hadn't eventuated, with only two days left, we decided to take a train trip out of London. That was the easy decision, but where should we go ... old cathedrals, quaint villages, beautiful gardens, the beach ... it was quite difficult to choose, but in the end it was to be a day at the beach. Imagine that, a couple of Aussies being drawn to the beach .
We bought our country train tickets for Brighton at Gloucester Road tube station, which was time saving, as we ran up from Victoria underground station across a long concourse onto the first carriage (he means the last carriage) of the Brighton train with only minutes to spare. The trip down was speedy arriving in just under an hour with only three stops. All the carriages in the train were designated "first class". We think that's just a ploy by the private rail operator to charge more. But nonetheless, a steward did wander up and down with a trolley selling coffee, tea and snacks. There was even a conductor who checked tickets and chatted with passengers. And he was by himself. A bit of a change from the ticket checkers on Melbourne trains who travel in groups, apparently because they feel that they need the numbers as they issue fines to anyone without a valid ticket regardless of the reason, ie wretched ticket machines not working.
On bank holidays if these platforms all filled with trains, then Brighton must be packed with people.
The weather forecast had predicted rain, wind and cool conditions and they weren't wrong. As we made our way out of the station we were hit by the freezing wind which went straight through us, dressed as we were in a couple of layers of our "spring" clothing. As we crossed the street we felt the rain. What a day to visit the beach!! The winds were so strong that at times we closed our umbrellas (newly purchased from the umbrella store in London) as they bent and threatened to break as we were whipped by the Arctic gusts.
We made our shivering way down West Street towards the water. Then we both noticed it together: A Damart store! A place to purchase warm, dry, protection-from-the-wind clothing. We picked up our pace ... and then the disappointment ... It was not to be, the sign was there but the store was closed. So as to make the empty store not look derelict the owners had pasted a wallpaper scene of a shop filled with tables and chairs on the windows.
Undeterred we continued battling the winds until we were finally at the seafront. Where the wind and rain were even more fierce. As we looked back towards the shops and hotels, everything appeared to be shut, and in some cases shuttered. It didn't look very inviting, but rather sad and tired.
We looked along the beachfront to decide where to now; as we'd seen the sea. We could see the burnt-out shell of West Pier to our right and Brighton Pier and an aquarium to our left. It seemed to us that we shouldn't leave Brighton without promenading along the pier. It should only have been a short stroll to the pier, but the ferocity of the winds made it seem much further away. A case of two steps forward and one step back, so to speak. Even had there been verandahs on the shop fronts, they would have been no protection from the wind and rain.
There was a line of people from a tourist bus, waiting to enter the aquarium, but we wandered past them and over to the pier.
We walked down the Pier, a Victorian pleasure park. We passed small kiosks selling holiday foods (ice cream, fairy floss, doughnuts, fish and chips) souvenirs and t-shirts and caps etc. These kiosks are open to the weather, so the ones that were open today were manned by really hardy old salts. Next on the pier we enter what we are disappointed to find is a large area devoted to poker machines of many kinds, with a few video games on the side to entertain the children, while the parents lose the rent money. As the weather remains cold, windy and wet, we are pleased to find a video game for the oldies. And we spend a good half an hour and almost 10 pounds defending Britain against the Luftwaffe in a Battle of Britain video game. Andy's contribution to the war effort was crashing for Britain: "If I had been in the RAF we would all be speaking German". In my own case, it is to my shame that my few hours of real flying experience made little difference to my contribution to the war effort.
Continuing along the pier, we leave the warm and dry gaming hall and return to the cold and wet. A little further along are side show stalls, balls in the clowns mouth, coconut shys etc. These stalls, which are undercover, are painted in a garish style just like the amusement stalls at the show. Unfortunately, there were no takers today for these amusements.
We stay under cover and look further along the pier, wondering what might be in the next building. Was it the sign from above "England's best fish and chips" or that the Palm Court Restaurant was out of the rain that beckoned us to go in for lunch. Fiona tried the plaice and I the haddock. Nice fish, no bones but the English batter is so thick that you seem to end up with a mouthful of batter and little actual fish. Still we dried off a bit, finished lunch and headed back.
We walked back to the street on the other side of the pier this time.
The other major attraction that we knew of in Brighton was the Royal Pavilion. We were blown away from the seaside and up a broad street called the Old Stein on our way to find the Pavilion. After several blocks we eventually found it. Protected from the wind and rain by a bus shelter we looked across the garden and noticed that all the windows appeared to be boarded up. And we could see that the gate in the fence was closed nor were there signs of any kind.
So as the day had proved so miserable thus far we decided to return to the station via the shopping area known as the lanes. We walked around the block and turned the corner, looked up a wide tree-lined street with shops and outdoor cafes and then we saw it! A portico and a small crowd! Could this be the entrance we had been searching for?
We hurried up to the portico, purchased tickets (just slightly ahead of a large French school group), got our audio tour and entered another world!!!
Unfortunately, photos and filming of any kind were absolutely forbidden. So most of the photos we have are taken from the guide book we purchased from the gift shop, and they really don't do justice to the scale and decoration of the rooms of the Pavilion. Which are truly spectacular, some in fact jaw droppingly impressively beautiful!!! No kidding ... But how to do justice to it all, so that you can appreciate it as we did?
The Royal Pavilion was the seaside palace of King George IV. In 1786, seriously in debt and intent upon a very public display of economy, George retired to Brighton to a modest farmhouse. The following year, his financial position resolved and with his debts paid, he asked Henry Holland to transform the farmhouse. The resulting small neo-classical structure with a central domed rotunda surrounded by Ionic columns was known as the Marine Pavilion.
The tour begins
The Banqueting room is breathtaking and literally a feast for the eyes! And the further one ventures into this magnificent room the more magnificent it is.
Unfortunately, this photo doesn't show the shallow dome ceiling nor the enormous 30 foot chandelier, which weighs one ton. It's held in the claws of a silvered dragon suspended from the apex of the ceiling. Below, six smaller dragons exhale light through lotus glass shades.
The copper leaves stand proud of the ceiling adding to the illusory effect.
The Prince Regent would delight in showing guests the Great Kitchen adjacent to the Banqueting room. This was unusual because cooking odours and the risk of fire meant the kitchen was placed well away from the dining room. One of the innovations included a large steam table to keep dishes hot until they were taken through to the diners. This must have been welcomed especially since the Prince regularly gave formal banquets; one of which featured 36 entrees. I wonder how many desserts there were?
Dinner guests left the Banqueting room, played cards and chatted in the saloon before joining their host in the music room. Music was another of George IV's great passions and in this extraordinary room, lit by nine lotus-shaped chandeliers, the King's own band would play selections from Handel or Italian opera.
This splendid room was severely damaged by fire in 1975. After a decade restoration work to the gilt dome, coving, clerestory windows and their surrounds, east wall and chandeliers had barely been completed when the hurricane of October 1987 dislodged a stone ball on top of one of the minarets which then fell through the newly-restored ceiling, embedding itself in the newly laid, hand-knotted carpet.
And having just completed the painstaking work of restoring the ceiling's 26,000 cockle-shells, it all had to begin again.
How lucky we had been to have looked down that small street and seen the Pavilion's portico. If we had been looking the other direction we'd have returned to London without having seen the wonder of Brighton's Royal Pavilion. A very pleasant end to our visit to Brighton.