Monday, 8 April 2013

charming Sussex (Deccan Herald, Oct 2011)

Charming countryside

Juanita Kakoty
Royalty Beckons
June is undoubtedly the best month to be in England.
calm and quiet : The Stanmer Park in Brighton. Photo Juanita KakotyThe weather is at its best and everybody is cheerful. It is this charming spell that was cast upon me as I drove from London to quaint Brighton in the south coast of England.
Brighton, often referred to as ‘London by the sea’, is the major part of the city of Brighton and Hove in East Sussex. “Brighton and Hove were separate towns until 1997. 

In England, you need to have at least a cathedral to be classified as a city; a norm established in the early 1540s by King Henry VIII,” revealed Tracy Zussmann, a resident, as she took me out for the country’s special shepherd’s pie and prawn cocktails at Brown’s, close to one of the oldest public houses or pubs in Brighton with an interesting name — The Cricketers (established in the 16th century). “It is amazing that Brighton and Hove came to be classified as a city despite the fact that there is no cathedral around!”   

This seaside-city with gorgeous old buildings has a white-painted Brighton Pier (that was built in the 1800s to bring passengers ashore without wetting their feet, and re-built at least twice thereafter) by a beach of pebbles, sea-gulls hovering above. “Brighton used to be a fishing village long ago. But it has been expanding,” pointed out Alan Stanley, a resident. “Post World War, slums had come up in the peripheries of Brighton as people moved into the outskirts of London. In the 1950s, the local government authorities rehabilitated these slum dwellers by building houses for them. This is how well-planned places like Moulscoombe, where I now live, developed.”

Very close to the Brighton Pier and the sea stands the Royal Pavilion, an Indo-Saracenic structure built for the Royalty. But the Royals never stayed there because, as legends go, “the Queen thought it was right in the middle of the town without privacy” or because “it is oriental in architecture but built by local artisans, which is why the place always kept falling apart; never in a condition to live in.” All around this regal structure, one can see restaurants called Bhindi, Planet India and Brighton Tandoori.

I often took the Big Lemon Bus that runs on waste cooking oil to tour around the city or to go to the nearby village, Falmer, where the Stanmer Natural Park is. The park has the Stanmer village, the Stanmer House and the Stanmer Church within it. The whole of it used to be the private Stanmer Estate until 1947 when it was bought over by Brighton’s Council. The Stanmer House, built in 1722 for the Pelham family, is one of Brighton’s most in-demand wedding venues today.

It is amazing how well-maintained this house is even after all these years. Alan explained that this has been the case almost all over England, “The National Trust was created some 100-150 years ago by interested wealthy individuals to conserve and protect monuments, heritage and landscapes. It bought mansions, estates, granges and houses from descendants who couldn’t manage them anymore. Some 40 years ago, the government took over and made it a semi-legal entity. Today, after the Queen, the National Trust owns most of the land in UK.”

Taking the seven-minute train ride from Falmer to Lewes, a medieval Georgian town, Alan and I reach the Town Centre where his wife, Sandy, was waiting for us by the Harvey’s Brewery, Sussex’s oldest brewery founded in 1790. Everything is special about this old town, which has charming little alleys and roads, winding in and out of every nook and corner. Like the famous strong Lewes beer, as Alan narrated, was released in 2000. “There was a huge flood in Lewes and most of the town, including the Harvey’s Brewery, was submerged under water. The beer brewed for two weeks extra and once the water receded, it was released and became very popular as ‘Lewes extra strong beer’.”

From Lewes, Alan, Sandy and I went ‘down the Downs’ (a local expression for going up and down the hills) and reached the small town of Glynde, which has just a church, a post office and a pub — the bare essentials — to qualify as a town. The Downs are private farmlands open to public to be used as cycling and trekking routes. 

“There was a huge movement in England for access to private farmlands,” informed Sandy. “As towns and cities developed, open space became scarce. The city and town-dwellers started a movement to access land in the countryside for leisure, and won. Now, people can go through these private lands but no one can build bonfires or any other structures on them.” 

As we went down the Downs, Glynde gleamed golden below with the sun’s touch. We arrived at a charming, old-fashioned pub to an inviting mug of cider and the perfect lamb shank. And I thought to myself, for the hundredth time, the English countryside is just so storybook-like.

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