Lock Down Loop - Nearly 3 Miles of Heaven: A Walk Round Saltdean and Rottingdean with Peter Black



Introduction. I started this walk during the first lockdown in Spring 2020, and still continue regularly. It's now summer 2021, so perhaps a more up-to-date name might be better. One might occur to me, but for reasons of nostalgia, I'll stick to the original moniker (but suggestions most welcome!). So join me as we stride down slopes and struggle up others: think snakes and ladders. Our route: from East Saltdean westward down to mid-Saltdean; up and over Saltdean's roof and down to north Rottingdean; south through Rottingdean village to the crossroads; east along the coast, and finally home up Longridge Avenue. On the way we'll find wild and domesticated animals, and pass intriguing landmarks. Walking at night can be even more rewarding than the daytime version but, either way, truly a voyage of discovery. Our beautiful area is rightly a tourist magnet, but we're not going to dwell on its various popular venues. Rather, let's focus on the quirky, unusual or unique that have a personal or family meaning.


Saltdean


Ready Steady Go. To begin at the beginning, starting chez moi, Homeridge House; or rather, its rear garden facing east to Crowborough Road. Neighbours Linda and Paul have improved it no end, creating an eye-catching Eden anyone would be proud of, and their labours of love continue.

Longridge Avenue. Just a few yards up the street, where three roads – Crowborough, Longridge and Wicklands – meet, is a squash court-size grassy area. At its heart is the Peace Stone, Saltdean's memorial to The Fallen. The inscription: Dedicated by the Saltdean Residents Association to the commemoration of peace August 1995. Those who never forget gather here each Remembrance Sunday to honour their heroes. But regardless of the time of year, step over the surrounding chain into the tiny paved area, and find yourself in a miniature cathedral of reverence.


Across the street, beside the steps leading to the doctors' surgery, are The Dancers with Accompanist, larger-than-life period cartoon figures reminiscent of the glory days of ballroom dancing as a nightly ritual for guests in the then Grand Ocean Hotel, a jewel in the crown of the Butlins Holidays empire – now a block of flats. It retains both its internal and external Art Deco elegance, making it a must-use location for film and TV companies. Poirot (aka David Suchet) once posed under its canopy, temporarily re-named for the story the Grand Metropolitan Hotel. More recently – Election Day 2019 – saw a film crew invade the building to shoot a Roald Dahl remake.


(Time it right, stand at the corner of Longridge and Wicklands, and face west; you'll see the most awesome, glorious, unforgettable sunsets).


Saltdean Vale. I've never been to an actual service in St Nicholas Church, but have enjoyed several events in their much-loved and oft-used Hall; everything from Saturday night dances to SRA meets. Now that lockdown's almost over, I'm anticipating lotsa great functions worth attending, especially Cinema Saltdean. Please do join me...


Lustrells Vale. All fish and chip shops fry fish, but I defy you to find one outside Brighton that grills it. Doc's orders forbid me to eat fried anything, which is why I am a regular for the delicious grilled offerings at Saltdean Fish Bar. Pre-covid, you could dine inside, enjoying a large haddock and generous heart-friendly salad. During lockdown, it's been takeaway only, but finally they're ready to offer sit-down meals again. Healthy heaven at a table awaits us...


Fortified by the fish-bar's essential food groups, we climb to the summit of Lustrells Vale. Near the top, there's a unique feature: at number 17, an entire front wall of pebbles encased in wire cages. A metre high and eight long, it holds what seem like thousands of stones, meticulously positioned to perfectly interlock. I can't begin to imagine what a colossal labour of love building this must have been. Dry Stone Walling is the nearest craft that comes to mind. One day, I might be brave enough to ring the doorbell and ask the home-owner to spill the beans (or the pebbles) on how it was done.


The Roof of Saltdean is where Bishopstone Drive, Westmeston Avenue, Whiteway Lane, and the Public Bridleway meet. It's fitting that a stationary horsebox is parked here, sentry-like, to welcome us to this glorious kaleidoscope of horses and hedges, houses and huts, that dot a landscape of many shades of green; where mares, stallions and thoroughbreds reign. Here, on its northern rim, you realise Saltdean's southern sector is an elongated saucer centered on its park, The Oval, far below. Enjoy other spectacular views in all directions while catching your breath, before plunging westward down the forested tunnel of...


Whiteway Lane. This is our wilderness; an untamed, rough, narrow path, popular with human and canine walkers, and a well-trodden thoroughfare used by the local four-legged aristocracy: horses. We're very much in equine country – more animals than humans – that starts here and sweeps north and west in a crescent around Woodingdean as far as Brighton Racecourse. Plentiful evidence – frequent piles of-droppings – means you need to watch your step if you don't want any clinging to your footwear. Bring a bucket and shovel to collect free nourishment for your roses and rhubarb.


That's the daytime story: nights are different. I'm usually quite happy after dark in most places, but would draw the line at venturing in here. I imagine it a cruel Darwinian enclave of predator and prey, swoop and scream, talon and tooth, bite and blood, death and dinner; a sinister real-world version of the Wild Wood out of Wind in the Willows.


Rottingdean


From Whiteway Lane, you get your first glimpse of our famous local Windmill lurking on the skyline, which means we're now in Rottingdean. About a quarter of the way down the slope, we turn right into what finally becomes Lustrells Road , and then left onto...


Dean Court Road: quintessential Rottingdean – swanky, detached, well-groomed mock-Tudor villas; here's where the money is. As you'd expect this time of year, builders out in force, their hulking debris-filled skips squatting in driveway and street.


At the western end, we find one of the glories of the village, Tudor Close. My sister once lived here at number six. Back in the 1930's the Close was the exclusive Tudor Close Hotel, catering for the posh and wealthy. There's an impossible-to-verify tale that the owner used to put on murder mystery weekends. A guest at one of these was the chairman of Waddington's board-games who, as a result, was inspired to invent the much-loved Cluedo, originally called – believe it or not – Murder at Tudor Close Hotel. (Another version of the story is that it was the “Murders” actors themselves who sowed the seeds of the idea with Mr Waddington, rather than it occurring to him first). There are many more fascinating details in Rottingdean's museum The Grange, both in the ground-floor library, and also upstairs in the Art Gallery, where hangs a painting of the Close by one of its current residents. The Preservation Society's Mike Laslett is the most generous and entertaining of archivists.



The Green is the street that encircles The (grassy) Green itself. As you turn right into it from Dean Court Road, here's the old Quaker Burial Ground and the board explaining its turbulent history.


Following the street's curve anticlockwise, The Public Bridleway at the northwest corner leads to a hidden hinterland. The Hogplat, Beacon Hill Nature Reserve, more horses, and allotments are in an enchanted universe unto itself. You could spend hours just exploring this paradise that thrives behind a main thoroughfare. I must have passed it hundreds of times, but today – 1 August 2021 – is the first time I've ever properly ventured in. If you didn't know better, the overwhelmingly fruitful crops thriving on the allotments seem sub-tropical in their sheer exuberance and extravagant abundance. Hats off to all the growers whose sweat and backache have produced these horticultural miracles.


Reluctantly uprooting ourselves ('scuse the pun) from Allotment Heaven on the Hill, let's zigzag south down The Green and High Street. The Green itself is Rottingdean's grassy heart, the Mecca that draws visitors to its integral and neighbouring attractions. These include Kipling Gardens, Croquet Green, Wishing Well, Cenotaph, St Margaret's Church, Grange Museum, Plough Inn, and Duckpond. What more could any Olde Worlde English village want? Well, you might say that the number of blue plaques on display, some in plain sight of where we're now standing, are the icing on the cake of the chocolate-box image that tourists love.


Opposite The Green is Prospect Cottage. Fixed to its doorpost is a mezuzah, the religious symbol that says observant Jews live here. Being Jewish myself, I often wonder who it is. Another mystery, another doorbell to be rung if ever I feel brave enough.


West of The Pond; yet one more village secret, The Dene, an attractive sheltered-housing facility. Run by the Teachers' Housing Association originally for retired educators, it's now much less choosy and will take anyone, even me. I'm in the mile-long queue: let's hope I get to the front before it's too late. An absolute must for your diary is the August Garden Party on their beautiful lawn.


Opposite The Dene, the front garden of St Martha's Convent is home to an amputated cherry tree that some over-enthusiastic tree-surgeon maltreated; a kind of deformed arboreal Humpty Dumpty.


The sea end of Vicarage Lane hosts a traditional red phone box. Covid inspired the Preservation Society to turn it into a free book-swap venue during lockdown. Great idea, no longer needed now that libraries open again.


Next: hidden behind Tesco Express lies Golden Square, with its Washhouse – a grim reminder of times past.


Look – in the carpark – a brand-new Rottingdean Map! Another great idea, except it seems to be misaligned. High Street runs roughly north/south, but the map makes it look like it goes east/west. In other words, a little confusing for nitpicking dimwits like me. Couldn't the designer have either (a) composed it to match the compass? Or (b) displayed it facing north-south? And (c) positioned the buildings' pictures at the correct points on the map? What do you think?


From The Grange Tea Garden to Molly's at the Beach, there are over thirty places to eat, drink or both. Succumbing to malnutrition – or even vitamin deficiency – is unlikely, and not yet time for grub anyway because we must traverse the seething, bustling metropolis that is central Rottingdean. To preserve the illusion we're still in a quaint old village, avert your eyes from crass commercial examples of multiple firms, because modern intruders – coffee shops, convenience stores, estate agents (even traffic lights) – should play no part in our idyll.


Of course, what would Rottingdean be without its ancient Windmill? There it squats – clothed in black, like a motionless spider awaiting its prey – on the eastern flank of Beacon Hill. Its stark, sinister silhouette looms over the village. Is the mill to Rottingdean what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris? Perhaps not, but meanwhile, it gazes out to sea at its distant, much younger cousins who ceaselessly, peacefully, silently, ply their trade in the Rampion Wind Farm. (Did you know the blades on some of those monster turbines can be 100 metres long? That means the arms of each tower scythe over an area equivalent to nearly five soccer pitches). There's a (to me) bizarre optical illusion in play here, probably due to parallax: from Seaford to Worthing, the wind farm seems to be straight in front of you, no matter where on the coast you observe it from. Weird, or what?


Crossing Marine Drive, we enter High Street South, with its free Rampion Telescope on the cliff-edge, aka The Quarterdeck and Gap. Through it, take your fill of the wind turbines by day, and the stars by night.


Marine Drive. From the White Horse Hotel to my front door is exactly a mile but, before leaving the village, let's indulge ourselves at a favourite local restaurant, the Italian Erbe. Eventually, replete with delicious pasta – or whatever took your fancy – it's the hilly struggle (well, what do you expect on a full tummy!) up and over to Saltdean.


Near the top, the Frederick House apartments are on the corner of Little Crescent. A fox strolls down the slope, stops briefly when she sees me, then hurries into the enclosed patio. I look over the wall: she sits outside the french door, obviously a regular visitor. Door slides open, hand emerges, throws her something edible, door closes. Trophy gripped tight in her jaws, she rushes away back up the hill. Just one of the area's many foxes, but the first I've been able to photograph. How do I know it's a she? After she leaves, the resident comes out, and we discuss her. He thinks she takes the grub to feed her pups: who am I to argue?


Again, pick your evening and time, and this hilltop is the perfect spot to view breathtaking sunsets over Worthing to the west. You know you're leaving Rottingdean because of its welcome sign opposite Cranleigh Avenue . Years ago, local resident and full-time artist Mick Bensley, created the sign, one of three (the others on the village's west and north borders). Mick's shy modesty masks a huge talent, currently on display in an exhibition of his work at The Grange Gallery.

So, his sign marks the boundary between Rottingdean and...


Saltdean


Now over the brow of the hill, and marching down Marine Drive, on our left is Saltdean Tavern, home to the best-value grub around (has it dawned on you yet that my universe revolves around my tum?). The world's greatest full English breakfast on offer daily till 11.30 AM; then, having digested that, you can tuck in to the amazingly generous lunch portions off their carvery. My favourites are (a) the veggie-meal and (b) the fish meal, also at absurdly low prices; and they come with speed and great service from their ever-obliging staff.


Here today... summer funfair on The Oval for 10 brief days of July and August madness. Stuff covid! Let's have fun on the scary Orbiter, or indulge in an overpriced hot dog, or just chew the fat with friends and neighbours of all ages, before... gone tomorrow.


A more permanent feature at the park's southern end is the SRA's Harmony Garden and board: a great place to park your bum and compose yourself after the rigours of the fair (or any other time).


The late, great Richard Burton once said “Home is where the books are” and, south of The Oval, Saltdean Library, where I happily spend time, is my second home. Presiding over it is the charming, ever-helpful library officer Glenn Stevens. He lives nearly 10 miles away and travels to and from work by bus, which is not much fun on wet, windy days. Is that dedication, or what? Grazie mille, Glenn.


Next door is Saltdean Lido. In contrast to my school-days, I am no longer a swimming fan, but am very happy for all the families with young children who enjoy this delightful local amenity. I'm far more interested in the the open-air movies being shown here this summer. Great idea.


To get to the beach from here, let's take the subway under the coast road. The murals make it much more interesting than the boring old tunnel it once was.


This time of year, it's wall-to-wall holiday-makers on the beach, even more so in these covid-stricken staycation days. And most welcome they are too!


The Whitecliffs Cafe seems to have been here forever, at least 40 years that I know of. Changing hands many times, its fortunes have ebbed and flowed, and it's safe to say the previous owners had given up the ghost and it was on its last legs when the current owners took over and saved it. They've transformed it into a thriving, vibrant magnet for many from far away, a great local asset, and a remarkable success story.


Another long-time nearby fixture, and necessary evil, are the public loos, a bit of an eyesore, but now made less so by the imaginative murals that now decorate them. Are these by the same creative hand that provided the subway illustrations? Whatever – they're certainly easier on the eye than the previous, rather unsavoury, look.


Facing us, the undulating chalky cliffs march all the way to Newhaven and beyond; while beaches, the sea, the craft on it – sometimes even multicoloured hang-gliders above it – are an ever-changing spectacle, remorselessly patrolled by airborne squadrons of hungry, noisy seagulls. Pigeons, crows, starlings and other winged scavengers aren't far away either; nor are the foxes, forever in search of their favourite and abundant meals – rabbits.



Ah, the joys of bureaucracy – where would we be without 4 councils' road signs to confuse us? Well, it depends on where you stand and which way you face when you read them. Near where Marine Drive and Longridge Avenue meet, you might think you're in (a) Brighton (b) West Saltdean (c) East Saltdean (d) East Sussex (e) all of them (f) some of them (g) none of them. All clear, then? (as if it matters).


Longridge Avenue South. The last lap. On our right The Spanish Lady, a defunct pub with a chequered past and reputation to match. I can only speak as I found – the grub always plentiful and yummy. It's been boarded up since covid. Nobody seems to know what's happening. Meanwhile, it appears to be falling apart: what a shame. I would love to see it turned into holiday flats. AirB&B, anyone?


To end at the beginning: Homeridge House. But before entering, one last look at the heavens. On a clear night, the constellations flaunt themselves as proudly as peacock tails, giving full rein to your stargazing. I'm a bit rusty on them all, but even I recognize mighty Orion the Hunter as he dominates the sky's eastern segment.


What a fitting grand finale to our journey. We made it: well done!

…................................................................................................................


They say it takes a village to raise a child: it also seems to have taken half of one to produce even this modest labour of love. The result would have been much poorer if not for my treasured villagers below, to whom I give grateful thanks.

Esteemed editor George White

Queen of Rottingdean Mabel Tarwireyi

Saltdean Library supremo Glenn Stevens

King of Peacehaven Library Phil Choppen

Talented artist/illustrator Maryann Welsburg

AbilityNet's one-woman Northern Powerhouse Pat Maskell

Green fingered neighbours Linda Heinsen and Paul Chandler


A note on the pics. There are 60+, but for technical reasons can only use 12 here. However, I've kept the rest, so please tell me if you want to see the others.


copyright 2021 © Peter Black