Sun, sea, sex, stations, parks, promenades, palaces, bathing beaus, twittens, tourists, respectability, raffishness, arson and a model railway exhibition. Where else but Brighton?
There are lots more things to see in Brighton. Do not hesitate to deviate from the route if you see something interesting.
Distance, Terrain and Time
11km, 7 miles. Lots of opportunities to shorten the walk. You can cut off about a mile by leaving out Queens Park. You can cut out a further mile by riding on the Volks Electric railway along the front. The route can be split in two by making a diversion at Palace Pier/The Old Steine.
Start and finish points
Brighton Railway Station
Trains run to Brighton Station from Lewes four times an hour. For bus and train times see Traveline South East
Ordnance Survey maps
Explorer series number 122 Landranger series 198 However a Brighton A-Z (available from Smiths on the station) might be more useful. Alternatively, in the front of the station, by the bus stops, there is often a rack of leaflets including a free Brighton map.
Numerous opportunities throughout the route. Places of special merit are mentioned in the text. Here is a blog reviewing Brighton cafes.
A large number, mainly on the seafront, but also at the station.
I would particularly like to acknowledge the “Cheeky Walks in Brighton and Sussex Guide” for suggestions on route finding in central Brighton and Angela Devas, who led a Red Rope walk in the area and introduced me to St Annes Well Park, amongst other places.
1). Leave Brighton Station (A) by the exit in the middle of the concourse. Emerge into a covered area with a taxi rank on your left. Turn right. At the edge of the station cross the road by a crossing.
Ahead of you are two well known Brighton greasy spoon cafes, two of the last of their kind in the area. Divalls used to be in all the good caff guides but ownership has changed recently and it has gone a little upmarket.
Turn left and then immediately right to climb up Guildford Street. There are a couple of good Brighton pubs on each side of the road if you are tempted. Our route turns left at the pubs along Guildford Street. At the junction ahead go more or less straight ahead along Centurion Road. You come to a primary school sandwiched into a very small space. Take the narrow footpath just to the left of the school to emerge on a small road and . See the grounds of St Nicholas Church (B) in front of you.
Walk into the church grounds along the left hand side of the church and then down to have a look at Gothic Wykham Terrace, then turn round and walk back up the hill, this time aiming for the left of the church. Follow the path out to the main road.
As you walk up the path you can see, to your left, two 1960’s office blocks. The further one used to be the Brighton Labour exchange. In the 1960s they would try to cut claimant numbers by straightforwardly refusing to take claims. If this tactic worked they would send you after jobs that had been filled weeks ago, much to the annoyance of employers. If even this failed they would tell you that you could only get benefit for four weeks, even though in fact this was not the case. The idea of actually helping you find a job that you could actually do did not occur to them. They once sent me for a job on the Volks railway, which I was quite excited about, only to find that you had to be over 60 to apply. I was 20 at the time.
Cross busy Dyke Road and turn right. Immediately turn left into Clifton Terrace (C). At the end of Clifton Terrace turn right and then first left along Victoria Road. Take the second on the right up St Michaels Place (D).
2).At the end turn left and cross the main road to enter Hove(E). Walk down Windlesham Avenue to the end. Turn right and immediately left and walk along Nizells Avenue until you come to St Annes Well Park (F)
Turn left into the park and then right along a path which runs parallel to the road. Follow this until the park café comes into sight. Turn left here and walk past the café on your right, and continue in the same direction into woods on a path marked “no cycling”. Follow this path out of the park and into Furze Hill.
Turn right. At the road junction go straight across (although if you want to visit a Brighton Buddhist centre you can turn left her and walk for about 20 metres. They have a highly recommended cafe with great outdoor seating in summer). You are now in Georgian Brunswick Place (the road running parallel to this, on the right hand side, has two small interesting Hove pubs, which may interest you). Cross busy Western Road.
Straight across is Brunswick Square.(G). Turn left on reaching the square and then right into the square. At the bottom end of the square the exit is in the middle. Go out here and cross Kingsway and sedate Hove Lawns.
3). Turn left along the promenade, walking by the Sea (H). At the Meeting Place Café (I) keep straight ahead. You are on the lower promenade and the path winds its way past the remains of the West Pier (J) and various amenities (k) until nearly at the Palace Pier. Just before the Osho café climb up to the upper promenade.
Pass the Palace Pier (L) and keep straight ahead past the big wheel
As an alternative, you can shorten the walk by crossing the main road here and walking to the right hand side of the Albion Hotel. Turn left at the back of the hotel to meet the returning route at the YHA hostel.
The main route continues along the promenade to the Volks Electric Railway Station. If it is running I recommend you buy a single ticket to Halfway and ride along the front here. At Halfway (the first station) get off of the train and turn right out of the exit to rejoin the main route at Paston Place.
Alternatively walk along Marine Drive, past the Beach Volleyball centre (N) to turn left at Paston Place(O), which is marked by the offices of the electric railway, set in the cliff.
At Paston Place there are two sets of stairs up the cliff. Take either of them. They emerge at the same place. At the top cross the main road and walk straight ahead to reach a junction at St Georges Road.
4). Turn left along St Georges Road to walk through Kemp Town Village (P). the road bears left and then right. Come to a junction with Upper Bedford Street
You can shorten the walk by about a mile by continuing straight on here to reach St James’s Street.
5) The main route turns right up Upper Bedford Street. Cross Eastern Road and continue ahead, climbing up Freshfield Road. On your right is Gala Bingo.
(The industrial estate on your right is the site of the old Kemp Town railway station, the terminus of a branch from Brighton. It was open for goods only until the 1960s.)
Take the third turning on the left after Eastern Road (South Avenue). On reaching the edge of Queens Park (Q) turn right and follow the edge of the park round to Queens Park Rise.
At this point enter the park and take any route that takes your fancy down the hill, aiming to finish up in the south west corner of the park (the bottom on the right). You emerge on the corner of Park Hill and Egremont Place.
Walk down Egremont Place towards the sea. At the main road go left and then immediately right, down Upper Rock Gardens. At the first junction turn right on St James’s street. (R)
Walk along St James’s Street
6) Look out for two shops on your left, Prowler, a Gay shop, and Starbucks, a Coffee shop. Opposite these turn right up George Street. This is one of my favourite streets in Brighton because I like the range of shops including, in 2014, a charity shop for greyhounds in need. About half way up, opposite Freedom Cycles (in 2014) turn left up an alley and turn left again through the supermarket car park. Walk through the supermarket and emerge on St James Street. Turn right.
Walk to the end of St James’s Street. Cross the road and head for the fountain (possibly not operating) diagonally on your left across the grass. At the fountain head towards the sea on a path which heads to the left hand side of the YHA youth hostel. Cross the busy road carefully and walk down the left hand side of the hostel.
This brings you out in Pool Valley, once the main bus terminus of the city, but now a rather sad terminal for National Express Coaches. Turn right and then walk straight ahead up a pedestrian walkway. There are a number of places to refresh yourself here but the Mock Turtle is a famous place to have afternoon tea.
At the end of the alley turn right into East Street. If you like trendy mainstream clothes shops East Street is where you will find them. Coast, French Connection, Hugo Boss, Jigsaw, Monsoon, and Reiss all have a presence here. There is also Terre a Terre on your right, which is a vegetarian restaurant that has received outstanding reviews for many years.
Just past Terre a Terre, on your left, you will see an alley signposted “Little East Street” Turn left up this.
In the famous mod film “Quadrophenia” Jimmy and Steph have sex in this alley and it has become a cult place. You may come across couples re-enacting the scene or you may be tempted to re-enact it yourself.
Emerge from the alley and turn right along Bartholomew Street, with Brighton Town Hall on your left. Turn left into Prince Albert Street. Follow it as it bears round to the right.
This area is the Lanes. It formed the original part of Brighton. Nowadays it is a warren of upmarket shops. It is easy to get lost. If you do, ask someone to point you in the direction of Brighton Pavilion.
Pass the noted vegetarian restaurant “Food for Friends” and the Friends meeting house. After this turn right down an alley with shops by the name of Union Street
At the end turn right into another alley. The alley then turns left. After this almost immediately turn right (do not go straight ahead) and then take the first alley on the left- Meeting House Lane. Emerge in Brighton Place. Turn left. At the end, Brighton place continues as an alley. Take this to emerge in East Street. Turn left.
Cross busy North Street at the crossing and walk straight ahead through the arch to Brighton Pavilion.(S)
The route goes past the pavilion into the park, bearing left. There is an outdoor café in the park which is very popular on hot days, but your route now bears right to pass the Brighton Museum. (T). The entrance is on your left.
Go under an arch and turn left into Church Street. Take the 3rd on your right, Gardner Street, which is one of the main shopping streets of the North Laine(U) At the end of Gardner Street turn right and then left into pedestrian Kensington Gardens.
At the end of Kensington Gardens turn right and left along Sydney Street. At the end turn left up Trafalgar Street. Shortly you pass Tidy Street on the left. This is home to one of my favourite cafes in Brighton, the Rock-Ola, based on a 1950s coffee bar, with a free juke box.
Carry on up Trafalgar Street to pass under the station. On your right is the Brighton Toy and Model Railway museum (V). Emerge at your start point.
Points of Interest
A). Brighton Station
One of the grand stations of Britain, built with imagination on a cramped and sloping sights. Views of the great train shed have recently been improved by modernisation which has cleared the inner concourse. A great entrance to the city and famously the start of millions of dirty weekends.
B) St Nicholas Church
You are now very near the roaring centre of Brighton, but the churchyard has a very quiet air. Martha Gunn, who was famous for dipping visitors in the sea, is buried here, as is Phoebe Hessel, who is said to have dressed as a soldier and served in the West Indies to be with her lover. She lived to 107.
Gothic Wykham Terrace, just below the church, has been home to Flora Robson, Roy Strong, Adam Faith and Leo Sayer and a girl accused of stuffing her baby down a toilet (one of the buildings was once a home for penitent prostitutes)
St Nicholas Rest Gardens, on the opposite side of Dyke Road, is a good place to eat a packed lunch, but there is only one entrance and exit, so this is not a through route.
C). Clifton Terrace
Built in the 1840s and one of the most gracious streets in Brighton. It is part of the Clifton conservation area. Although to live here would now cost you very serious money, in the 1970s many of the houses were multioccupied as bedsits.
D) St Michaels Place
It is hard to believe now, but this 1860’s street was a den of sin in the 1970’s. Its decline had started in the inter-war years and by 1970 it was a haven of slum landlords and criminal tenants. A significant proportion of the crime committed in Brighton was commited by residents of St Michaels Place and surrounding streets. Another resident was Roy Carr-Hill, a radical academic who was inspired to co-found of the radical newspaper Brighton Voice, which campaigned, against slum landlords amongst other things.
Brighton’s problem was the size of many of its houses. With up to five stories and hardly any garden, places like these were completely unsuitable to be single family homes in the 20th century. Up to the 1980s it was virtually impossible to get a mortgage on converted flats so the only people likely to be interested in buildings like this were landlords. More money could be made by letting each room out individually and even more could be made if you did not do any repairs. Things changed radically when mortgages became available for flats. With a large number of young child-free people in Brighton owners quickly saw that more money could be made by converting the buildings into self-contained flats and selling them. Many landlords got into leasehold scandals (See information about Embassy Court below.)
E) Hove Actually
At this point you are now in Hove. Initially Hove developed from Brunswick Square (see below) and was little different from Brighton. But during the Victorian period it developed a character that was almost the opposite of that of Brighton. Where Brighton was raffish, Hove was determinedly respectable. When accused of living in Brighton, residents famously responded “Hove actually”. You can see that the housing starts to change to reflect this. It would be fair to say that there were few new ideas in the area either. For many years Hove stagnated. Its council consisted nearly entirely of Conservative councillors elected year after year, with none under 50 and many in their 80s and 90s. According to journalist and Hove resident Adam Trimmingham, having lost the plot entirely was no bar to being a council member. Things have changed as a result of the council being merged with Brighton and with the overspill of Brightonians moving to Hove in search of cheaper housing.
Today this a pleasant suburban park with a café, but it has a long history. Dr Russell, the promoter of sea bathing, popularised its waters in the 18th century. It was later a pleasure garden with concerts, a fortune teller and hot air balloon. At the end of the 19th century George Albert Smith, a pioneer of film, held the lease and made a number of films there including, allegedly one of the first pornographic films. Material about pioneer film makers in Hove can be found in the Hove museum.
G) Brunswick Square
The first development in Hove, dating from the 1820s, this grand square is more typical of Brighton than of Hove. The streets to the east and the west, which were originally built to service the square, are worth exploring, although to reach them you will have to go via Western Road or the front. Winston Churchill went to prep school at 29 Brunswick Road. If you do go round the back of the square you will encounter a typical Brighton theme- buildings that are much grander at the front than at the back. The rear of this great terrace looks downright mean.
Nigel Richardson’s book Breakfast in Brighton is a humourous description of living around here at the end of the 20th Century.
45 Brunswick Square was the birthplace of Edward Carpenter the socialist writer,poet and early gay activist, who was hugely influential in the late 19th and early 20th century.
H). The Sea
The sea made Brighton and Hove. In the 1750’s Dr Richard Russell bought some land in the fishing village of Brighthelmstone and set about promoting sea bathing as a health cure. Things expanded considerably with the coming of the railway, when going to the sea ceased to be something only the rich could do.
But sea bathing was not, at first, a pleasurable experience. You were encouraged to drink the salt water as well and rather than swimming in the water you were immersed in it (dipped) by a dipper, whose job it was to make sure that you got enough dips (apparently 3 was the recommended number).
I) The meeting place café, the end of Hove Lawns, the Peace statue and Embassy Court.
You have been walking by sedate Hove Lawns. Suddenly they end and you walk into the more raucous Brighton front. The change is marked by the Meeting Place café (where Nigel Richardson says no one ever meets) and the Peace statue, a statue of a partially clothed young woman. It is a memorial to Edward VII, ‘The Peacemaker’ and was erected just before the First World War. The peace he engineered was a reconciliation between France and Britain who were traditional enemies. It is said that his love of France and knowledge of French were the result of frequent visits to Paris brothels.
Just to the north of the Peace Statue, on the other side of the road, you can see Embassy Court, a grade 2 listed classic 1930’s art deco block of flats looking a bit odd in all this Regency architecture. Tours of the block are occasionally run. The block’s recent history is typical of many blocks of flats in the town. Brighton has always been famous for its slum landlords, including a Mr van Hoogstraten, now better known as a man who obstructs footpaths. Originally these landlords would rent out properties, demanding high rents and keeping flats in poor condition. When it became possible for people to buy flats, these landlords started offering long leases. While the majority of residents were tenants, the landlords did no repairs, but when the number of leaseholders increased they would start comprehensive programmes of overpriced renovations, often done by builders who were their friends, or otherwise associated with them. At the turn of the 20th century Embassy Court was still at the first stage, but the freehold is now owned by a company controlled by the leaseholders and the block has been extensively renovated in the last 10 years.
J) The West Pier
The West Pier was one of the most beautiful piers in the country. It was built in 1866 and found fame as the setting for the film “Oh What a Lovely War” After 1965 the then owners were unable to maintain it and the pier closed in 1975, finally ending up in the ownership of the West Pier Trust who fundraised to restore it. However in 2002 and 2003 parts of the pier fell into the sea. There were 3 major fires in 2003 which were believed to be arson attacks. Residents opposed to the rebuilding and the owners of the Palace pier were accused but no charges were laid against anyone. The trust is still trying to restore the pier but things look grim.
K) The Brighton Front
Between the West and Palace piers the Brighton lower front teems with cafes, nightclubs, restaurants, shops, children’s entertainments, sculptures and a fishing museum. In 2014 there were trampolines and even a gym.
Probably the most iconic structure in Brighton. To do this walk properly you really should divert along the pier and go on at least one ride. I would recommend the ghost train, but the big dipper is good too. There are childrens’ and adult rides. Near the base of the pier you will also find the Sea Life Centre and a big wheel.
Claimed to be the first electric railway in the world (although there are other claimants), the Volks Electric Railway was designed by Brighton resident Magnus Volk. It opened in 1883 and the railway has remained substantially unchanged since 1900. It really is the best way to travel between the Palace Pier and Halfway.
N) The beach volleyball centre
Here at the beach volleyball centre, which is just before Paston Place, you can have a cup of coffee and watch beach babes and beaus disporting themselves at the sport of beach volleyball.
O) Paston Place and the Banjo Groyne
In the side of the cliff you can see the Paston Place headquarters of the Volks Electric Railway. Sticking out towards the see is the Banjo Groyne. It was from here that Volk launched his Daddy Longlegs railway in the sea to Rottingdean. It looked like a moving bit of pier and ran on widely spaced rails along the sea bed. It was one of the most extraordinary railways in the world but only survived a few years. From here the Daddy Longlegs walk starts
The first part of Kemp Town that you visit has a distinctly village atmosphere with an atmosphere that sometimes seems far removed from the heart of Brighton. Things will get more exciting!
Q) Queens Park
According to the web site of the Friends of Queens Park “ Queens Park occupies a beautiful green valley facing south east towards the Channel. In 1890 Queens Park was bought for the people of Brighton and extensively landscaped. …. It has a large pond, a cafe, a well- equipped playground and 22 acres of rolling lawns and quiet wooded corners. It is half a mile from the sea, one third of a mile long and has one and a half miles of footpaths. It rises from 70 feet above sea level at the bottom to 140 feet at the top.” It is surrounded by the salubrious Victorian Villas that characterise the area.
R) St James’s Street
St James’s Street is the gay heart of the gayest city in England. You will find gay shops, gay pubs, gay everything. Lesbians and Gay Men have been coming to Brighton for as long as anyone can remember, but the growth of Kemp town as a queer heartland is down to school catchment.
Brighton and Hove’s secondary schools have always been on the outskirts of the city, largely because this is where there was enough space for them. On your walk you have passed by junior schools shoehorned into the most tiny spaces, but a secondary school needs more space. This has always caused problems with catchment areas. If an area was in the catchment of one of the more popular schools then house prices went up, and visa versa. For many years Kemp Town was in the catchment area of the Stanley Deason School in Whitehawk. The school was unpopular. It suffered from middle class flight and the dumping of difficult students on it. So property prices in Kemp Town went down. But this meant that, if you were not planning to have children, there were bargains to be had. So, just as the breeders headed for Fiveways and Preston Park, for the schools, lesbians and gay men who did not intend to have children headed for Kemp Town.
It is difficult to say anything about Brighton Pavilion that has not already been said.It is probably the most exotic royal palace. It was built in three stages, beginning in 1787, as a seaside pleasure palace for George, Prince of Wales. It was disowned by Queen Victoria, who thought that it was too close to the public for her comfort and it came into the hands of Brighton Council. It has been redesigned many times, including a re-design by John Nash and now exists as a kind of fantasy version of eastern exoticism.
If you have not visited it before a visit is a must. You can make a virtual visit here
T) The Brighton Museum and Theatres
The museum says about itself “Brighton Museum houses one of the most important and eclectic collections outside national insititutions. Dynamic and innovative galleries – including fashion and style, 20th century art and design, and fine art – feature exciting interactive displays appealing to all ages. In addition to the permanent galleries, there is a continuing programme of temporary exhibitions.” Next door are auditoria hosting a number of events.
The North Laine (the name means north field- don’t get it confused with the lanes) is ultra-Brighton. It was the slum area of Brighton for many years and was threatened with demolition for high rise buildings and a large car park in the 1960’s and 1970s. It was saved by local opposition and the advocacy of Brighton’s chief planning officer at the time, Ken Fines. Fines came up with the name for his newly designated conservation area.
The uncertainty surrounding the area led to low rents and low rents meant that enterprising individuals could take over the small shops and workshops to try out interesting ideas at low capital risk. So the area became, and to some extent still remains, a fascinating mix of cutting edge boho enterprises which survive and thrive or fail and are replaced. More recently, increasing rents have forced traders to think about other areas of town or St Leonards, further along the coast.
Right under the station, the Brighton toy and model railway museum is the best way to finish off your visit to Brighton.