The 4.7-mile coast walk between Brighton and Hove is packed with history, glitz and glamour, iconic structures, seaside tat, intriguing buildings (including one built upside down), the refined and the quirky.
The architecture is mostly Regency, Victorian and Edwardian and what you will see on the way reflects Brighton and Hove’s growth from a small 15th-century fishing village, its emergence as the playground of George IV’s and his court, and into the lively, fun-loving and diverse city it has become today.
We start our walk just outside the boundary of Brighton at Brighton Marina. The marina provides a boatyard and moorings for 1600 craft and is Europe’s largest marina. It is home to a wide selection of vibrant bars, restaurants and cafes, a casino, a cinema and a 26-lane bowling alley. Opened in May 1979 by Queen Elizabeth II, there are plans for much further development including a proposed 40-storey skyscraper.
Looking out to sea you can see the Rampion wind farm and head past Boundary Road (the official start of Brighton) is Black Rock. Formally, the site of an art deco lido, Black Rock is a site of special scientific interest due to, that’s right, large areas of black rock that are revealed at low tide.
The next point of interest is Brighton Naturalist Beach. This was opened in 1980 and, in keeping with Brighton’s tolerant and progressive outlook, was the first public naturalist beach in the country. It has been described as ‘Britain’s most assessable naturalist beach’, being only one mile from Brighton and served by the Volks railway (get off at Black Rock Station).
The Brighton Naked Bike Ride, a cycle ride around Brighton and Hove naked- the purpose of which is to demonstrate how vulnerable cyclists are in traffic, suitability terminates at the Brighton Naturalist Beach and ends with a swim, and a BBQ. Just how well BBQs and nudity go together is another thing.
Madeira Drive at the bottom of East Cliff runs parallel to the beach. Over many years, although it may seem unlikely, it has become famous for both motorcar and motorbike racing, including in the 1960s, drag racing! Nowadays it still hosts the Brighton Speed Trials. Started in 1905, and claimed to be the world’s oldest motorsports event, the trials consist of a 1/4mile sprint for both cars and bikes.
Concorde II is one of the main live music venues along the south coast, and over the course of the last 20 years, it has hosted some of the world’s biggest bands. There is also a nightclub which in the 1990s provided a regular home for local DJ Fatboy Slim’s Big Beat Boutique. Currently, this area is undergoing regeneration with plans for a new outdoor swimming pool called ‘Sea Lanes’.
The decidedly tatty-looking Victorian iron structure that runs 3000 feet along Madeira Drive is known as Madeira Terrace. Much of Madeira Terrace is closed to the public. As a listed structure, plans have been put forward to convert it into cafes, bars and restaurants, or an arts centre, a museum, or a hotel. Its final function and how the project is going to be funded are still as yet uncertain.
Still in Madeira Drive, the Volks club Brighton nightclub has a strong association with mods, both from their heyday in 1960 to the present day, where the club still plays an important role in hosting the Brighton Mod Weekender that normally takes place around the August bank holiday.
In 1823 Brighton’s first pier, known as the ‘Chain Pier,’ was built near where the Zip Wire now stands. Previously, everything coming into Brighton had to be either dragged across the Downs or brought in from ships by rowing boat.
The pier (it actually looked more like a suspension bridge) provided an important point to unload cargo and, because Brighton was the shortest way to get between London and Paris at the time, its main function soon became a landing stage for ships sailing between Britain and France.
The Volks railway, which is the oldest electric railway in the world, opened in 1883 and is still running today. It was engineered by Magnus Volks, who was born in Western Road, he was also the first Brightonian to have electric light in his house. Volks’ wanted to demonstrate to Queen Victoria how electricity could benefit the UK, and the first stretch of the line ran for ¼ of a mile along the seafront to the Chain Pier.
Situated on the beach is, what is claimed to be (sorry, another superlative coming up) the longest zip wire along the south coast. The duel wire is 300 metres long with a drop of 24 metres. It stands on the original site of the Chain Pier. Later a giant Ferris wheel called the ‘Brighton Eye’ was situated there. This eventually morphed itself up Brighton Promenade and became the i360.
Sea Life Brighton, first known as the Brighton Aquarium, has undergone many other changes since it opened in 1872. In its early days, it had a roof terrace with a roller-skating, a smoking room and a music conservatory. For 20 years during the 70s and 80s, the aquarium became a dolphinarium. As you can imagine, this became increasingly unpopular until it closed in 1991.
Now, Sea Life Brighton has a wide variety of sea creatures, including an extensive collection of sharks and rays. It is also involved with education and conservation projects around the world. For anyone wishing to extend the sea life experience fully, Harry Ramsden’s fish and chip restaurant is the right opposite.
‘Iconic’ is maybe overused these days, but it is undoubtedly applicable to Brighton Pier. Here is the most British of seaside institutions in most British seaside resorts. Chronologically, it is Brighton’s third pier. Also known as the Palace Pier- the name ‘Brighton Pier is not recognised by the National Piers Society- it was completed in 1899 and remains one of Brighton’s top attractions.
Next to the pier heading west is the Kiss Wall. This is a seafront sculpture by the Brighton Artist Bruce Williams. It is an aluminium column which has been drilled through with holes. When the light shines behind the column, it depicts six couples of different ages and genders kissing.
If you like statues of huge doughnuts- and let’s face it, who doesn’t? Then this is for you. Sorry to disappoint, but actually it isn’t a doughnut. It is a work called ‘Afloat’ and is a representation of how some scientists believe our universe may look. The hole at eye level allows a viewer to gaze back through the vastness of time and space, and peer into our own small world.
Coming down to beach level, in the arches below the esplanade, is the area known as the Artist Quarter. Here is a row of artist studios, galleries and shops, which sell original art, photos, prints, pieces of furniture, things for the garden and jewellery.
Nearby, on the seafront, south of the Old Ship Hotel is the Fishing Quarter and Museum. Again, housed in the arches, the Fishing Quarter has a museum portraying the history of Brighton’s seafront community, fishmongers, fish smokers and fish restaurants, plus more galleries and coffee shops.
Further along, situated between the two piers there are a number of buzzing seafront bars and clubs. Beloved by locals and visitors alike, they become packed 5 seconds after the sun has come out and decided to shine. Here you can eat drink and dance the evening away literally on the beach.
When you’re not partying on the beach, you can get all you need for your surfer lifestyle at Brighton Water Sports. You can also arrange to go kayaking, wakeboarding, paddleboarding or scuba diving. If you fancy doing a quick triathlon, need a wetsuit, or just want a new pair of board shorts, they are the ones who can help you. Hang loose!
One of the more recent additions to Brighton’s seafront is the i360 (or rather, the British Airways i360). The observation tower has been controversial since its conception. mainly due to aesthetic reasons and its cost to build – Anyway, it’s 138 metres tall and was opened in August 2016.
The skeletal remains of the West Pier are another structure which you either love or hate. From 1866 until it was closed in 1975, the West Pier was a beautifully elegant example of British ‘oriental style, seaside architecture. In 1918 and 1919 2 million people visited the pier; walking its decks, listening to music in the concert hall, or taking tea in the tearoom.
After the pier was closed in 1975 because of maintenance problems, it fell into disrepair. Serious storms, particularly the Great Storm of 1987, and fires have continued to devastate it ever since. Despite much support to restore the pier, it was decided in 2016 that it is beyond saving.
The one glory that the West Pier still helps to provide is the wonderful starling murmuration that occurs from September to late November. Over 40,000 starlings migrating from Scandinavia join native birds to spend the winter here. At dawn, or at dusk before roosting for the night in the beams of the West and Palace piers, the birds flock (murmurate) in an awe-inspiring aerial dance.
Up on the King’s Road opposite the i360 is the Regency Restaurant. This was formally the home of (careful, another superlative alert) the richest women in Europe, Harriet Mellon. What Harriet would think of her front room now that it’s been converted into a restaurant, one can only guess. However, it has become one of the most popular seafront eateries, particularly for locally-caught seafood.
Another new addition to the Brighton seafront is the Upside Down House, described rather tenuously as the ‘UK’s first inverted photo experience’. Brighton is pretty quirky, but the first reaction to this is probably- ‘Why?’ The answer, of course, is that it provides countless wacky new photo opportunities to share on social media for people tired of posting pictures of their lunch.
The next point of interest on our walk is the Peace Statue, officially the King Edward Memorial (the ‘Edward’ being, Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s heir) or commonly known as ‘The Angel’. The statue marks the Brighton-Hove boundary, and you may start to feel by this point that there seems to be a little less hustle and bustle and a greater sense of quiet and space.
Now we are in ‘Hove, actually. Is this being the supposed reply of people who live in Hove when asked the question ‘Are you from Brighton? The idea is that they need to separate themselves from their less refined Brighton neighbours. In the 1990s Hove council used it as a tourism slogan to promote the town.
As you walk down Hove Promenade, pass the elegant Regency-style houses, and through Hove lawns, you reach the Hove plinth. The concept behind the Hove plinth is for there to be a constantly changing programme of public art. The work displayed on the plinth usually remains there for around two years, after which some pieces are moved to other parts of Brighton and Hove.
The area to the north of Hove Promenade is known as Brunswick and in the centre of this part of Hove is Brunswick Square. Here once again, you can find striking examples of Regency architecture.
Brunswick Square has had many notable residents, marked by blue plaques on the walls. These include Admiral George Westphal, Roger Quilter; composer, Robert Bevan; artists. Sir Hamilton Harty: composer and conductor and Edward Carpenter; author
If you have already had ice cream during your walk, bad luck! You must stop and have another one now. At this point, we reach Morocco’s, family-run Italian restaurant. Here the ice cream is famous throughout Brighton and Hove (Nick Cave, who lives nearby, is apparently a big fan) and it also has an extensive menu of traditional Italian dishes and fresh fish.
Twenty-two thousand pounds (as of November 2019) will get you a beach hut along Hove Esplanade. There are about 450 of them in this part of Hove, and they can’t fail but to grab the attention of any photographers who enjoy colour. At Christmas, they are decorated inside, and from December 1st the doors are opened for an hour an early evening to create a ‘live advent calendar’.
Close to Morocco’s is the site of what once was the historic Bath House. This was bought by Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour with the intention of restoring it. Unfortunately, this proved to be impossible, so he demolished it and decided to build a new luxury home. Unusually in these situations, no one complained, and his neighbours are happy about it!
David and his current band often rehearse at the King Alfred Leisure Center (Sorry, in private.). For many years there have been proposals to build on this site, and the Council have given planning permission for high-rise development. At this point, the latest company interested have pulled out, and if anything is done there, it looks like it’s going to be a long way into the future.
Along the towards the end of HovePromenade stands an interesting structure. its a beacon standing upright, and at its base is a place that reads.
‘In 1588 a Beacon near this site formed part of a national network used to alert the public against the Spanish Armada.
On the 19th July 1988 his worship the mayor Councillor Jim Buttimer lit the Replica to Commemorate the 400th anniversary of this event.’
Coming of the promenade now, you will see a funky-looking cafe just before Hove Lagoon that belongs to Brighton music legend Fatboy Slim aka Norman Quinton Cook.
It is called ‘The Big Beach Cafe’ the name based on his earlier projects: ‘The Big Beat Boutique’ at Concorde II and ‘The Big Beach Boutique’; a series of parties held on Brighton beach. Described as ‘an arty, surfy mash-up it serves up simple food in a family-friendly environment.
Nearly at the end of our walk is Hove Lagoon. Today the lagoon is one of the country’s leading water sports centres with wakeboarding, sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and paddleboarding. It is also home to a skateboard park. The actual lagoon was constructed as an ornamental lake in the 1930s, has been a tidal pool before that.
Situated at the end of our walk Western Esplanade is a row of massive art deco beachfront properties known locally as ‘Millionaire’s Row. The properties date back to 1910 and in the one-hundred years that they have stood there, they have been graced by such illustrious visitors as Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner.
The row has also provided a simple resting place for the likes of Adele, Fatboy Slim (he bought it from Paul McCartney’s ex, Heather Mills), Zoe Ball, and David Walliams. If you would like to own one, you’ll need around £4 million at 2019’s prices.
It’s not too hard to guess which is Fatboy Slims House when you look at Google Maps.
There you go. Hopefully, this short travelogue has helped illuminate the 4.7 miles walked, and that on your way you made some pleasing discoveries of your own. I don’t know who said it but ‘Work, travel, save, repeat.