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31 July 2020

Day Trip to Rye and Camber by Brompton Bike and Train

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I bought a bike a couple of months ago. I cycled a bit at university, but living in a small, second-floor flat in London with nowhere to safely keep a bike and the busy London roads put me off cycling in the smoke. As lockdown progressed, however, I felt increasingly limited in the places I could visit on foot, and I finally pushed the boat out and bought a folding bike: a Brompton B75, to be more exact.

The B75 is the 'cheaper' Brompton model (NB: it's not cheap), and it comes without some of the standard Brompton features — mudguards and a front luggage block, for example — and with lower-end versions of others, such as the saddle. But it was in stock in late May when I ordered it, and it only comes in my favourite colour: turquoise, or water blue, as Brompton puts it. I've added a few upgrades — a more comfortable saddle, a folding pedal, a luggage block and mudguards — as well as the small Borough bag, a waterproof bag that converts to a backpack and slots onto the luggage block (pictured in the first photo below).

I thought I'd use it for making a few little trips around London and potentially for commuting to King's Cross, as and when I return to the office. But I've got a lot more use out of it already, though, including visiting the Olympic Park and Amoret Coffee in Notting Hill. And on the final day of my staycation, I decided to take it on a train ride. London Bridge station is only five minutes or so from my flat by bike, but I allowed extra time for faffing. You can take fully folded bikes on most trains, and I could slide it easily into the space on the floor in front of the empty seat next to me; as the trains I took were so quiet, I probably could have left it unfolded. I changed at Ashford and then took another train down to Rye in Sussex (if you're closer to St Pancras, the journey is a bit faster). My only luggage was my small Borough bag, in which I fitted my beach towel, lunch, water, bike locks and my Kindle, as well as a few other bits and bobs.

I arrived in Rye just before noon, unfolded by bike and then followed National Cycle Route 2 to Camber, a 3.5-mile ride, mostly along a path separated from the main road, although with a few gates to go through and sheep to navigate (says the city girl). Twenty minutes later, I was at Camber Sands, and parking my bike in the Camber Central car park. There were only a few bike racks and I rather nervously locked up my bike — its lovely colour does make it rather conspicuous — and walked back to the beach. One of the joys of the Brompton is that you don't usually have to worry about it being stolen as you can take it inside with you, but as I wanted to go for a swim, I thought locking it up was the best option (although lightweight, it got a bit heavy carrying over the extensive and deep dunes).

Although the weather was warm, it was a cloudy day with the sun peeping out only intermittently. It was also very windy, and most people were using windbreakers. But I enjoyed my picnic on the beach and then waded out into the sea, which was mild but with strong waves as the tide rolled in.

Then it was time to cycle back to Rye — the walk would have taken me an hour each way, whereas it was an easy 20-minute cycle ride. There wasn't much bike parking in Rye itself, so I rolled the bike with me as I spent a couple of hours wandering around the pretty, historic town. First stop was Knoops, a cafe on Tower Cottages that specialises in speciality hot chocolate, although they also do milkshakes in the summer. White chocolate is a guilty pleasure of mine, but I opted for a single-origin Peruvian dark chocolate, which was delicious. Continuing along East Cliffe, I reached Rye Chocolates, which sells beautifully packaged chocolate bars. I may have bought a few...

I continued winding my way through the steep, cobbled streets, admiring the views and taking in the historic buildings. Mermaid Street is particularly lovely, as is Watchbell Lane and Traders Passage.

The town has more than its fair share of interesting independent shops, such as: lifestyle and interiors boutiques Ethel Loves Me, Simply Rye, Pale and Interesting, Hunter Jones and Mccully and Crane; Rye Pottery; book store The Tiny Bookstore (not to mention the Lockdown Library!); and Grammar School Records, located in the old grammar school. There are plenty of vintage and antiques shops too.

As for eateries, The Fig, Hoof, Whitehouse, The Devil in Rye and Rye Deli all looked great. Next time, I'll have to stay overnight so I can visit some of these and do a bit of shopping. Most places were open, but it's always worth checking in advance in these COVID-19 times.

28 July 2020

Three Speciality Coffee Shops To Try in Brighton and Hove

It's been six years since my last post about the speciality coffee scene in Brighton and I've been meaning to do an update for some time. One of the Brighton and Hove coffee spots that has long been on my list is Pharmacie Coffee Roasters, whose coffee I've enjoyed on many previous occasions, but whose Hove roastery only opens to the public on Saturdays. As I made my recent visit to Brighton and Hove during midweek, hoping that it would be quieter, Pharmacie was out, however. As was Redroaster, a speciality coffee spot and all-day eatery, which re-opened, post-lockdown, two days after my visit.

Nonetheless, I was able to visit several new-to-me coffee shops in Brighton and Hove during the day I was in town, all of which were open for customers who wanted to drink in — at a suitable distance — as well as takeaway.

Brighton Palace Pier

Wolføx Lab
I came across Wolføx while strolling down the lovely Western Road in Hove. There were a few people enjoying their coffee in the morning sun at the tables on the pavement, but it wasn't too busy inside so I ordered my piccolo and took a seat in one of the comfy yellow armchairs. The cafe is beautifully decorated with a gorgeous espresso machine, interiors brightened with pops of yellow and plants lining the back wall: it was a very relaxing place to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Wolfox Coffee Hove

The coffee is roasted in house — as a Wolves FC fan, I probably should have asked for the Mr Wølf blend, but my piccolo came with the house espresso blend, Mr Føx. There was also a single-origin and a decaf on the menu, and bags of beans for sale. My coffee was very good too: smooth, sweet and with great latte art. Meanwhile, the brunch at the neighbouring Six, which has the same owners, looked fab, and I found out later that there was another Wolføx just steps from my hotel — the restaurant at the roastery — but I'll have to save both for next time.

Wolfox Coffee Hove

Wolfox Coffee Hove

Wolføx Lab is located at 109 Western Road, Hove, and other locations. Website. Instagram.

17 Grams
Formerly known as The Plant Room, 17 Grams is located in the Brighton Lanes, just off North Street on Meeting House Lane. Inside, the bright, airy and quirkily decorated cafe has a handful of physically distanced tables, while there is some more seating outside if you don't mind being dwarfed by a giant Alice in Wonderland (she had obviously eaten the cake) on the mural on Hannington Lane.

17 Grams Brighton

17 Grams Brighton

It's fair to say that I came for the Allpress coffee but stayed for the veggie/vegan brunch. After ordering at the counter, I took a seat inside, admiring the colourful and quirky décor. My piccolo was excellent, as was the food. I went for the cornbread waffles, which came with avocado mousse, hummus and smoky tempeh, a delicious and filling brunch. The staff were all very friendly and welcoming too. 

17 Grams Brighton

17 Grams Brighton

17 Grams is located at 12d Meeting House Lane, Brighton. Instagram.

My final coffee stop for the day was at Coffee@33 on Trafalgar street at the north end of North Laine. After taking in the monochrome décor, my eyes were drawn to the pastéis de nata behind the counter and I ordered one while considering my next move. As coffee shops have been re-opening, I've tended to stick to espresso-based drinks, partly because my home filter brews are better than my piccolos, and partly because I haven't wanted to take up too much of baristas' time when there's a queue. Coffee@33 wasn't too busy, however, and I had also spotted that there was a natural-processed Ethiopian coffee —which I often enjoy — available as a hand-brewed filter coffee. I took this as a sign and thus ordered my first post-lockdown, drink-in pourover.

Coffee@33 Brighton

Coffee@33 Brighton

While waiting for the coffee, I made short work of the pastel de nata: creamy custard encased in crisp, flaky pastry. I also chatted with Amè as he brewed my coffee through the Kalita Wave. Unsurprisingly, central Brighton coffee shops — with fewer office workers and tourists — have been much quieter over the past few months, although things are starting to rebound. During my visit, several other customers — most of them clearly loyal regulars — came in, and everyone received a warm welcome. As for the coffee, it was great — I could smell the heady notes that natural Ethiopian coffees hit so well long before the carafe reached my table, and it tasted just as good.

Coffee@33 Brighton

Coffee@33 is located at 33 Trafalgar Street, Brighton. Twitter. Instagram.

24 July 2020

Sussex Staycation: Beachy Head, Hastings and Brighton

I was supposed to be on holiday in Montenegro this week, but my flights were cancelled some months ago and, in any case, a flexible staycation seemed more doable in the present COVID-19 circumstances. Instead, I went to stay with my parents in Oxford for a few days, where we strolled in Port Meadow, visited a few coffee shops and recreated Molineux in the garden.

On Tuesday, we drove down to the South Coast for some sunshine and sea air, and luckily, both were abundant. Coincidentally, while researching the trip, I had spotted some stunning photos of Birling Gap and Seven Sisters by Finn Hopson on Twitter, and we decided to head for the National Trust car park at Birling Gap. The car park was quite busy when we arrived, despite our early start, and there was a bit of a — physically distant — queue for the one working loo. We bought some sausage rolls and hot drinks from the cafe, which was open for takeaway, and climbed down the steps to the pebbly beach. Several people were already swimming in the sea, but we were too busy gaping at the stark, white cliffs that form the Seven Sisters. The white chalk gleamed in the sunshine, contrasting with the white chalk, the blue sky and the turquoise sea so sharply, it was hard to believe someone hadn't carved out the cliff edge to a specific design.

After our tea break, we walked back up to the car park and then up the hill towards Beachy Head, over to the east. The National Trust website has a one-hour circular route, although we carried on almost all the way to Beachy Head. It's one of those walks where you think you've found the best view, only for there to be another even better photo opportunity a few hundred metres further on, especially as the iconic red and white Beachy Head Lighthouse appeared. The curving coastline is also misleading, and just when you think you've reached the top of the headland, there's another twist in the tale. We looped back round through a scrubby forest back to the car park, and collected our picnic, which we enjoyed overlooking the Seven Sisters. There were quite a few other walkers out and about, but everyone was following physical distancing guidelines.

Our next stop was Hastings and we tried really hard to take 'the coast road', but both Google and the sat nav kept directing us back onto the main roads in land. The snatches of seaside scenes we saw were very picturesque, and we did make a pitstop in Bexhill-on-Sea, whose name appealed to me for obvious reasons; I was also unaware of the town's connections to motor racing and to John Logie Baird, who died there. We arrived in Hastings around 4 pm, parked in the old town, explored some of the picturesque streets, spied the remains of the castle on the hill built in 1066 by William of Normandy, and walked down the sea front to the pier. Hastings was fairly busy but not to the extent of impacting social distancing.

It was then an hour's drive to Brighton, via Newhaven and a final stretch of coast road. I was staying the night at the Artist Residence, a small, quirky boutique hotel in Regency Square, one block back from the seafront at West Pier. After I had checked in, we ordered fish and chips from The Regency, which we enjoyed in the golden hour sun on the beach; the staff did a great job of dealing with customers wanting to eat in and those who were collecting or ordering takeaway, and the food was great. My parents drove back to Oxford, and I went for a walk along the seafront to the Palace Pier — there were some very pockets near the beach bars, but generally it wasn't too crowded.

My small room on the fourth floor of the hotel was cosy and quiet, clean and well-appointed. Each room at the Artist Residence features the work of a different artist, and the whole hotel has lots of unique, creative touches. They weren't yet serving food but the bar — which looked great — was open all day for drinks. All of the staff were very welcoming, and I felt very comfortable throughout.

In the morning, I visited a few speciality coffee shops in Hove — I've written about these in a separate post — and then headed back down to the beach, eyeing up the colourful beach huts, dodging sea gulls and finally dipping my feet into the sea. I was really lucky with the weather: it was beautifully sunny and warm but not too hot.

I wandered through The Lanes, donning my face mask in the slightly busier parts, before stopping for coffee and brunch at 17 Grams. They were open for eat-in customers, at the handful of distanced tables inside the colourfully decorated cafe, and outside in the sunshine. I had a very fine Allpress piccolo, and cornbread waffles with avocado mousse, smoky tempeh and hummus, which was delicious and beautifully presented.

Afterwards, I continued on to the North Laine, popping into a few of the many great independent shops, and then up to the Seven Dials neighbourhood, which has some interesting eateries and delis, before looping back to pick up my bag from my hotel before heading to the station. I didn't book my ticket in advance and neither the train station nor my train to London Bridge was very busy; luckily for me, it's just a short walk home from London Bridge, and so ended my little staycation.

No, it wasn't the same as a trip to a new city or country, but it was good to have a change of scenery and to test the waters, so to speak. In addition to my many already-cancelled trips this year, I do still have one last pair of international flights booked in for November, but I'm not yet getting my hopes up too much about that, and the thought of booking something else if it ends up being cancelled is almost unbearable. What a year...