12 -14 May

Brighton is big, loud and colourful, packed with narrow lanes of shops of all inclinations. My favourite finds included a delicious vegan cafe (VBites) where I basically inhaled a delicious baked potato with vegetable curry and mango chutney; and an incredible whole-foods store, where I found such treats as organic, natural peanut butter; glossy medjool dates, and super tasty sprouted wheat and date bread. SO MUCH YUMMINESS. Mmmmmm.

Happy tummies aside, we persevered through the extreme windy and rainy weather to absorb as much history as possible. The best and quirkiest place to start was the Royal Pavilion, the party-crib of King George IV. It’s an enormous, bizarre blend of Indian and Chinese elements designed purely for enormous, over-the-top parties in the 18th century. George started visiting Brighton when he was Prince of Wales, when the Pavilion was a much humbler abode (although still rather impressive), with modifications designed by Henry Holland which included an imposing dome. However, as he became Prince Regent (1811) and then King (1820), he simply had to upgrade the place to reflect his status. With the help of amazing architect John Nash, he completely transformed the Pavilion into a fantasy palace fit for grand parties. My favourite room was the Banqueting Hall, a long and tall monstrosity with a one tonne dragon chandelier hanging from a gold-gilded dragon’s jaws, spooling out cable to a ring of more dragons breathing fire into lotus-shaped lights. Why not?

The kitchens were a close second, with enormous high ceilings supported by four palm tree pillars and gargantuan rotisserie spits. A dinner with Georgie regularly included around 100 courses, all of which were prepared here by a (presumably) harried catering staff. As George got older and felt the effects of regular 100 course meals, he had a swathe of health problems which led to his eventual death. Apparently, he was so embarrassed by his weight and declining health that he had an interior, secret passageway built from his apartments in the Pavilion to the stables outside, so that he could go riding without feeling the judging stares of the public. Poor George.

The Royal Pavilion, Brighton. Crazy, right?
The Banqueting Hall, Royal Pavilion. Image courtesy of http://www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk

Of course, we had to visit the Brighton Pier as well, the iconic Brighton attraction most recently brought to the attention of Australian teenagers by the “Angus, thongs and perfect snogging” series. It actually felt a bit stale and artificial, a bit like all the rides and arcades at the Milton Show. Many of the rides were actually closed due to “adverse wind conditions.” I don’t quite see the attraction of fair rides at beaches. I know the UK weather isn’t always amenable to traditional beach-going, but surely arcade games and dodgems are a poor second compared to a day at the beach?

Brighton Pier! In all its windy glory.

The ominous, chilly weather continued as we headed to Arundel to explore Arundel Castle, more quintessentially castle-like than the Royal Pavilion, jutting out over the town in a very regal and imposing manner. No fancy-pants turrets and spires here, just good old fashioned solid stone, and lots of it. Arundel Castle is enormous and covers 40 acres of sprawling grounds. It’s the traditional seat of the Duke of Norfolk, and has been for the last 850 years. Prior to this, the history of who-lived-here-and-why is a bit convoluted and complex so I won’t go into it (however, if you’re interested, Lyndsay has provided an excellent commentary in her incredible blog – check it out at http://thirdgapyear.blogspot.co.uk).

Arundel Castle.
Arundel Castle, side view.

The entire castle is crammed with priceless side tables, paintings and ceramics, testimony to centuries of collecting and hoarding. Wandering around the long wings of the castle, observed by dozens of  pairs of somber portrait eyes, it all seems very grand and makes you feel like conversing in whispers out of deference. There is a large guest accommodation wing, extravagant library, cavernous dining hall and, of course, more lengthy corridors with stuffed deer heads than one can count. The present Duke of Norfolk and his family occupy one wing (which is not open to the public, naturally). Still, it does feel a little like traipsing around someone else’s house without their knowledge. I couldn’t possibly imagine growing up here!

The view from the top of the central keep was stunning despite the rain and powerful wind. Braving the weather some more, the gardens and ancient chapel were also a treat, despite getting thoroughly soggy. Most excellently, we had the grounds all to ourselves as no-one could bear to leave the blazing fire in the castle cafe.

Inner courtyard, Arundel Castle. Not too shabby.
Views from the keep – very beautiful (if not a little ominous).
Views from the keep.

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