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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
32 - Warnings, prohibitions, shifting shingle, the flight of Charles II, and lagoon life
On the beach side of the promenade there's a low wall, and railings, with thick bars, as thick as a fist, painted dark green, and steps that lead down onto the pebbles. A large noticeboard begs for attention. Four yellow triangles take up the top half, each with a pictogram inside and a warning phrase beneath: 'beware deep shelving beach'; 'beware kite surfing'; 'beware of large breaking waves'; and 'beware of submerged objects'. The lower half contains four red circles, red stripes and pictograms, with prohibitions written underneath: 'do not dive'; 'do not jump'; 'do not swim in boating lane'; 'do not use inflatables'. And then in big red letters there's a further warning: 'Caution this beach is not lifeguarded'. A detailed map, however, shows where lifeguards do operate. A smaller sign says: 'No dogs on beach 30 May - 1 Sept. Penalty £500.'
This is a pleasant place to stroll. Apart from the chaotic colours of the beach hut doors on one side, and the chaos of the restless sea on the other, there's a definite feel of order along here. The steps down to the pebbles occur at regular intervals, as do the old four-sided shelters and lamp posts. The shelters, which have ship motifs pressed into the metal sides, are looking worse for wear, with rust showing through white paint, and glass panels broken or missing. The lamp posts, which have substantial bases and rise quite high, are in better condition with thick layers of silver paint. Apart from the shelters which have seats, there are free-standing benches too, some of them with dedications, such as 'In loving memory of our Mum Eileen 1922-2002 - Linda and Trevor Goodman'.
Yes, it's a pleasant place to walk, it's also a part, very near the end, of the Monarch Way, Britain's second longest signed walking trail. It was designed recently, in the 1990s, to follow the route taken by Charles II after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester. Over 600 miles long, the footpath winds past Boscobel, Stratford-upon-Avon, the Cotswolds, Bristol, the Mendips, the South Downs, finally coming to an end on Shoreham beach, from where Charles escaped to France.
Walking along, though, it's easy to take the esplanade for granted, forgetting that it is in fact a sea wall protecting the entire length of Brighton and Hove from high tides and the incessant waves. The first sea wall (in Hove at least) appears to have been built around the mid-18th century - near where Sussex Road runs down to the sea. The installation of more substantial sea defenses began in the 1870s. The groynes, which project out into the sea, date back to a similar time - the first substantial ones in Hove being built during the 1880s and 1890s (although records suggest groynes were used to protect Brighton as far back as the 1720s). Significant improvements were carried out to the sea defenses after the Second World War. It is thanks to the groynes that so much shingle has settled - once upon a time there were sandy beaches along here. There are still patches of sand today, but mostly the beach is full of pebbles, which collect in shallow dunes and ridges, and shift around with the force of the waves and tides.
Leisure facilities of various types take up the slightly sunken Western Lawns area, i.e. between the back of the beach huts and Kingsway. Bowling greens, tennis courts, and a well-kept pitch-and-putt course. A bit further west is the Hove Lagoon area with a small shallow paddling pool and playground, the Big Fish Cafe, and two parts (one large and rectangular, one small and half moon shaped) of the lagoon itself. The playground is busy with children and parents, while a bevy of swans congregate in a corner of the lagoon. It all looks very man-made, just another in the sequence of leisure facilities, and of course it is. But, in fact, the ponds were constructed in place of a natural tidal lagoon. Until 250 years ago, the River Adur ran inland along the coast for several miles and only spilled out into the sea somewhere here, then a small place called Aldrington. Moreover, the mouth of the river had been slowly silting up and moving east for centuries, whittling away at Aldrington in the process. Around 1760, it was decided to create a channel, between the Adur and the sea, further west. With this in place, the old line of the river served as a sheltered harbour, and the old mouth eventually closed up and became part of the shingle coastline. Keeping the channel free of shingle, by ploughing it out, proved a major expense. In 1816, Parliament passed the Shoreham Harbour Act, which gave the venture political backing, and commercial muscle. By the 1820s, an average of two vessels a day were docking in the harbour; and, when the rail link arrived in the 1840s, the port received a further boost. Meanwhile, the western end of the old river route slowly silted up, leaving a tidal lagoon.
In 1895, the local authorities acquired the land containing the lagoon as well as that which would eventually become the Western Lawns. However, it would be more than 30 years before construction of the man-made pond went ahead, largely because of complex legal issues associated with ownership of the land where the mouth of the river had been. It was eventually opened in 1930 - for model yachts. During the war, the lagoon became part of the whole restricted beach area, and was used to check tanks for watertightness in advance of the D-Day preparations. In the same period, the 'Lagoon Canteen' served up food for military personnel. After the war, the ponds reverted to leisure use, with children's boating in the smaller one. Today, real dinghys are found on the main lagoon far more often than model yachts. Lagoon Watersports, which operates from a lagoon-side office as well as one in the Marina at the other end of Brighton, offers to teach wind surfing, dinghy sailing, power boating and yachting.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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