Burgess Hill, Sussex

December 15, 16 and 17 - meeting Heidi & Co.

A primary purpose of visiting the UK was to meet with potential RV swapees with a view to spending some vacation in England and Europe over the next year or two in exchange for the use of our RV in the US. First stop therefore, was in Sussex to meet with Paul and June and get to know their RV, Heidi. We spent a very pleasant three days, two nights of which we slept in Heidi, along with a trip to the seaside and an indoor picnic on the spectacular South Downs.



The seaside trip was to Brighton - the proclaimed gay capital of Britain. Marian and I hadn't been there for about 50 years and were immediately reminded of our recent experiences with the blight of Britain - too many cars and too few parking spaces. Without even venturing into town, Heidi was parked along the sea front at Hove and we walked into Brighton and back. Even at that, the Pay and Display parking regulations extracted several pounds for a couple of hours by the roadside, the alternative being to risk a 60 fine. Although it was a pleasant and sunny day it was fairly brisk, hence the absence of people on the beach. At left you can almost hear Paul, June and Marian muttering about how long can it take to snap a picture.

In Brighton itself, as in every other village, town or city we visited, no open parking spaces were seen. This nationwide condition has apparently developed steadily over many years such that nobody thinks twice about slipping five or seven dollars into a Pay and Display machine just to go window shopping at the Mall. Waterloo Street, at right, had every space taken on both sides of the road leaving scarcely enough room for traffic activity. The tuctuc taxi, shown here in the downtown area, is one attempt to alleviate the problem. These frail looking vehicles are supposed to confine themselves to specific routes and all fares are charged just 3, no matter how far they travel. That six dollars each way just to reach the point you couldn't find parking at in the first place! With this and the frequent cries of "Foul" by drivers of conventional taxis, the tuctuc doesn't seem destined to have much positive impact.

Probably as useful, is the increasing trend toward extremely small cars which do maximize any parking opportunities that do exist. As tourists, we found this state of affairs quite frustrating, eventually passing up many desirable places without even stopping since no parking, paid or unpaid, could be found. So, having completed our Brighton duties, we had lunch and headed back to Heidi before the dreaded wheel clampers attacked!


The Downs

From Brighton, Heidi took us to the top of Devils Dyke where, parked on double yellow lines along with everyone else, we had a welcome and relaxing cup of tea. This point on the South Downs is a favorite hang-out for hang-gliders and para-gliders and, despite the chilling wind, numerous wannabe flyers were prancing up and down the slope like fledgling birds trying to take to the air suspended from their colorful contraptions. Half a dozen or so more experienced participants meanwhile were gracefully soaring over the weald below. Once airborne, this looked like an attractive pursuit and, with no real single point of failure for the para-gliders, has the hallmarks of an exhilarating and safe pastime provided one has the patience and energy to do the running and leaping bit to reach that happy state.

Much of England is graced by views, scenery and man-made structures uniquely characteristic of each region. Such characteristics are influenced by the terrain, weather patterns, natural resources and local materials. Since 1950, when the scheme for listing buildings was established, English Heritage has admitted more than half a million structures, including pubs, churches, houses and so on, to the protected list. To some extent however, this really seems to be a two edged sword. On the one hand, preserving the charm, history and ambience of practically every village, town and city is a huge achievement. On the other, local streets and rural highways evolved in the era of foot and horse traffic are hopelessly overwhelmed by current use and there seem to be no ideas on the horizon for reconciling these conflicts. One way or another, it was quite an awakening for us to realize we had spent our teenage years cycling and motoring through such exquisite countryside without ever having had any real appreciation of it's worth.

Fulking, snapped here from the top of the downs, is a case in point. A fashionable, exclusive and expensive place to live, there are essentially no shops, parking is either on the street or in what used to be the front yard but inevitably, there is a pub. No longer a local meeting point, The Shepherd and Dog has worked to become a mealtime destination. Consequently, each lunch and dinner time the lane leaving the village is lined with cars for a quarter of a mile or so - a dangerous and unattractive addition to the environment.

On our way to finding Fulking the following day, we stopped briefly in Ditchling. It was early on Sunday morning and, having found a parking spot, we walked around the village. Pretty much the entire area between the North and South Downs is peppered with villages like Ditchling. It is also liberally criss-crossed with pubic footpaths and is currently the subject of study to determine the feasibility of declaring it a National Park area. About 100 miles from end to end, it is host to many recreational pursuits including walking, hang-gliding, cycling and general tourism. Oddly, there are no double yellow lines along the edges of many streets in Ditchling. So zealous have the local property owners been in preserving the character of the village, not only have they kept practically all development at bay for more than 50 years, they have also succeeded in dodging several other improvements of modern life. Apparently the residents prefer to live with the congestion caused by wanton parkers rather than the painted, and often ignored, yellow stripes.

Ditchling itself, has been the home of Dame Vera Lynn for many years, along with several other minor celebrities who have also retired there. Perhaps the most well known previous property owner in Ditchling however, was Anne of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII. Now called Wings Place, this old Tudor building once belonged to Lewes Priory and is believed to have been included in the divorce settlement between Anne and Henry. It seems doubtful that Anne ever visited the property and it would have reverted to the Crown upon her death. During our wander round we spied this bread in the local cafe - it looked good enough to eat! Amazing to realize that Ditchling is just 40 miles south of London.


Our Hosts

Throughout our stay in Burgess Hill we could not have wished for more gracious hosts. Whether it was orientation with Heidi, ferrying us on various errands, assisting with planning or providing bed and board, Paul and June were there in spades. Not only did we comfortably recover from jet lag and organize numerous swap related issues, we enjoyed three days of 4 Star dining courtesy of Chef Paul - what an act to follow!