Prodigal Sun: Eastbourne in Pictures
There’s barely a blade out of place in the manicured gardens. The smell of fish and chips floats on the breeze. On the pier you are thoughtfully warned that it is ‘advisable to the hold the hand rail when windy’. On the beach, an equally polite notice ‘respectfully requests that patrons leaving the pier at night do so quietly’. It is, in every respect, a quintessentially English town – but for one significant meteorological detail.
“It’s so sunny!” chorus a gaggle of children on the promenade, when I ask them why they like Eastbourne. “Sunny, sunny, sunny,” affirms Catriona, a retiree. From day trippers and residents, to ice cream salesmen and coach drivers, the story is the same. “We get more sunshine here than anywhere else in Britain – and that’s a statistic,” Gary, landlord of the Buccaneer pub, tells me.
Unfortunately, the town that prides itself on nearly six hours of sunshine per day has, in recent decades, found itself competing with countries in which 10 is the norm. Countries such as Spain, the Canary Islands, Greece, and Italy all come at the same price for a holiday away, and with a far more predictable climate than this British resort.
“When I was a kid in the 70s, Eastbourne’s motto was ‘the sun trap of the south’,” resident Paul recalls. “But when package holidays started to come in, the impact of that was pretty much lost. Most people’s response was, ‘You might well be suntrap of the south but we’d still rather go to Spain.’”
For a while the resulting sea-change in the public’s perception seemed fatal. No longer able to lay claim to the nation’s sunseekers, Eastbourne’s bright reputation quickly became eclipsed by its less glamorous characteristic: old age.
Eastbourne old town in particular has suffered from this slump. Empty ice cream parlours litter the street corners, still churning out banana splits with sparklers that seem to have lost their, well, sparkle. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. The East of the town is regenerating fast with new builds springing up in cul-de-sacs named Madeira Way and Jamaica Road. It’s here that the young families of Eastbourne are reinvigorating the town.
“Visitors flock to Sunny Eastbourne for Easter,” proclaims the Eastbourne Herald the next day. ‘No Vacancies’ signs sit smugly outside guest houses. And under the half-amused, half-pitying gaze of Eastbourne’s residents and visitors from hotter climes, the eccentric spectacle of the British seaside unfolds.
“It starts off with breakfast: people come down in everything from miniskirts to hats and scarves,” describes Mr Webly from The Grand, a hotel on Eastbourne’s waterfront. “Then come late afternoon they all cram into a corner of the pool area, catching the last of the rays.” As the sun goes down this area gets smaller and smaller, “until they’re practically on top of each other,” he grins. He’s not the only one smiling. On the front a group of Brazilian girls watch the sunbathers at work. “They’re so red!” giggles Gabriella. “They’re so naked!” squeals Stefanie. “I’m so cold,” whimpers her sister, Raquel.
Along the emptying beaches, however, the satisfaction seems palpable as people wind up their activity of choice for the day. The dotto train has stopped tinkling. The extreme sports have finished. The last red chest is being returned to its shirt. Much of this could have been achieved without sunshine – as Mr Webly says “we Brits are a hardy type”. Yet as the last of the old ladies climb into their coaches, I hear one of them sum the day up perfectly. “I love Eastbourne all ways, I really do – but a bit of sunshine, it just gives you a bit of jizz.”