The Cure for the Brighton Hangover

Colly does the bungee jump trampoline against the backdrop of the Brighton Pier.

Like cotton candy, Brighton is a brightly colored swirl of sweet temptation that’s tantalizing to taste but leaves you sticky and queasy.

We went there for a couple of days for the same reason we make an annual pilgrimage to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk or Santa Monica Pier — because rickety amusement rides on the beach are guaranteed family fun — and we did indeed love to watch the kids on the spinning rides.

On the pier, the world travelers became hurled travelers.

But, good grief, I haven’t seen so many drunk, swearing, sweaty and scantily clad young adults since the time we spent New Year’s Eve on the Las Vegas Strip. Brighton certainly lives up to its party-hearty reputation.

At least it has cleaned up its reputation for seediness. (I don’t mean to sound like such a schoolmarm, but having my kids see a guy puke on his shoes and hear fights erupt in the middle of the night outside our window makes me wary of the place.) The businesses around the central pedestrian area known as The Lanes are cute and well kept. We also enjoyed the park around the Royal Pavilion, a palace built in the early 1800s in a wild style known as Indo-Gothic.

A detail from Brighton's Royal Pavilion, with architecture influenced by the empire's colonialism in India.

So here’s my main tip for families traveling to Brighton and anyone else seeking to cure the beach mecca’s hangover: leave after a day or two, and go explore the quaint Sussex towns of Seaford and Alfriston a half-hour east.

We went to Seaford for the sake of a half-marathon trail race in an area known as the South Downs. Hiking trails crisscross bucolic sheep pastures, connecting a valley formed by the River Cuckmere with the white chalk cliffs overlooking the sea. One segment of the unspoiled coastal cliffs, a series of vertical formations called The Seven Sisters, is part of a large regional park. It’s gorgeous!

On the edge of the South Downs cliffs and shore, running toward the finish of the half marathon.

We checked into a sweet, pet-friendly B&B on Saturday called The Silverdale and ate at a quality family-run Italian restaurant called Diella’s, where the owner clued us in on the coolest little zoo in England, on a quiet country road outside of Seaford: Drusillas Park. Then we walked to the start line of the race on Sunday morning and joined over 500 other runners for a hilly 13 miles. I’ve slowed down quite a bit since I’ve been substituting pub crawls for track workouts, but I still ran my bum off, helped along by the scenery and swift competition of the Seaford Striders.

Runners head for the hills around Mile 2 in the race.

It was the eighth and final running event on our journey, and during the 1 hour and 48 minutes I was on the course, I reflected on the places we traveled for the sake of participating in an event: from the Imogene Pass Run in Southwestern Colorado, to the Buenos Aires Marathon and Patagonia trail marathon in Argentina, to the Croesus Crossing in West New Zealand and Dirt Fest triathlon near Melbourne, to the 10K outside of Venice and the 40K in Tuscany, and finally to here. One piece of travel advice I like to repeat (and wrote about on my other blog) is to design an itinerary around a hobby, be it art history or hiking or whatever. Our passion for running turned out to be a wonderful travel guide, leading us to lesser-known destinations and connecting us with locals in a way that typical travel planning rarely does.

My favorite kind of date: running a race in a new place together.

The race course crossed the main street of Alfriston, a storybook village full of centuries-old Tudor inns.

On the main street of Alfriston, an idyllic and historic town. The half-marathon course crossed this block.

We took the kids there in the afternoon, on our way to Drusillas zoo, and had lunch at a pub that now ranks as one of my favorites in England: The George Inn, established in 1397. As we walked by the bar under a low-slung ceiling, I paused to study the blackened brick fireplace and gnarled wood beams and imagined what it must have been like to gather there in Elizabethan times. Then we took a table in the garden, and I indulged in my favorite British drink: a snakebite (hard cider mixed with ale).

Drinking and dining outside The George Inn.

From there we spent a few hours at Drusillas, which is worth a day trip for any families traveling around this region. The zoo specializes in smaller animals such as tamarins, lemurs and meerkats, with lots of hands-on educational exhibits.

A baby tamarin catching a ride from its parents at Drusillas.

It also has a sprawling play area with all the super fun play structures we don’t have in the States because they’re deemed too risky; e.g., spinning table-top merry-go-rounds without railings and circular treadmills that work like a hamster wheel.

Speaking of spinning, that’s what my head is doing after running around Brighton and its back roads, and transitioning through so many places in such a short time with too many stomach-lurching round-abouts along the way. I’ve described only a fraction of the sights seen and things done in our final week abroad. Suffice to say we’re feeling pooped and resigned to flying back to California in less than 48 hours, with very mixed feelings about ending our time abroad but nonetheless ready to re-establish some routines back home.

But I’m so glad we ended our time in England down here, on the edge of the cliffs and winding around country roads that distill what we love about England.

A quiet Sussex back road.

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