16 July 2012
With only 11 days until the Torch Relay reaches the Olympic stadium in Stratford, the Torch has travelled around the country, over sea, mountains and through cities and the countryside. We have striven to help you discover the best of the historic sites, beautiful gardens, stunning wilderness and engaging heritage. Today we have more of the British sights, sounds and smells for you explore. Starting off in Portsmouth, on the south coast of England, we will guide you around the South East, pointing out the finest heritage, sites, forests and museums for you to see.
After beginning Day 59 in Portsmouth, the Torch travels inland to Petersfield. Within easy reach of the town is the village of Chawton, which was the home of one of England’s most popular novelists, Jane Austen. The village features the 17th century house, where Austen spent the last eight years of her life. She wrote some of her best and most popular work here. The house is preserved in her memory and has a museum that tells the story of her life. As the Torch continues on its journey, leaving behind Jane Austen’s 18th century England, it arrives at the city of Chichester in West Sussex. Chichester is a beautiful historic city with a 900-year-old Cathedral that is well worth a visit. The unique architecture of the Cathedral spans a range of centuries, from the original Norman features to the magnificent Victorian Spire.
Chichester has a unusual position, as a historic city set in the English countryside, but also closely situated to the charming south coast. If you fancy heading back down to the seaside after a hectic morning trying to keep up with the Torchbearers, why not follow the Torch to Worthing and take a relaxed stroll along Worthing Pier. Generations of holidaymakers and residents have enjoyed visiting Worthing Pier, which was built in 1862, the 13th pier to be built in England. The pier has an interesting history, having been destroyed, blown up and rebuilt but remains an attraction for visitors.
The relay ends for the day in the famous seaside town of Brighton. Well known for its Royal Pavilion and Pier, and as a place to enjoy a summer’s day, we have discovered that there is more to Brighton than sea, sand and slot machines. The Booth Museum of Natural History, opened in 1874, is a fascinating celebration of its subject. Edward Booth, who opened the museum, was keen to try and capture an example of every single British bird in existence. The museum also houses a colourful butterfly collection, with over 650 types on display, and a fossil and bone collection that dates back to a time before humans inhabited Sussex. It is worth fitting in a visit before the evening celebration in Hove Park.
Day 60 begins in Brighton and Hove and we suggest visiting another attraction that is off the beaten track. Not too far from Brighton is Nymans Gardens, an outstanding 20th-century garden, set around a romantic house and ruins in beautiful woodland. The garden is a series of experimental designs with spectacular planting all year round. The ancient woodlands that dip into the valley beyond the garden have walks among avenues, wild flowers, lakes and cascades, which are definitely worth exploring.
The Olympic Torch leaves Brighton and travels inland through the towns and villages of West Sussex. When the Torch reaches the market town of Crawley, it is worth taking some time out of the Torch Relay to visit Hever Castle. Best known for its most famous resident, Lady Anne Boleyn, who lived there as a child, the oldest part of the castle dates back to 1270. The Castle has been owned by a number of families over the years including the Bullen family and Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, and has a fascinating history. If the English weather is holding up the Castle grounds also have a lake and two mazes for visitors to explore. There are more outdoor adventures to be had near Royal Tunbridge Wells, in Ashdown Forest. Originally a deer hunting forest in Norman times, the forest is the largest free public access space in the South East and is known as the ‘home’ of Winnie-the-Pooh. There are spectacular views over the Sussex countryside and lots of opportunities to spot wildlife while enjoying a walk.
The day ends back by the sea, in Hastings. Hastings claim to fame comes from its connection with the Norman Conquest of England; however, we suggest you visit something a little more recent than 1066AD. The Jerwood Gallery is a major initiative of the Jerwood Foundation, established to create a permanent, public home for the its collection of Modern British Art. It adds a new visitor attraction to the Hastings Old Town and seeks to complement the Old Town with its design. The collections include around 200 British oil paintings and works on paper.
After a busy day of following the Torch around West Sussex and visiting stunning gardens, castles, forests and the best of British modern art, Day 61 promises to be a bit quieter, with only eight stops during the day. The Relay starts in Hastings and heads along the coast through Rye and along to Folkestone. Folkestone is a popular seaside resort and has a picturesque sandy beach. Another way to enjoy the views of the sea from Folkestone is the dramatic ridge walk, which is part of the North Downs Way. The walk overlooks the English Channel and runs for 11 miles, with level walking along easy, well-maintained paths. The last stop of the day is Dover, the home of one of the country’s most spectacular natural features, the White Cliffs of Dover. As an official Icon of Britain they have been a sign of hope and freedom for centuries. The cliff walks provide unrivalled views of the busy English Channel and French Coast. There is also rare flora and fauna that can only be found in the chalk grassland of the cliffs.
We hope you will enjoy exploring the South East with all its heritage, wildlife and history to be investigated. There isn’t long to go till the Olympic Torch Relay reaches its final destination at the Olympic Stadium in east London. However, that will not stop us from being back on Thursday with a wealth of places, sights, heritage and wilderness for you to discover along the Torch Relay route.
Post by Hannah, Discovering Places team.
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