Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Ghosts in Brighton, Sussex


Distance:            3 miles

Ghostly Rating        *************

Route:                Brighton

Map:                OS Explorer 122

Start/ Parking:        Brighton

Public Transport        Brighton is served by main line railway and by several bus routes.

Conditions:            This walk is exclusively around the town centre streets of Brighton, all of which are paved.

Refreshments:        There are numerous pubs and cafés in Brighton, and no shortage of shops selling snacks and soft drinks.

This is the shortest and certainly the least demanding of the walks in the book. There are no hills and no difficult terrain to overcome. There are, however, man made wonders in plenty with lovely architecture and spectacular buildings. And, of course, there is the sea. The ghosts are a diverse and numerous group which reflect the history of this lovely town from the middle ages down to the present day.

The Walk

1) Park in central Brighton and walk to the Promenade, just to the west of Palace Pier.

The beach which stretches to east and to west is what made the sleepy little fishing village of Brighthelmstone into the fashionable and hectic seaside resort of Brighton. The beach and safe waters attracted the local gentry after a Dr Richard Russell of Lewes began recommending sea bathing as a cure for skin complaints and aid to a general healthy constitution. Dr Russell published a book on the subject, which found its way to the practices of several London doctors. There it was picked up by young Prince George, eldest son of King George III and later the Prince Regent. Fancying a break somewhere reasonably close to London, the prince took himself down to Brighton in the summer of 1783. He loved it. As the most fashionable gentleman in Europe, Prince George was followed by Society. Brighthelmstone adopted the new name of Brighton and never looked back.

It is fitting, therefore, that the beach should be home to the newest and most modern of the many ghosts to be found in the town. The spectre in question is that of a large dog with a pale coat and rather floppy ears. If this sounds the sort of ghost that could be encountered with pleasure, bear in mind that it stands some five feet tall and has the unnerving habit of following lone pedestrians at dusk. One man walking his own dog on the beach in the late autumn of 2003 heard nothing as the phantom hound approached from behind, and only turned around as his own pet was snarling at something behind him.

The seas off the coast here play host to the oldest of the Brighton ghosts, or rather they did as the phantom has not been reported since the Second World War. This ghost is that of the Good Ship Nicholas, which was wrecked on the beach in the 1100s. According to legend this cog, a type of double-ended ship with high-freeboard, was bringing back pilgrims who had been on a trip to the holy places of Jerusalem. The doomed ship fetched up in the English Channel just as a southerly gale began to blow. Unable to make a safe harbour, it was driven ashore on the shelving beach at Brighton and all on board were lost. Ever since, on moonlit nights when a southerly gale is lashing the sea beneath a clear sky, the ghostly ship rides the surf on to the beach, vanishing the instant its keel hits the shingle.

Strangely there is a second ghost ship to be encountered at Brighton. On 17th May 1916 at midnight the few people out walking the promenade were astonished to see a tramp steamer dangerously close inshore. At first it was thought the ship might be edging into shallow waters to avoid the attentions of the German U-boats then patrolling the area on the orders of the Kaiser, but this idea was discounted when it was realised that the ship had its lights switched on. As the bemused viewers watched, the ship abruptly vanished. It has been reported a few times since, always about the middle of May. The origins of the apparition are a total mystery.

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