The fate of Rabbit Island

BN1 Game card by Paul Stapleton

Rabbit Island was a bit of Brighton folklore. An overgrown roundabout on the way out of town, you’d sometimes see rabbits peeking out from the undergrowth. The story was that someone had placed a couple of pets there and they’d raised an empire. I’m not sure that makes sense – putting rabbits there rather than the neighbouring park would be ridiculous – but there were definitely a lot of animals trapped in a small area. It was a leporine equivalent of the TV show Lost.

Earlier this year, the council cut back the vegetation on Rabbit Island. There is no cover, and there are no rabbits. All that remains on the island are a few pieces of metal piping. Apparently this was for safety, although the excellent Brighton Bits website points out that the foliage cut down headlight glare. It’s also a poor welcome for visitors to Brighton.

A Cheeky Walk: Grooving in the Ghost Village

Doing the Cheeky Walks has introduced me to several amazing places I should have visited during my two decades in Brighton. I’ve found stunning countryside a short distance away and walked along Devil’s Dyke for the first time. But Sunday’s trip to the Castle Hill Nature Reserve was the best discovery so far, and I had no idea it existed.

David Thoreau warned his readers to “beware of all enterprises that require new clothes”. The Cheeky Walk around Castle Hill and the Lost Village of Balsdean required a new piece of equipment and a CD. The disc, 1 inch/ ½ mile by Grasscut is intended to be listened to at various points along the walk. I also bought a headphone splitter so that Lela and I could listen to the soundtrack simultaneously. And, in a departure from Cheeky Guide protocol, the walk is accompanied by a map.

Balsdean dates back to the 12th century and was a small farming community. For a time the manor house was used for a mental hospital. It fell into disrepair and the few remaining residents were removed in the second world war. The village was then used for artillery practise. Little trace of the buildings remain. Even online it’s hard to find photographs of what it once looked like.


Listening to a soundtrack on a walk was an interesting innovation. Some tracks worked better than others (I caught Lela removing her headphones during one of the noisier, glitchier tracks). On the whole, it did enhance the walk, particularly when wind whistled around the headphones. I’d not heard of Grasscut before, but they seem to be an interesting band.

The scenery here was  stunning, a long right-angled valley with derelict farm buildings in the middle. There were also fearless lambs coming up to say hello as we walked down the avenue of trees. A few weeks ago, we’d passed Saddlescomb Farm while the lambing was taking place; now there were young lambs out in the field. I like how the countryside can tell stories like that between walks.

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The only traces of the old village are some half-buried foundations, and a plaque left where the church’s altar once was. It seems a shame to have used a Norman church for target practise.

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As we walked along the valley we occasionally heard screaming noises. Sometimes they sounded almost human. They had to be something to do with the flags near the derelict farm buildings.


On our way back through the bottom of the valley we found that the noises were drone racers, from the Hidden Valley Group. Four of them were flying, piles of battery-packs beside their chairs – a drone can only fly a few minutes on a charge. Even so, when the racing is going on it looks exhilarating and the manoeuvrability is amazing. You can see examples on sites like FliteTest or RotorRiot .


We stopped to talk with Ed, one of the racers. We also got to have a look at the viewscreens – the drones fly with cameras, allowing the pilots to fly with a first-person view. The drone racers told us about an air-show and drone-racing competition coming in early may.

After talking to the racers we were faced with the climb out of the valley. I’ve encountered a fair few hills on the Cheeky Walks, but this was the steepest of them all. But we did it bravely and without complaint.


We followed the trail back to the start of the walk and then to the car. I think this hidden valley is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in Brighton. I can’t believe we passed so few other people as we walked through it. Had everyone found better things to do? I’d wasted so many weekends when I could have come out here.

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A Cheeky Walk: Walking With Werewolves

The Cheeky Walk ‘Walking with Werewolves’ has an exciting premise. It’s intended as a night-time stroll, best carried out at full moon. Since full moon only happens once a month, this required planning ahead. By the time Friday arrived the weather wasn’t looking good, but we’d made an arrangement and we would stick to it.


Lela and I met up with Romi and Katharine in Firle’s Ram Inn. With darkening, gloomy skies, the place had a slight Slaughtered Lamb feel. This ambience was worsened by the creepy sticker in one of the parked vehicles. Who thinks that sort of thing is funny rather than disturbing?


After a quick drink, we set off through Firle’s deserted high street and were soon in the countryside. A narrow path went up onto the ridge of the Downs, joining the South Downs way. Climbing up to the hilltop, rain whipping and bitter wind, it occurred that this walk is another that might be improved by waiting until later in the year. It was still fun to be wandering about in the countryside by torchlight. It reminded me of the days when I’d sneak out of school at night to explore.

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Given that it was raining, the moon was hidden behind clouds. Apparently the effect of moonlight on chalky downland paths is quite something, but we will have to take the guidebook’s word for it. The views were still pretty good, with the night-time world moving below us. And, of course, the i360 back in Brighton, for the first time a welcome sight, pin-pointing where we’d come from.

Stunning view of Sussex

The walk was pretty tiring – a few points we weren’t sure if we had overshot the route and needed to check it on google maps. We did find the two stony humps said to be bishops who lost an argument with some witches.

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We didn’t see any werewolves, but there was a creepy moment when a car approached us on the muddy coach lane. We stepped to the sides and waited, and the car stopped and reversed away once more.

Another fun walk, and actually pretty tiring. I want to do more night-hiking!

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Vindaloo at the Catalyst Club


On Thursday 14th April I gave a talk at the Catalyst Club about the History of the Vindaloo. This was my sixth talk at the night, and it’s one of my favourite events. The programme is always varied – recently Rosy spoke on Body-Building and Masochism, and ChrisP talked about The Eating Habits of Politicians.

The other talks this month were fascinating – Larissa talking about Effective Altruism, and Cara Courage talking about her BDSM relationship with The Archers. I was particularly interested to learn about the Archers’ active fan culture, which has a higher average participant’s age than many others I’ve heard about.

My talk outlined the history of English curry, although I cut a lot to fit the 15 minutes I had. I also spoke a little about my recent trip to Goa and the idea of authenticity in food and travel. I made things a little more interesting for myself by deciding to serve curry to the audience. This was delivered by the Shahi Tandoori and handed out during the Q&A session.

I mentioned a vegan vindaloo recipe that I particularly liked. This can be found on Happy Cow Vegan. Being vegetarian rather than vegan, I tend to swap the aubergine in this recipe for quorn chicken pieces.

Photo by Emily Yates

One of the interesting things about public speaking is how it can be hard to gauge the audience response. Parts of the talk were very comfortable, with lots of jokes – laughter means you know exactly how it’s going. But I wish there were a few more jokes in the middle where I go into the history of the curry. I’m booked to give the talk again in August and November, and it will have some significant changes before then. I’m also hoping to put on the longer version in Brighton as well.

A Cheeky Walk: The Lord Lucan Experience


The Cheeky Walks Guidebook isn’t particularly kind about Newhaven, the location of last weekend’s walk. It compares the town to “a limbless toy discarded and left to rot in the attic, its stuffing long since eaten by rats”. Despite that, this was another fantastic journey, featuring the ghost village of Tide Mills and some lovely cliff-top views.

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The town is definitely very run down in places. On leaving the station at Newhaven Harbour, we were immediately faced with Industrial Decay, with the old abandoned station buildings. A little further on was the third train station in a short distance, Newhaven Marine. This is now only used as a stop for Ghost Trains (also known as Parliamentary Trains). Although we didn’t visit, there are some good pictures of the station online.

Newhaven Marine station

From the stations we walked down to the seafront where we found the ghost village of Tide Mills. After flooding in 1937, many of the houses were condemned, with the remaining residents evacuated in 1940. The town was then used for artillery target practise during the war. It’s an eerie location.

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We did the first part of the walk in a group of four, with Rosy and Olive, who left us at a Cafe on the High Street:

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Our meal was filling, but not particularly tasty. The toilets doubled as chair storage, which made using them an adventure, but there was some latin graffiti out the back – non temere beneficiis, which seems to translate as ‘do not fear benefits’.


The second half of the walk took us onto the cliffs of Newhaven Fort, which has some amazing views of the sea. It was a little breezy when we were there, but this would be an amazing place for a summer picnic.

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Despite the urban decay in much of Newhaven, this was still a pretty good walk. Lela and I even got a trace of sunburn. We ended up at Rosy’s Dad’s house for a cup of tea. It was a good day.


Just 4 walks and 18.5 miles remaining. If the weather holds, we’re doing a pair of walks next weekend. Whatever are we going to do when these walks are finished?

A Cheeky Walk: The Devil and Miss Price

I’ve discovered some great places from the Cheeky Walks, but this week I visited a place I should have been to before. In 4 decades living within 5 miles of the place, I’ve never actually walked Devil’s Dyke. I’ve been around it many times but never actually inside. The Devil and Miss Price was one of my favourite of the cheeky walks. It’s themed around the “model, children’s author, novelist, businesswoman, philosopher” Katie Price, aka Jordan, but it is really an excuse to plot a walk to Poynings, Saddlescombe Farm, Newtimber Hill and Devil’s Dyke.

The route starts on the top of Devil’s Dyke, looking out across the Weald. A sign told us that the painter Constable had described this view as the grandest in the world. I think the view from Newtimber Hill later in the walk had the edge, but it’s still an amazing scene. It also takes in most of the places where I grew up.


We walked down the slope to Poynings via some of the most treacherous steps I’ve ever seen. How we didn’t end up slipping, sliding and covered in mud is a miracle.


The mud stopped soon after and we passed through Saddlescomb Farm and up onto Newtimber Hill before dropping back to the farm.

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Until doing the Cheeky Walks, I’d not realised that Saddlescomb Farm had a connection with the Knights Templar. Facts like these that provide a testament to the long hours of research put in by Bramwell, Bick and Ashton.

The walk through the Dyke felt magical. How had I missed this? And what am I going to do when I’ve finished these walks?

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My friend @dpashley says that behind every sign there’s a story

Brighton Fringe Festival Highlights 2016

My friend Vicky Matthews asked what I was going to in this year’s Fringe. I thought I’d do a quick blog post in case anyone else is interested.

There are lots of exciting events, although the best one sold out within a few hours. Alan Moore, John Higgs, Daisy Campbell, Shardcore and others are appearing at the Odditorium for Adventures on the Edge of Culture. I’m particularly excited by John Higgs’ piece Ziggy Blackstar and the Art of Becoming. Also, Alan Moore’s first visit to Brighton since who-knows-when is a big deal. .

Some of the other events I’m looking forward to:

  • There are three other Odditorium events: Rupert Sheldrake, Everett True, and Boing Boom Tschak, a night devoted to Kraftwerk. I’ve bought tickets to all of these.
  • A couple of years after his prize-winning show, Chris Parkinson returns with Apostrophe’s. I’m going to the showing on the 27th.
  • Mathilda Gregory’s show My My Immortal is going to be amazing. There’s an interesting backstory to this but, even if you’ve never heard about it, the performance will awesome. Mathilda did part of it at the last Slash Night and killed.
  • My friend Kaylee is helping produce a show called ‘Am I Fuckable‘. I don’t know much else about it, but what she’s told me makes it sound awesome.

There are a few other events I’m considering but not sure about. I think I’ve booked tickets to a workshop on pilgrimage, but the Fringe booking system is being somewhat inscrutable. And that’s without even considering the usual free events, open houses and so on. May will be a busy month!

A Cheeky Walk: Bottoms Up


Good Friday was a perfect day for a Cheeky Walk, the first proper sunny day of the year. We opted for ‘Bottoms Up’, an innuendo-laden tour of Stanmer Park and Ditchling Beacon – ‘bottom’ being a common Sussex place name. This was also the first time when we got lost.

One of the directions was via a carved tree-trunk. We missed it the first time past, because a couple of people were sat covering the carving. It didn’t help that I also missed one of the sentences in the directions. We retraced our steps and met a famous dog, who turned out to be half shitzu and half poodle – meaning it was either a zoodle or a shitpu. His owner told us a story about the risks of birdwatching, and how they had once watched a heron, amazed how still it was, only to learn that it was a statue.

Lela takes photographic evidence of the gate I missed

We were misled once more by the Keymer Finger Post – it looks as if the field has been re-fenced, as the gate was now in the wrong corner of the field. Still, with the aid of Google maps, we found our way back on course. We also passed close to the route of the Earth, Wind and Fire walk – what a contrast the weather was.

Lying fingerpost
Lying fingerpost

I think this walk was one of my favourites. It was hard work on the legs, but it gave some wonderful views. And it ended with a portable creperie. Despite only being seven miles, it felt a lot longer – perfect for a bank holiday. Now it’s just 28 miles and 6 walks to go.



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A Cheeky Walk: Earth, Wind and Fire

Apparently you can buy coats designed to keep the wind out. I never thought I needed one until yesterday’s walk, crossing the Downs with the wind cutting through the layers I was wearing. I realised that last year’s winter Cheeky walks were all urban ones, and that doing the rural ones in February might not be a good idea.

Despite that, the Earth, Wind and Fire walk was a good one, starting in Pyecombe and taking in the Chattri, Jack and Jill Windmills and the Clayton Tunnel. It was fairly similar to a walk taken with Jamie and Jen last year (although the windmill is closed to visitors until May). Still, despite the cold, the views were amazing.

This sign to the South Downs seems unnecessary
The church is sinking…
More mud
The Mallard Mailbox, pointed out by the guidebook, has sadly seen better days
Fuck off, i360

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