Not that we were real light house keepers, just honorary ones for the weekend to celebrate one of my oldest friend’s birthdays. Not oldest in terms of years either before she reads this (we are the same age give or take a few months) but oldest in terms of how long we have known each other.
We met when my parents ran a country pub and Emma and her family were new to the village. I was very much used to being the only Emma there at the time, but luckily we got along like a house on fire, and our friendship has endured many things, and many years. They say that in life you know who your true friends are when both time and distance come between you, but when you do see each other it’s like yesterday. That little saying has always applied to us thankfully, and our Belle Tout weekend was no exception despite not having seen each other for ages.
I was always jealous of The Fraggles and the lighthouse above their underground home, and a little later on I had a slight obsession with Round The Twist (still one of the best kids TV programmes in my opinion. One overly snowy afternoon in Andermatt, I subjected the Small People to quite a few episodes!) and the idea of living in such a strangely shaped building. Since then, I have always wanted to stay in one, so when Emma said she had booked a lighthouse for the weekend and would we like to go, what do you think I was going to say? Plus, travelling back from Munich wasn’t really a hardship when they had made the journey all the way from Hong Kong!
Belle Tout has a unique history, first built back in 1832 and perched high on a Beachy Head cliff top where it’s lantern could be seen twenty miles out to sea. Thanks to cliff erosion slightly diminishing its effectiveness, the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1902, until it was privately bought in the 1920’s. With war just around the corner it suffered badly thanks primarily to the Canadian Air force using it as target practice, but later having been restored, it went in and out of private ownership up until 1986 when it was bought by the BBC (who remembers Life and Loves of a She Devil? I have never seen it, but as it was filmed there, I am going to have to watch it now!).
Ten years later it was bought by a family who managed to move the entire lighthouse back almost 20 metres away from the ever disappearing cliff edge. Most recently in 2008 it was sold to the Shaw family who featured on “Build a New Life in the Country” with their complete restoration of the now iconic building. I will admit that I am not usually overly fond of these programmes and the people who often appear on them (is it just me or can they come across as smug?). More often than not I find myself getting annoyed at what I would have done differently too, but this particular episode (a DVD of which is available to watch in each room should you happen to be lazing about like me!) was completely different. You can’t help but like The Shaws and their love and passion for a building that very nearly bankrupted them. I am happy to say the end result is just stunning!
Nowadays it’s primarily run as a B&B. You can book one of the six rooms in advance and use the lighthouse as a base for fantastic walks, socialising with other guests, and having the most amazing breakfasts cooked for you of a morning. BUT, if you book it far enough in advance (at least a year should do it), you might just be able to book the entire place, and this is exactly what Emma did for a group of her closest friends to help her celebrate her special day.
Somehow, Mr R and I managed to be one of the first couples to turn up, so I had time to sneak in and take pictures of each room. All of which are equally popular (people often request the same one apparently!), and most of which have stunning views out to sea (as you might expect!).
By 6pm all 6 couples had arrived, rooms had been chosen, and after a brief sun-downer courtesy of the real lighthouse keeper Ian, (who not only runs the place magnificently, is probably the most courteous and relaxed in-house manager – plus he can cook a mean breakfast!), we headed to a nearby seaside pub for dinner (whilst breakfast is included and you are welcome to get take-aways (we recommend the great Thai in the village!), this isn’t a self-catering property so the kitchen is out-of-bounds for guests)…
Once we got back, the lantern room served as our gathering place to round off the day, as it did the next night too – perfect to either watch the sun go down, and/or watch it come up again…
This has to be one of the best private party rooms on the planet, and best of all apart from the odd nosey seagull, there are absolutely no neighbours so we could make as much noise as we liked!
And after a weekend of relaxing, catching up, chatting, laughing until our jaws and bellies ached, cliff top walking, and for the odd few of us being far too energetic and getting up at ridiculous o’clock to run along coastal paths (which is when I stayed in bed and watched the DVD!) and kayak the River Cuckmere… Then before we knew it, sadly it was time to pack up and say our goodbyes.
I would really really recommend this place as a grown up get away (children under 15 aren’t permitted), and have my heart set on going back in the middle of winter to watch a few ocean storms from the top! A place that thoroughly deserves its Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence badge, and that of the Good Hotel Guide. Book soon because how much longer this place can remain a “secret” only time will tell…
Thanks Em & G for such a perfect, happy, and completely memorable weekend. xx
Belle Tout Lighthouse, Beachy Head, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN20 oAE – firstname.lastname@example.org – Tel: 01323 423 185