Was the lane by my house always this enchanting? I’m out on a midday jog, retracing one of the routes I took again and again during lockdown. I’ve walked down ‘the lane’ countless times throughout my life, but today its beauty strikes me in a way that is completely new.
I lose count of the butterflies flitting from flower to flower. Some of the trees come together in an arch above me, lighting up the skyward leaves and casting dappled shadows on the ground below. A partially fallen branch, mottled and twisted with age and draped in ivy, touches the opposite bank, and I slow down to duck underneath it.
Seeing familiar places in a new light
It might just be the running endorphins, or the fact that the sun is shining for the first time in a week, but this humdrum little lane now seems so special.
A similar thing happens when I walk through the castle and fields to the beach later that day. Maybe it’s just the golden hour light bathing the grass in warm yellow, or the especially blue sky reflected in the especially blue sea, or the sunset over the castle walls, but I swear this walk never felt this pretty.
Again, I’ve been here many times before. I’ve jumped over that little wall, slid down the mounds of pebbles, and thrown a couple of stones into the waves – hundreds of times. But I don’t do it very much anymore.
Growing up in Sussex
I grew up here. I was born in Eastbourne hospital, lived in Pevensey all my life, and went to school in Eastbourne and then Bexhill. But in 2018 I went away to university, and now I live in London.
Slowly, home has changed – in both senses; my home is now elsewhere, and Sussex feels different to me. What used to be mundane has taken on a new magic; newly unfamiliar, newly precious.
At university, I began telling people about growing up a little walk away from the sea, and the response was always: “Wow, that sounds great! I bet you went to the beach all the time.”
No, I would say, I didn’t actually. The sea was just there, so I took it for granted – and the same was the case for the village castle, and all the places my family might visit on Sunday walks, such as the Downs or Arlington Reservoir or Abbotts Wood.
As a teenager, I was drawn to the quirky buzz of oh-so-grown-up Brighton – the outlandish outfits, the swarms of people, the musty smells, the intensely cool shops, the sound, the energy – rather than the quiet beauty closer to my doorstep.
Yet, away from home for the first time, I realised I hadn’t taken advantage of where I grew up.
Getting away from London
So, I started trying to put that right. When I came home for the holidays (and then during the pandemic when I wasn’t able to go back to university for months at a time), I began to make an effort to spend more time at the beach, the hills, the cliffs, the woods, the castle. I did yoga in fields, had picnics by the sea, and spent days out walking in beautiful places.
Now I’m in London and visit less than I should – busy lives, and all that. But I have more fondness, love, nostalgia, sentimentality, pride (whatever you want to call it) for Sussex than I ever thought I would. I even like getting on green Southern trains, even though I’ve spent my whole life complaining about them.
In London, I find the air too hot, stuffy, and polluted. There’s always traffic and always noise, and behind every green space there are just more buildings. It’s endless people and stuff. When I’m there for too long, I crave that first gulp of fresh sea air I take every time I step off the train at Pevensey.
Sussex will always be ‘home’
I say that, but I’m growing up and moving on. London is where I’m meant to be right now, with my flat, my job, my boyfriend, my friends, and the world at my fingertips.
Sussex is no longer my home. Every time I’m there, another piece has moved on without me. A housing estate has popped up on Rattle Road. The tree outside my childhood bedroom window has been cut down. The village pub has been repainted. There’s always something. With every visit, old places feel a little less familiar, a little less mine.
But that doesn’t mean I love it less. If anything, it’s become more beautiful to me, almost coveted because of how seldom I’m here. And this cluster of places will always be where I grew up. It’s still saturated with my memories. In some senses, Sussex will always be home.