The ferry churns the sea behind us into a foam and shudders and thrums its way into the mouth of the Ouse at Newhaven. This place has seen better days. When they were I cannot say. Perhaps the 16th Century when the spit was cut to form the new harbour? It looks like it has been downhill since then. Wreckless Eric was born here and Lord Lucan abandoned his car in the town when he was on the run. Internet trivia is what remains.
But the ferry service is a good value alternative to the Portsmouth lines in high summer and it’s not as far to drive as Dover. While we were mid-channel we had a lecture from marine conservation charity ORCA which was enlightening. I have crossed this stretch of water so many times recently and this was quite an eye opener. I learned that the channel is only thirty to forty metres deep between Newhaven and Dieppe, and that it is full of wildlife, from seahorses (in a protected area) to whales. Our guide invited us up on deck to see if we could see any of the tell-tale signs that meant seals or cetaceans were breaking water nearby. Sadly, not today.
As you reach the dock one is greeted by a three-thousand tonne mound of scrap metal. The local authority has been trying to close it down since 2003. There have been rumours for years that DFDS may close the crossing as the port will cost too much to redevelop. The harbour is billed as Sussex’s gateway to Europe, but the lack of glamour also reaches into the heart of the dock. The railway station looks like the kind of derelict building that urban explorers open up, hoping to find messages from the past, a place filled with buried glories. I think they would definitely find rats, which is a shame, but at least it would be wildlife.
Having said all this Newhaven is nowhere near as awful as Dover. I had to do Dover recently and missed the turning to P&O and ended up going through the DFDS gate. There are more than a hundred concrete lanes, acres and acres of grey dappled with gull droppings. Th ticket clerks sent me back out of the port to go around again. I showed my passport, no-one looked at it, but they waved me through and ten minutes later I was driving onto a ferry. I had forgotten how short the sailing was, just an hour and a half, and when I drove off the ship no-one checked my passport. There was no-one in the booth and the barriers were up. Free movement works this way I guessed.
The Ouse valley at Newhaven is beautiful first thing in the morning. On Monday a light mist hung a few feet above the ground, a pale shroud below a pink dawn, the South Downs crowding to the North. There are two routes out of town, the rapid run to the dual carriageway or the more direct spin along the country byways to Lewes. Neither route is faster than the other. It comes down to the mood I’m in. Let’s hope it stays positive…