Day Four of our trip was definitely a day to remember, although, really, each day of my trip will be one to remember. But Day Four was packed with new – and some very terrifying – experiences.
I should perhaps explain the purpose of our day trip down to West Wittering, a small town on the south coast not far from Chichester. Actually, it was a must-see for me and C graciously humoured me and let herself be dragged along. For those of you who don’t know, I am a Downton Abbey fan. A BIG one. Actually, “fan” seems inadequate so perhaps my level of dedication deserves the long form of the word. But fanatic doesn’t seem enough, either. So, let’s just go with obsessee…which I’m not even sure is a real word, but I’ve just made it one for the sake of relating my fangirl dedication level. Specifically, I’m completely in love with, devoted to, and obsessed with the characters of Mr. Charles Carson, the butler, and Mrs. Elsie Hughes, the housekeeper, played by the amazingly brilliant and perfect Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan. I’m also a “shipper” – someone who has wished with every fibre of my being for the last few seasons for them to get together. Sort of spoiler alert: As of the Season Five Christmas Special, they’re engaged and my ship has officially sailed. Anyway, the Season Four Christmas Special ended with them holding hands while paddling in the sea on an outing for the staff, still just friends but definitely moving toward something more after working together for twenty-odd years. I think in canon, it’s supposed to be in Brighton, but they filmed it at West Wittering Beach. So, obviously, this Chelsie shipper (Charles + Elsie = Chelsie) had to make a fangirl pilgrimage to the “Chelsie Beach”…
Anyway, the original plan was to take the train from London to Brighton, rent a car, and drive west to West Wittering for the day. We’d return the car in Chichester and then catch the train back to London from there. The night before, I decided to just rent the car in Chichester, so we caught the Southern line from Victoria. For this girl from a car culture state, navigating the station during “rush hour” was an experience in itself, but soon, we were on our way. Once we got out of the city, urban landscapes gave way to country ones. During our journey, we passed Arundel Castle, which looked pretty magnificent in the distance.
We got to Chichester and were met by a very nice young man from Enterprise. After taking us back to the office to complete the paperwork, we were ready to set off…and within minutes I was terrified. I severely misjudged how disorientating it would be to drive a right-hand drive car on the left side of many very small roads. Google Maps GPS was helpful to an extent…when I could get a signal. I exited the second roundabout too early and it had to reroute, but it actually worked out because we avoided the busier route. This was particularly good because I could stay in the center of the road, since I often ended up driving with C on the shoulder or curb (kerb) when an oncoming car would pass…and we were not in a large car by any means. How I didn’t lose a mirror or worse is still amazing.
After what was, until that point, the most terrifying eight miles of my life, we made it to West Wittering Beach (and I parked in a very big spot). We grabbed some sandwiches, tea, and coffee from the little café and made our way over the dunes to the beach. I emerged from behind some beach huts…and there it was: the ultimate goal of my pilgrimage. That beautiful place where Mrs. Hughes dared Mr. Carson to live a little and paddle in the sea with her, offering him her hand to help keep him feeling steady…which he took without hesitation. I was there! I took my first non-Amtrak train journey, rented a car and drove where everything is reversed and the roads are 1.5 lanes wide, and it was all worth it to gaze – and walk – upon that holy Chelsie spot.
After a couple of hours – and after my nerves had recovered – we headed back to Chichester. I intended to head back the same route we’d taken, the one with the missed roundabout exit. But, I listened to the GPS. That beezy. First, she directed me on a more complicated route, which included an absolutely terrifying multi-lane roundabout during the beginning of what I assume is rush hour. And then after I’d missed another roundabout exit (because roundabouts are small, decorative, one-lane things where I come from), I lost the signal and she wouldn’t talk to me at all. Only through C keeping calm and looking at Google Maps were we able to make it back to the rental office and luckily, the only scratches on the passenger side were dirt and not in the paint (at least I think so anyway). After a lift back to the station, we caught the next train back to London, getting off at Victoria and hopping the Tube back to Earls Court…where we ate at the Blackbird again and I enjoyed a much-needed cider and C a pint. Then it was back to the flat to unwind and decompress.