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View From The Hill… Nicholas Lezard

When I first came to live permanently in Brighton, I found that my flat was at the highest point on Dyke Road; at the very crest of West Hill. I am in two minds about hills. On the one hand, they can be very scenic in the views they can offer. On the other hand, they are hills, and I am not only unfit but asthmatic, and the incline from the station to the summit of Dyke Road, up Guildford Street would become ever more forbidding each time I had to climb it.

Once I even took a taxi, but I felt too ashamed afterwards to do it again. Well, once again, maybe. The surprising thing is that it took me so long to pop into, at what might be called Base Camp to the Everest that is Guildford Street/Albert Road, the Battle of Trafalgar. 

It was, I felt, a little too close to the station, and extensive research into pubs has taught me that the closer to the railway station a pub is, the more likely it will be to have a reputation for unsavouriness. The people who go to a station pub will be transients: popping in for one last one before their train and caring little for the character of the place. All their trade is passing trade. How silly I was. 

Brighton, I have known for more than half a lifetime, is a place blessed with many pubs, and the more pubs there are the more they are going to have to be good. And so when I finally pushed open the door to the Battle, parched and wheezing from the (checks Google Maps) 177-foot walk from the station, unaided by sherpas, I found that I had discovered one of the nicest pubs I had ever been in. It was unspoiled; it was slightly quirky, architecturally speaking; tastefully decorated (someone there likes both JMW Turner and cricket); and, I discovered, it is one of those places where the fans of the Seagulls and whoever they’ve been playing can drink together without even the hint of anything bad about to kick off. It’s a rare pub that can pull that off: I suspect this has something to do with the mood the Battle generates: benign, and welcoming. The Battle is not a place where battles happen. The beer garden, in summer, is a joy. 

There was some panic last year when rumour had it that it was going to be turned into a sports bar: multi-screen TV, stripped to increase turnover, and lord knows what else; a campaign from regulars seems to have prevented this. When you can again, go in, as a pause during your walk up the hill, and see if you can keep it going for longer than that.

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