Hastings – what a seaside town should be

By | Category: Travel destinations

George Street

Hastings in East Sussex is known for its battle of 1066 and, for television viewers, being the location for Foyle’s War. The seaside town on the south coast of England is a joy. Stuck in a time warp, its appeal is its unsophisticated charm. Even in peak season the beaches and tourist attractions aren’t overcrowded. The place is a haven for children as well as having attractions for adults. The majority of the activity is on the seafront near the old town, with the castle, and acres of parkland including a nature reserve on the cliffs overlooking the town.

Parallel to the coast road, George Street, full of individual shops and cafés, is where everyone seems to congregate. It is also where I found the West Hill funicular, an easy way to get to Hastings Castle, the castle having been built in 1066 by William the Conqueror.  Within the ruins are also those of the collegiate church of St Mary-in-the Castle. Before exploring, it is worth watching the film in the small cinema in the grounds which provides historical background. As you walk around take care not to miss the dungeons, which can be found opposite the entry kiosk.

the ruins of Hastings Castle and church

Also on top of West Hill is another attraction, the Smugglers Caves. I joined a group, descending along a long, dark, narrow corridor cut into the sandstone rock that led to a series of caverns. The first cavern is kept very dark to create an eerie atmosphere while we were given a recorded presentation, with pictures reflected onto the stone walls. As we went deeper into the different areas we learnt about the smugglers, what they smuggled, and how they encouraged spooky stories to keep people away from the caves.

Back in George Street, I stopped for a coffee at Petit Fi and home-made cakes which, to my delight, is dog-friendly with dog biscuits provided as well. This road, as well as what is called the High Street, has lots of bric-a-brac and individual shops including the really quirky AG Hendy Home Store selling iconic twentieth century kitchen items. It also has an unpretentious restaurant hidden at the back. Not far from here, All Saints Street is the best preserved of the old town streets, with several half-timbered houses. Here you’ll find the old Court house, possibly the oldest building in the town which dates back to 1450.

Quentin Blake at the Jerwood Gallery

Bordering on the seafront, Hastings Fishing & Cultural Quarter includes the Blue Reef Aquarium. Although it is quite small they have a level below ground where it is possible to walk through a glass tunnel of one of the larger fish tanks. The walls have information plaques as well as talks and activities organised at different times throughout the day.  The castle, caves and aquarium are run by the same people so, as I wanted to visit them all, it was cheaper to buy a ticket that included all three venues.

In the same area but on the seafront, the Jerwood Gallery houses a collection of modern and contemporary British art including works by Lucien Freud, Mark Gertler and Henry Moore. An exhibition by artist, illustrator, and first children’s Laureate, Sir Quentin Blake The Only Way to Travel’ was on while I was there. The exhibition, lasting until October 15, includes 80 drawings and paintings revealing Blake’s thoughts on mental health, the squeezing of creativity, and the refugee crisis.

On the first floor, the cafe has an outdoor terrace overlooking many tall, black wooden buildings, some of which are kiosks selling freshly caught fish. The taller ones, I was informed, are used to hang out the fishing nets. On the sea’s edge or rather the English Channel are the fishing boats.

Hastings – the fishing and cultural quarter

Hidden from view in an inner road Maggie’s is ‘the’ place in Hastings to eat fish and chips. Food is cooked to order with my plaice and chips costing £7.50 although adding mushy peas and a drink upped the bill. The restaurant is small with an outside terrace so booking in advance is essential.

Near Maggie’s the East Hill funicular took me up a steep incline to Hastings County Park and Nature Reserve deemed an area of outstanding natural beauty with stunning coastal views. It is also a prime site for bird watching as it is on the autumn and spring migration route.

Stade Open Space Saturdays is a series of free performances from June to October. This summer, the emphasis is on circus and street theatre as well as a mixture of music and dance. During the weekend starting Friday evening 15 September, the Hastings’ Seafood & Wine Festival is held here with not just food being cooked and served but also classes on how to buy, prepare, and cook the fish.

the Kino Teatr

The promenade above the shingle beach is very wide and incorporates a bicycle lane. Hidden from view is Source Park which is on the site of an old bathing pool. Today it has been turned into a purpose-built, skate boarding space. Continuing along the promenade is the newly refurbished 277 metre long Hastings Pier.  Further along the town becomes St Leonards-on-Sea with its art-deco block of flats built in the shape of an ocean liner on the skyline.

Parallel to the promenade Norman Road has lots of individual shops including, for anyone who loves the arts, the Kino Teatr, a dog-friendly, social meeting place which is in St Leonards-on-Sea. Inside is a picture gallery showcasing Russian and English art, a cinema/entertainment auditorium, and a Serbian/Lebanese restaurant. Look out for the tiger, a relic of Coney Island, on the mezzanine floor whose head moves.  If you visit you should be aware that it is closed each Monday and Tuesday.

skateboarding at Source Park

 

From 1 September to 1 October in both Hastings and St, Leonards the Coastal Currents Arts Festival has more than 80 artists exhibiting either in galleries or their workshops. In conjunction with this are over 36 events including workshops for children.

If visiting it is worth noting that a lot of the sites and places to eat and drink only take cash.

After a delightful day exploring this old town steeped in history I could only conclude that Hastings epitomises exactly what a British seaside resort ought to be.

For more information about Hastings, click here.

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