Oh we do like to be beside the seaside. Oh we do like to be beside the sea. Especially on an Easter weekend, which is why Heather and I went to Hastings. I’d never been before, while it is a childhood haunt of Heather’s, so she was acting as guide as we had fun by the sea.
Getting To The Old Hastings Town
The only trouble with going to Hastings was getting to Hastings in the first place. With engineering work over Easter it took us three trains but eventually we made it into our destination, and were immediately pretty lost—better signage from the station would be useful. Heading vaguely downhill we more or less worked out where we were, and that we had time to kill before checking in.
Heather led us towards the Old Town, though we realised a bit too late it was probably a mistake to walk so far in the “wrong” direction while still carrying bags. That meant we couldn’t really make it into any shops and so found ourselves taking refuge in the Anchor Inn on the lovely George Street for a rest. By the time we hauled ourselves out it was late enough to check in so we made our way along the sea to the hotel and our room overlooking the sea.
Settled in we went for a proper look at Hastings. More or less opposite the hotel the charred remains of the pier sat, now boarded off and under reconstruction to try and return it to something of its former glory. We strolled along the sea from the pier before turning off into the town. There we found the pretty and unusually shaped church of Holy Trinity and beside it the Brassey Institute, a wonderfully interesting piece of architecture containing the public library. Further walking, with glimpses of the mists shrouded castle on the hill, brought us round the old town hall, church like itself in appearance. The modern shopping mall has a cricketing statue outside—I hadn’t realised Hastings was a hot bed of cricket.
The shops were by now closing up in the centre of town so we headed back to old town and a drink in one of Heather’s youthful haunts, the Pumphouse. It was fun directing bewildered looking members of a hen party towards the toilets. We got hungy, so with Heather unable to remember where her favourite restaurant of old was (if it still exists at all!) we headed for another she has fond memories of (though under different ownership it turns out). Webbes fed us very well down by the strange road at the bottom of the east cliff.
After dinner we took a very misty wander around by the beach, the fishing boats, and occasional person, looming strangely out of the swirling fogs of that dimly lit area. We were fully intent on heading back to the hotel but walking along the better lit part of the seafront we passed the Carlisle which enticed us in with the loud music coming from within. The inside was a proper biker’s rock bar (judging from their website, Shameful Behaviour were playing). So we stayed there shamefully late until staggering back for sleep.
The Morning’s Wander
Saturday morning saw us wandering along the sea front again, pausing along the way to throw some rocks into the sea (which is, I’m told, a Hastings tradition). We headed up the old town. It’s a pretty place and this time we had time to look into the many attractive shops. We paused from shopping at a little square with giant chess set and accompanying sculptures of chess pieces enwrapped in octopus and the like.
Turning up the High Street we looked into the parish church, St Clements. It’s a curious old church, with a modern mezzanine inserted at one end in an interesting fashion. Two chandeliers dominate the aisle and, at least when we visited, an enthusiastic patron guards the door ready to dispense wisdom regarding the history and features of the building. We continued up the hill of the High Street, the shops beginning to give way to some lovely little and quirky houses. Back down the street again and time for some lunch, which found us in The Hastings Arms, small but friendly with good food and drink.
After lunch it was time to head for one of Hastings’ main attractions, the castle overlooking the town from its high perch on the cliff top. To get there we took the west cliff railway, a funicular running through a brick tunnel impressively hewn from the cliff. That gains a grassy headland at the top of the cliff, which we briefly explored to enjoy the views before heading for the castle itself.
Hastings Castle has a claim to being one of the very earliest Norman castles in England (the original was down the cliff, by the sea, and the refortification of Pevensey was earlier but Hastings as is now dates probably from around 1070) so it’s a shame that nearly a thousand years later more care isn’t being taken of it than would seem to be the case. The castle is now owned by the same people who run the nearby “Smuggler’s Adventure” in the caves of the cliff (as well as being the group owning the aquarium down below). The castle seems almost an after thought. We arrived to no more welcome than the barest of wooden huts (no guide book—though the single member of staff did let us in at child rates as compensation—itself possibly not a good sign). Within the walls there is no information, the ground scarred where sign boards once stood. Worse is the awful metal and concrete construction in the middle of the bailey, housing a video presentation but looking terribly out of place. Symptomatically, when we entered to watch the uninspired video, the entry door wouldn’t properly close, needing a stone propped outside to hold it.
All that can’t distract from the spectacularness of the site though. The cliff towers over the town and coast below, a small motte raised to one side, the remains of the curtain wall passing across it. Those curtain walls would once have stretched right round but half the bailey has eroded away to the sea, leaving a strangely abrupt cut off at the sheer cliff. One gets a sense of scale and strength by stepping back out the walls and standing before the east gate, the footings of the twin guarding round towers in front and the deep ditch cut in the rock behind. Back within it’s certainly a lovely place to simply sit and enjoy what had become a warm sunny afternoon.
Can We Have Dinner Please?
We took our time enjoying the castle and were last to leave as we headed out, the gates locked behind us. We headed back down the cliff railway, calling at the slightly scary Royal Albion before finding the Lord Nelson and hijacking its jukebox for a while. Dinner called though, so we set off in search of some, which turned out to be a bit of a problem as everywhere seemed pretty much booked up. We eventually found ourselves almost all the way back to the hotel before finding Ada Turkish Restaurant which was at least adequate to feed us.
Resisting the temptation to see what the Carlisle had on that evening we headed back to the hotel for a nice little sleep.
The East Cliff
There is something lovely about waking up next to the sea, especially on a sunny morning. We couldn’t spend all day admiring it out of the hotel window though so off we went. Having been up the west cliff this time we headed for the other cliff railway leading up to the top of the east cliff. This one doesn’t have a tunnel but a huge cutting gorged out the cliff side, and is scarily steep with it. There isn’t as much to look at on top of the east cliff (other than the views) as the west but I still had a wander round before heading back down the stairs access while Heather took the funicular.
Back on the shore we headed to another of the attractions I’d been promised, crazy golf. I love crazy golf and Hastings has not just a traditional course (with windmill, which all proper crazy golf courses should have) but two adventure style courses too. We went round the normal traditional course, windmill catching me out in a way it always has. I still managed to triumph over Heather though I doubt either us had a very good score.
Darkness, More Golf and Seafood
We sat around relaxing for a while afterwards, enjoying the watching the constant presence of the gulls flying overhead and the people high on the east cliffs above us. Then it was back into old town, pausing to watch the action on the giant chess set in the sun. After lunch before Heather headed for the aquarium and I settled into the Cutter for a dark time. Afterwards Heather led me to the quiz machine to cheer up and then back across to play the other two crazy golf courses, including dodging squirting water.
By the time we were done with that it was actually quite late on and we needed food. Fish and chips anyone? A surprisingly number of establishments seemed to be closed already but I found my way to Blue Dolphin. Clutching our prizes (my cod, Heather’s scampi) we borrowed some plates from the hotel and tucked ourselves away in the room to enjoy. The constant queues we’d seen outside had been a hint and it turned out to be an excellent choice (Heather describing it as the best scampi she’s ever had). And then a seaside sleep.
We didn’t want to go home, and damn it, we weren’t going to yet. We left the bags with the hotel after breakfast (Heather even got me down for that; a rarity). Having won a free game of crazy golf each the night before we had to go and play it, back around one of the more challenging courses. At the end I won another free game but Heather wouldn’t let me play it (so I’m saving it up for next visit)
There was time for a return to the Hastings Arms for food and a bit more wandering around but all too soon it was time to say goodbye to our seaside host, collecting the bags and heading back to the many trains to take us home.
As always lots more photos!