With a double bank holiday Heather and I left the home in search of egg laying bunnies heading, like last year for the coast at Hastings.
The trains down to the coast were a lot less complicated than last year, more or less a straight run from Orpington (which meant this time I was relaxed enough to notice the wonderfully named Bo-peep junction and tunnel at St Leonards). Reaching Hastings we headed down the hill and to the boring but reliable Wetherspoons for lunch (once we’d located it after a brief moment of confusion). That took us nicely to check in time at our lovely hotel. A fantastic sea view, almost directly opposite the pier, again greeted us and if the pillows weren’t quite as wonderful as the year before they were still fantastically soft.
Settled in we almost reluctantly left the room behind to wander along the sea front, taking in the arcades (two-penny shove machines!) and, of course, the weekend’s first round of crazy golf (I think I’m getting better at the windmills) before heading for dinner at the Hastings Arms. That’s probably our favourite Hastings pub but we didn’t hang around it too long because we had a plan to head for the venue we’d stumbled on last year, in the Carlisle. We weren’t disappointed in finding some loud live music to see us into the night and to bed.
Having investigated most of Hastings last year the plan this was to use it as a base for exploring the wider area. So it was that we headed back up the hill to catch a train to Battle. That of course is named for being the site of the decisive battle between Harold, reigning king of England, and William (called the Conqueror because he won). The battle site itself is now partly occupied with the remains of an abbey, founded to commemorate the battle. So Battle Abbey is there to recall the thing which resulted in the name Battle. All a little circular. Before exploring that though we had first to admire the pretty station building at Battle (church like in its appearance), and the pretty church of St Mary’s on the way into town. We also found ourselves watching in confusion a performance from a small theatrical group in the town square. A woman emerged from billowing robes out the top of a tiny caravan then folded herself down into a suitcase on top, before another woman dressed as a French waiter appeared and removed the suitcase. All very peculiar and we quickly made a break for the abbey.
After stopping for lunch in the visitor centre, and looking round the exhibition on the battle (an interactive display at one point getting locked in an amusing loop of “poor king Edward had no children” like some deranged rap) we made our way round exploring the remains of the abbey’s buildings. Somewhere in the visitor guide is a comment along the lines of a lot of people don’t realise the abbey itself stands on part of the battle field but that might be partly due to it not being made clear by English Heritage’s own signage and info when there! There are even signs pointing to the “battle field” which lead to the remaining surrounding countryside. They need to do a better job of giving a sense of where the armies were (Harold’s was basically where you’re stood pondering this). A labelled image of the view from various points around the abbey might be a nice idea.
There was an interesting ice house which looked a little like a hobbit hole (especially if you go by the films), and in a little walled garden some bee hives. At least we found the plaque marking the spot where Harold fell (supposedly anyway) but in the end there was a bit too much abbey and not enough battle for my liking and even the knight getting the easter holiday children to have a mock battle couldn’t dampen my desire to be away eventually; Part of the abbey is now a school, and the discovery of school form benches hidden round the back at least put a smile back on my face.
We called in the Abbey Hotel for a rest before heading back for a train, failing to catch the first one so holing up in the Senlac Inn by the station for a while (there’s a lot of Senlac something or other around Battle but it isn’t clear if that was ever really the name of a hill around there). When we got back to Hastings it was getting a little bit windy to say the least. We headed for the hotel for a while, watching the wind whip the sea waves and drive a rain across the night. We also ended up watching the aftermath of a road accident, a woman apparently hit by a taxi at the bus stop opposite the hotel. She seemed okay in the end fortunately, after about three fast response cars, a couple of ambulances and the police turned up causing traffic chaos for a while.
We braved the outside long enough to struggle through the wind to the Italian Way, a bit of a landmark on a glass fronted corner site. The food was perfectly fine, though we did wonder at the large party turning up demanding tables be put together for them only to have just ice cream! The night really was too wild and windy to be out after that though so we snuggled in the hotel to watch the waves lull us to sleep—and unfortunately wake us periodically later!
The trains had served us well on Saturday but they weren’t serving anywhere on Sunday, so we resorted to an actual bus to take us further afield. It was actually a nice opportunity to see some more of the coast from the top deck as we headed for Pevensey, where William had landed before heading to the previous day’s battle That makes it sound like William was time travelling or something, but you know what I mean. Arriving around lunch time we navigated our way to the Royal Oak and Castle Inn which, as the name suggests, sits just outside the imposing walls of Pevensey Castle. Having eaten and been refreshed we headed back out the pub to visit that castle, which was the purpose of the visit. Unfortunately we timed that perfectly to coincide with a heavy and very windy shower, rain driving into us as we tried to make our way across the bailey and round to the inner castle entrance. The outer bailey is a huge grass field, once a Roman fort (unusually not rectangular but matching the shape of the peninsular on which it was built) surrounded by the medieval reinforced Roman walls. Not that we could take much of that in as we struggled to the inner bailey gatehouse.
Fortunately the sun quickly returned and we able to enjoy exploring this rather splendid castle. The inner bailey takes up a compact corner of the fort, overlooking what would have originally been the coast below (now receded into the distance), surrounded by a now much reduced wet moat and accessed by a bridge across (once much longer). The remains of a gatehouse guard the entrance, enough still standing to give a sense of its imposing strength; The curtain is dotted with towers, interesting in that each level inside the tower was reached by a different route. The towers show the castle’s reuse in the twentieth century, converted to barracks, as do the well disguised pill boxes scattered around barely noticeably. At the east end of the bailey stand the remains of the keep. A peculiar shape, consisting of six or seven projections, now it feels like a mass of stone which it is difficult to ever imagine entering. Further interest is added by the piles of trebuchet balls, many having been found within the castle.
We circuited the inner bailey, examining each tower, the postern gate, and the chapel ruins before a quick visit to the wooden hut of a shop (unfortunately the purely modern stairs leading up the north tower were in pieces so we couldn’t get an elevated view). From there we headed back around the outer walls, in places clearly Roman in nature, passing by the western entrance and around until back where we started. So we headed properly back where we started in the pub. There we were joined by our friend Emma and her two boys Josh and Henry. Driving back to Hastings it was, of course, time for some crazy golf in the by now pleasant sun. Afterwards people had a ride on the miniature railway—though I had a bit of a wander around instead.
After Emma and co had gone back off home for the evening Heather and I headed once again for the old town, finding the compact Anchor Inn and Ye Olde Pumphouse opposite. Thoughts turned to dinner though and there was only one place we wanted to go, heading back down the hill to collect takeaway from the excellent Blue Dolphin, which we took back to the hotel. The Blue Dolphin, wonderful last year, didn’t disappoint. Heather’s scampi was very nice and my haddock tasted so fresh I would have believed they’d nipped out to catch it to order. Full and happy we headed for bed.
Of course on Monday morning we didn’t want to leave. Leaving the bags in the care of the hotel we headed for a walk along the seaside, investigating the interesting shops around old town. After another tasty lunch in the Hastings Arms, there was time for a last game of crazy golf (it’s probably a good job I don’t live in Hastings or I’d spend far too much money on that). A last wander round the arcades (having more fun with the tuppenny push machines). led us back to sadly pick up the bags though, and head for the train home.
There is, as usual, quite the collection of photos