It’s summer, so another trip to Hastings was of course forthcoming for Heather and I. This time there was a wonderful art trail to catch our attention too, so we headed down to the coast for a week, to Follow That Duck.
The trains were actually running and to time so it was a simple journey down to the south coast. Arriving at Hastings Station we quickly found our first example of the wonderful ducks we were to spend our time hunting (a great excuse to go places we hadn’t been, as shall be seen). Duck collected (a photograph with Heather), we also found our first ducklings—little ducks painted by local schools (there didn’t seem to be as many of these as on other trails, often just a single duckling rather than the usual large clusters). A duck and two ducklings and we’d barely left the station!
We headed down into town and lunch in Wetherspoons before booking into the always great White Rock Hotel. Settled into our room we wandered back out into sunshine to have a walk around the pier just opposite. It’s still lacking much in the central area, but I did get a pair of holiday sunglasses from one of the little hut stores.
Leaving pier and hotel behind we made our way along the coast, enjoying the slightly cooler than London conditions. There were some more ducks along the way, notably Lucky Stone, the cleverly named Peking Duck, and the gorgeous From Hastings With Love, painted with landmarks of the town. We made it as far along as The Dolphin before taking a well earned break.
Refreshed we headed up Old Town, finding the Green Man Duck and calling into the good Olde Pump House (even if it did mean climbing the stairs!). We were, by then, getting hungry and so went back down the hill in search of food. It didn’t take long to remember The Crown, which tends to do both excellent food and beer. It was no different this time, and we got to watch the friendly seagull too. That was it for our first half day, barring a duckling in the Tourist Information window on the way back to bed.
On I first full day we set off duck hunting in earnest. The marvellous building of the library (once the Brassey Institute, it’s an extravagant building of 1878) held a duckling in its window. We popped in for a proper look at the building and a closer view of the duckling, before heading back out to try and find Day Of The Duck, but that didn’t happen as the only route seemed to be a building site (we’d later learn we were right about location—the one duck in a really stupid place). We gave up and headed up the stairs to find more shop window ducklings. It was there that two elderly women who were chatting at a nearby bus stop coined the phrase we would carry with us the rest of our adventure—one declaring that I was “doing the duck.”
Heading down into the town we made our way to Wellington Gardens, and the relaxing in the bath Pop! sat in the sunshine. It was a short hop from there back round to the main shopping centre where a plethora of ducks awaited our collection. The colourfully bright Doodle Duck sat just inside the doors, while We Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside was without in the square. The latter was amusing with its Hastings scenes capturing the occasional duck in place of person.
The centre had a number of little ducklings scattered around the shops (though it took a while to find the one hiding in Waterstones cafe) and we also got to call in the Follow That Duck pop up shop (with variety of mementos and silly merchandise finding its way into our bags). Sadly, one duck was missing just outside the shops, Fire Quacker having been removed for repair, leaving only a lonely empty plinth.
To cheer ourselves up we followed a heard rumour (well, a mark on the trail app) that there was a duck overlooking the sea high on the East Cliff Finding the funicular railway we took a ride up (I still don’t like the steepness of the East Cliff railway). At the top we found the eyepatch sporting Captain Duck waiting for us, with fine views of the town below. Being something of a pirate he tried to take Heather’s arm, but we just about got away and back down the lift.
Then it was up through Old Town and the shops, including the novelty duck selling Soak which appropriately enough had a duckling of its own inside. Reaching the top of George Street it seemed a good time to call in perennial favourite The Hastings Arms.
Refreshed we decided that as we’d been up one lift we may as well go up the other, even if there wasn’t a duck at the top. There was another excellent view to take in before heading back down to wander around some more. We wended our way to find ourselves in The Stag, which turns out to have a lovely stepped courtyard at the rear. We could have probably happily spent all evening there, but we’d promised ourselves fish and chips from the Blue Dolphin, which we took back to the hotel to enjoy with the normal Friday Zoom meeting.
By lucky coincidence one of our friends, Faith, was staying near Hastings with her son Dylan and brother Jason. So we took the chance to meet up with them on Saturday for fun by the seaside. Finding them in the car park it started out with the nearby Crazy Golf (Pirate edition), which is always an excellent activity made only better by being by the seaside.
Having knocked balls into holes we headed for a wander along the seaside. They all took the little train while I tried to race it to the far end of the tracks (and failed miserably). The reason for going that way was so people could go to the aquarium. I really didn’t fancy that though, so went for a wander by myself.
There was a relaxing pint outside the Dolphin, before I headed up the hill around Old Town. The Anchor remains as strangely local as ever, but The Albion is as welcoming as I remember. By the end of that little pub crawl people were done with fish so I rejoined them for a bit more wandering up and down the cliff before heading to The Cutter. An early dinner brought us to the great Italian Way, which served us great food at good prices as always.
That was it for the visiting friends, having to get Dylan off to bed. Heather and I weren’t done though, stumbling our way into The Carlisle, where our souls felt at home (it is the local biker’s rock bar after all), before finally (slightly less stably) finding our way back to the hotel.
Sunday is normally a day of rest, but there was none of that for us. We were up and out armed with the trail app to find some more ducks We started by heading away from our usual haunt of along the coast, going up the hill to Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, somewhere that we surprisingly hadn’t been before. Standing prominently outside was the brightly colourful, heart festooned Love A Duck!. And who should be there too but Faith et al, who’d also been exploring and finding ducks. We said hello, and got recommendations on what to see, before leaving them eating lunch and going for a wander around the museum.
Expecting something quite locally focused the museum turned out to be a strange and eclectic mix of seemingly random objects and exhibits. It started well enough with a collection of seaside related exhibitions and some Punch & Judy related puppets but the too bright weirdness of works by Jason Wilsher-Mills should have given us a clue as to what was to come. Beyond that was a slightly stunning wood panelled room, the Durbar Hall is an exhibition piece designed to demonstrate what might have once been found in an Indian Palace. It’s certainly quite an incongruous thing to find in a Hastings museum!
There were more usual ceramics, and bits and pieces found here and there, then the accoutrements of Grey Owl, who wasn’t actually a Native American but some bloke from Hastings, though still a renowned environmentalist (if a bigamist one…) There were clocks, and a disturbing room of taxidermy, and then the little shop. A strange mix indeed.
We had a change to say goodbye to Faith and family back outside, before setting off to walk across the hills of Hastings in search of more ducks.
We through wooded areas and streets, up hill and down (which at least gave some unusual views across the town below the hills). Eventually we found ourselves at Alexandra Park, a lovely, long park which looked splendid in the sunshine. We found a cafe in a little building beside the bandstand (complete with stop start brass band, who seemed to need thinking time between tunes). That provided lunch to fuel us to head up towards the rising north of the park, duck hunting of course. Among the trees we discovered the most wonderful Puck, a Midsummer’s Dream in the woods.
We enjoyed a slow stroll back through the really very pretty park before finding Double Duck next to a lake. Indeed, the lower part of the park is given over to lakes/reservoirs, forming an aquatic background to the lawns. There were ducks (real ones that is) and an awful lot of pigeons who got rather too close every time one tried to feed the ducks with the food we’d bought in the cafe. Further down there was more human interest as a young girl lost a ball in one of the lakes and we had the pleasure of watching her father(?) encouraging her to go in and get it back despite the icky pondweed Disturbingly, he would insist on telling passers-by that he was going commando so couldn’t do it himself!.
Leaving the park behind we headed downhill towards the sea, calling into a deserted little group of huts which presumably on a weekday form an interesting little independent market. We could still see Hastings Flag Vs The Seamonster (one hell of a name) out in the surrounding courtyard however. Further down the steep hill, there were a couple of Ducklings in yet another shop window before we finally reached town proper once more, and stumbled into The Albion. There we sat for a while, taking in the woman’s Euro Finals on my phone.
We left before the end of the game, heading back towards the hotel but making a concerted effort to finally find Day Of The Duck. As England scored we eventually realised it was hiding down the dark, dingy alley that had seemed a building site. It was worth finding (and the actual courtyard it was in was quite nice), but we were tired and annoyed it had been so difficult.
We walked back to the hotel and had dinner there before retiring and admiring the pretty sea before bed
The ducks weren’t just in Hastings, but scattered further afield down the coast as well. So we took a train westward, to a little bit of seaside we hadn’t visited before. Bexhill is a little hop away, with a short walk to a pretty shopping street. There were, almost inevitably, ducklings along the way. One hiding in a leafy cafe, and a couple in the library (surrounded by several duck themed books, and several little plastic ducks). We noodled around some of the shops on the way back towards the sea—being particularly taken with the local artist collective selling out of Starlings (even if they were quite surprised to actually sell a I <3 cows magnet).
Down by the sea again we found our first disappointment. An empty plinth stood where Ducking And Diving should be, sadly away for repair. Fortunately we were quickly cheered up by Spots And Bolts, and the wonderfully playful Tea And Quackers just a little further along. Enjoying the sunshine we made a loop around, stopping off to peer in the window of Bexhill Museum (closed, so we didn’t get to experience whatever strange exhibits it might hold) at the ducklings there. The museum sits on the edge of a nice, well used park, the pathways through leading us back towards town. Along the way was another duck, the duck covered Duckin’ And Divin’ Yes, a different duck to the missing one sitting by the tennis courts. There was also another sadness, the empty plinth of If Only He’d Ducked.
We found ourselves back in the town centre and rested in the Wetherspoons, which looked more impressive outside than in (though the balcony on the way to the toilets was interesting). We stayed long enough to get our energy back and then headed off back down the road to find more ducks.
Bexhill is probably most famous for its impressive De La Warr Pavilion, a splendid modernistic building sitting overlooking the sea. We skirting round it to find ducks sitting outside. First was Banana Duck, shining yellow with psychedelic fruit.
Inside the Pavilion itself, among the modernist architecture, a little duckling sat on the stylish glass fronted stairs Harmony looking happy in the bright day. We took in the views before heading back down to meet Duck a l’Orange beside a strangely out of sync sundial.
There were a few more shop windows to peer through, taking in a scattering of ducklings, before we returned to the Pavilion and the cafe overlooking the sea. That was very relaxing indeed, so we felt invigorated to carry on along the coast, following the sea back the way the train had brought us. A little way along we found Flying Start, which taught us about the first British motor race, making Bexhill the birthplace of British Motor Racing.
The weather was beginning to close in a little but we pressed on, passing rows of beach huts with the grey sea until coming to the appropriately named Under The Sea, adorned with octopus and jellyfish and other creatures. We went on, rising up and over a cliff edged hill, finding a stone to mark the start line of that first motor race, and heading alongside the railway line we’d travelled along that morning. There we found a dog waiting for a train to go by so it could race alongside it! And after what seemed quite some time, another duck, Cyber Duck a little steampunkish futuristic take on the theme.
There was some debate then. Bexhill now lay quite some walk behind us, while in front, about an equal distance, lay St Leonards. We debated returning the way we’d come and getting a train but in the end decided to press on, the station ahead as far as the station behind it would transpire Heather’s idea was to walk all the way though!. So carry on we did, and while the walk was fine and certainly blew the cobwebs away (and the weather became sunnier again) there were times we wished for a little more variety in the scenery. And we were certainly ready for a rest by the time we reached the gardens which had formed the end of our long walk from the other direction a few years before. And of course we ended up in the same pub, The Bo-Peep being just as we remembered it.
Rested we headed out to find the bulk of the remaining ducks. We’d actually glimpsed the first as we passed through the gardens just before, for in there sat Sirens Of Hastings, replete with a bit of a dodgy looking mermaid and seagull. From there we followed the coast a little before turning in land, and uphill. Passing amusing artwork on street furniture we reached St Leonards Gardens, which are as very pretty, and steep, as we remembered them (no egg rolling down the hills this time though). We trekked upwards, finding in a little niche the wondrously named Aristolochia Grandiflora, a pale blue duck covered in flowers.
Just beyond the very top of the gardens is the hospice the whole trail was in aid of, so of course St Michael’s Hospice had their own duck, the poster duck of the build up, Pride Of Hastings, decorated with Hastings and St Leonards landmarks—and complete with eyepatch—sitting in their gardens.
That proved the turning point in the hill climbing, following the road around to come tumbling back down the hillside heading once more for the sea. We past a couple of interesting looking churches on the way down, before finding more shop window ducklings and stopping off in the lively Old England (warm enough still to sit outside).
Down into Warrior Square Gardens and there was a last duck in the area to collect, the Bayeux Tapestry inspired The Bayduck Tapestry, which replaced the Normans with a bunch of busy ducks. From there the final stroll along the seaside, through Bottle Alley, seemed short, quickly enough reaching the hotel. We were worn out, and it was getting late, so we ventured no further than the Wetherspoon for dinner before getting some much earned rest.
There was a slight sadness in Tuesday in that it was our last real day, and we really were running out of ducks. Still, there was one duck to see, for Fire Quacker had returned from the quacks just in time for us to revisit the little pop-up shop and see him outside. It was a duck worth waiting for too, fireworks on a deep purple colour. Having collected the last we wandered to the Hastings Arms again, sitting outside to watch the world going by. We’d booked lunch at old favourite Webbes, which was nice but we’d probably misjudged how hungry we’d be as there was too much.
We walked dinner off with an interesting visit to the lifeboat house, marvelling at the truly impressive bits of kit that the modern boats are—and at the bravery of those who operate them both now and in the past. There is always something to cheer us up in Hastings though, so it was back to the crazy golf to do all the courses—though not all at once. We did one and then retired to the Pumphouse before having a go at the second, then again saved the third up. It was Hastings Old Town Carnival week, with events happening on and off around our stay. One event was winkle tossing—attempting to throw winkles into variously sized pots and receptacles. We watched a bit and Heather even had a go, before we left it to the experts to go sit outside the Dolphin.
Another event we stumbled across was the cycle hill climb, a time trial to make it up Crown Hill—if you can manage it! Some of the competitors were certainly impressive in their athleticism, though one or two not so much! Having watched quite a bit of that we finished the crazy golf and went for a final rest in the hotel.
For once we didn’t really hang around the next morning either—we’d done the duck and headed home.
Many more photos were taken as usual.