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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Walk 84 Hastings to Bexhill

Walk   84 Hastings to Bexhill

(Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End)

Map: L/R 199
Distance: about 5 miles or 8km
Difficulty:  A few steep parts but fairly easy on the whole
Terrain: footpaths, pavement and beach.
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Rail and bus links between the two towns.

This is a relatively short walk which allows some time for visits to the attractions in both towns. The walk is straightforward out of Hastings and St Leonards it then follows paths/beach alongside the railway line then cliffs into Bexhill. The route is not fully evident on the map.

Start at Hastings Pier. There are some impressive buildings to be seen including the ex Grand Hotel which is now apartments. On the beach are a series of mostly wooden groynes. In the Middle Ages Hastings became one of the Cinque Ports (the town was allowed trading privileges in exchange for helping to provide the British Navy). In the 13th century much of the town was washed away by the sea. The next century saw the French invade twice and burn the town. Like many coastal towns it remained a fishing village until the advent of the railways in Victorian times built up its popularity as a holiday destination.

Several famous people have connections with Hastings, these include: Robert Tressell who wrote his brilliant book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists when living here; Gareth Barry the footballer who was born in the town; Jo Brand the comedian who went to a Hastings school; Harry H Corbett, the Steptoe and Son actor who lived and died here. Perhaps the most famous connection is with John Logie Baird who made the first TV transmission in Hastings in 1925. Hastings Museum has more information on how the town became known as the home of TV. The area is popular for film locations including its use for the TV series Foyles War.

Walking out of the main part of Hastings and towards St Leonards, a large, curvilinear building can be seen near the seafront. This block of flats, built in the 1930s, was designed to reflect the grandeur of an ocean liner but some locals call it ‘Monstrosity Mansions’.

Two other significant landmarks in St Leonards are the church and Warrior Square. The town takes its name from the old church which was demolished in medieval times. The modern town was designed in the 19th century by the London architect James Burton who was also for constructing the Anglican church. This building was destroyed by a V1 ‘doodlebug’ World War 2 and was replaced by the current impressive building you can see now; ­it is listed by English Heritage for its architectural importance.

Follow the road, paths and beach out of St Leonards towards Bulverhythe. On this part of the walk, very large sections of rock acting as sea defences dominate the beach. Bulverhythe has a few small boats pulled up on to the beach and a large number of beach huts. Bulverhythe is translated as ‘Burghers landing place’ (a burgher normally referring to a wealthy citizen). The village is also known by a few other names including the rather odd ‘Bo Peep’. Remains of a ship called the Amsterdam can be seen at very low tide – this was on its way to Java in 1749 before coming to grief.

The path approaching Bexhill goes alongside the railway line and past Galley Hill. The first motor car races in the UK started here in 1902 and finished in Bexhill. Thousands of people came to watch cars travelling around 50mph when the speed limit on the road was just 12mph. The last competition was held in 1925 after which racing was not allowed on public roads. These events led Bexhill to become known as the home of motor racing. Classic car shows are still held annually to celebrate the town’s past. A metal sculpture near to the seafront is an artistic impression of the record breaking ‘Easter egg’ car driven by Leon Serpollet in the 1900s.

Further along the front are some single storey houses with unusual oriental domes. A local told me these were built by a Maharaja living in the town. I have been unable to confirm this.

No visit to Bexhill is complete without a visit to the De La Warr Pavilion on the front. In late Victorian times the seventh Earl De La Warr transformed the village of Bexhill into an exclusive seaside resort. This is reflected in the many examples of Victorian architecture to be seen around the town. The ninth Earl De La Warr had the pavilion built as a public building in 1935. The ‘art deco’ and modernist designs have resulted in it being listed. It was reopened in 2005 after a couple of years of refurbishment and now houses a contemporary arts centre. The local museum has further information with particularly helpful staff willing to talk to you  e.g. they told me that the family prefer the pronunciation ‘De La Ware’ rather than ‘De La Warr’. On the coast side of the pavilion is an outdoor structure for performers. A local told me it was impractical as the performers suffered from uncomfortable back drafts from the sea breezes.

Two more notable landmarks near the sea front are the clock tower, which was built to celebrate the coronation of Edward V1,1 and a pitch and putt course with information about the famous local golfer Max Faulkener (born 1916). He was known as the ‘Clown Prince of Golf’ as he chatted to the spectators and dressed in bright yellow. Other famous people with Bexhill connections include: Eddie Izzard the comedian who is patron of the local museum; Spike Milligan who spent some of his army time here and wrote about the town in one of his books; Ted Lowe the snooker commentator who lived here until his death in 2011.

Snaps show: the performance structure at The De La Warr pavilion, Bexhill; the Easter Egg car sculpture, Bexhill; St Leonard's Church; Warrior Square, St Leonard's; Galley Hill, Bexhill.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Walk 83 Winchelsea Beach to Hastings (East Sussex)

Walk   83 Winchelsea Beach to Hastings (East Susses)

(Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End)

Map: L/R 189 and 199
Distance: about 10 miles or 15km
Difficulty:  Moderate, flat to start with some strenuous steep cliff walking in the second part
Terrain: footpaths and pavement.
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Bus 344 every hour Mon – Sat connects Winchelsea Beach with Hastings; much restricted service on Sunday.

The walk along the sea wall from Winchelsea, which is parallel with the road, provides a good view of the beach and the Pett Levels inland. After about a mile or so there are some lakes which come close to the edge of the road. These are the Colonel Body Memorial Lakes. I have read that he was the Deputy Lieutenant of Kent in 1945 and that he died suddenly in the same year. There used to be a tram way along this section which was used when the sea defences were constructed in 1934. Although the track was removed in the 1950s I have heard that there is still some evidence of its existence.

The last part of the flat walk finishes at Cliffs End. The eastern end of the beach is dominated by the sandstone cliffs. At low tide the remnants of an ancient submerged forest can be spotted by those who know what they are looking for.

The next part of the walk begins on the cliff but soon enters the roads of a housing estate.  The roads towards the cliff edge were blocked off due to erosion and there appeared to be no access to Fairlight Cove. However, I spotted an A4 sheet of paper pinned to a fence saying ‘Nudist beach this way’!

The path passes along the cliff top through Fire Hills which is believed to get its name from the bright yellow gorse which grows there in April and May. The hills are part of Hastings Country Park, an area of special scientific interest and outstanding beauty. It is popular with families and others enjoying an afternoon walk. A visitors’ centre provides more information about the fauna, flora and geology of the area.

Further along, Hastings Pier, then the old town become clearly visible. At the end of the walk you could choose whether to walk down or use the East Cliff Lift. This was opened in 1903 and is the steepest funicular (i.e. using two counter balanced carriages) railway. There is a further Cliffside lift on the West Cliff which takes visitors to the castle and Smugglers’ Corner attraction. The castle was first built in 1068 by William the Conqueror and made into a stone structure after 1070. William is supposed to have had his first meal near Hastings although the actual Battle of Hastings was at Battle six miles inland. The seafront at the bottom of the cliffs provides good views back to Covehurst Bay.

Soon the walk passes through the old fishing part of Hastings. Fishing boats or ‘luggers’ (from the 4 sided lugsails once used) are pulled up on to the shingle beach on rollers. The catch is auctioned most mornings from the ‘net shop’. The tall wooden buildings were built in the 19th century to store fishermen’s nets and ropes. Some are converted boats and so built to make best use of the limited beach space. The Hastings Fishermen Museum is well worth a visit for more information.

Continue the walk past the attractive sea front buildings and pedalo pool towards Hastings Pier where the walk finishes.

When I walked this section the pier was closed as it was deemed unsafe. However, soon after this (in 2010) there was a serious fire which destroyed 95% of the structure. Efforts are being made to reinstate it but so far nothing tangible has happened. (Update opened in 2016). The pier was built in 1872 and was very popular in the 1930s and again in the 1960s when several pop groups used it as a venue.
Snaps show: The Firehills; Covehurst Bay; Old Town, Hastings; fishermen's huts, Hastings; two views of the pier before the fire.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Walk 82 Camber Sands to Rye and Winchelsea Beach (E Sussex)

Walk   82 Camber Sands to Rye and Winchelsea Beach  (East Sussex)

(Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End

Map: L/R 189
Distance: about 11 miles or 16km
Difficulty:  Fairly easy – flat, some beach walking
Terrain: footpaths, pavement, beach
Access: Parking at both ends
Public transport: Bus 100 links Camber Sands to Rye and other towns; Bus 344 links Winchelsea Beach to Rye and other towns (both Mon – Sat check with Traveline).

From Camber, walk east to Jury’s Gut Sluice - an odd name which I have tried to research but with no luck. From this point you can see (and probably hear) the Lydd firing ranges which make the beaches from here to Dungeness too dangerous to walk. Walk back towards Camber along Lydd Road and its views of Broomhill Sands.

Camber Sands is a very popular place for families and wind surfers. Film directors often use it for location filming. For example, the 1962 war film The Longest Day starring Robert Mitchum was filmed here as the setting for the Normandy Beaches. During World War 2 the beach was fortified (some examples can still be seen around the area including alongside the River Rother) and used for military exercises.

It is worth a walk along the sands and alongside the Rother up to the point it enters Rye Bay. However, take care if the tide is coming in as you can get stranded on sand banks. Follow the path northwards back towards Rye, past Rye Harbour and into the town. It is interesting to look around Rye with its cobbled streets and its medieval buildings.

Rye stands at the confluence of the rivers Rother, Tillingham and Brede. In medieval times it was an important port providing ships for the service of the king. In the 18th and 19th centuries smuggling gangs such as the notorious Hawkhurst Gang used inns such as The Mermaid and Old Bell Inn – making use of secret passages. Apart from the general charm of the town, attractions such as the Castle Museum and Lamb House provide an informative background to its history and life. Many writers were attracted to live at Lamb House including Henry James and E F Benson.  Other famous residents in the area of Rye have included Tom Baker, Paul McCartney and Spike Milligan.

Take the Saxon Shore Way out of Rye and across the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. The wide range of habitats on the reserve is home to a variety of animal and plant species. Camber Castle is a couple of miles along the path. It can only be visited by a pre-arranged tour with English Heritage. It was built by Henry V111 to protect Rye Harbour. It was disbanded in 1637 and is now a ruin.

The walk finishes at Winchelsea  Beach which is about two miles south of the town of Winchelsea. Looking inland from the sea wall is a large field. This was once a harbour built at considerable expense in the 1700s. It was to replace Rye Harbour a few miles away but was a financial disaster. It lasted just 3 months before it silted up and was never used again.
Snaps show: Winchelsea Beach; the old harbour at Winchelsea Beach; Broomhills Sands; Rye Harbour entrance.