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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.

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