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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.

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