Alex van Terheyden
A London day out - Bexhill-on-Sea to Hastings
When the suns out and one has time on their hands, a perfect day out from the stresses of London is to head to the British Coast. On a recent, such a day, I took it upon myself to venture to East Sussex and take in the coast between Bexhill-on-Sea & Hastings. Both can be reached on a direct train from London in under an hour and if you book your ticket in advance via Trainline.com a considerable saving can be found in getting you there and back.
I decided to take the train to Bexhill-on-Sea and then walk East along the coast to Hastings. Google was calculating without stops that it would take me a couple of minutes over 2 hours. This walk would be considerably tamer compared to the walk I had done between Eastbourne & Seaford taking in the mesmerising seven sisters' coastal walk.
Bexhill or Bexhill-on-Sea is a seaside town and an ancient town, Bexhill is home to a number of archaeological sites, a Manor House in the Old Town and an abundance of Edwardian and Victorian architecture. Bob Marley's first-ever UK gig was at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill in July 1972. The De La Warr Pavilion is now home to an array of art exhibits and the occasional gig at least in pre-COVID days.
During the Norman Conquest of 1066, it appears that Bexhill was largely destroyed. The Domesday survey of 1086 records that the manor was worth £20 before the conquest, was 'waste' in 1066 and was worth £18 10s in 1086. The town was almost laid to waste again in the second world war. The Second World War caused the evacuation of the schools and substantial bomb damage to the town. Many schools returned to Bexhill after the war but there was a steady decline in the number of independent schools in the town. The break-up of the British Empire and in particular the Independence of India in 1947 hastened the process. Most of the schools were boarding and catered largely for the children of the armed forces overseas and of the colonial administration. Although the number of schools decreased, many of the parents and former pupils had fond memories of the town and later retired to Bexhill.
As a tourist in the 21st century, you could enjoy the various pubs dotted around the sleepy town full of retirees enjoying their peaceful lives. Sample the seafood which I decided to do in the form of oysters while contemplating if I deserved an ice cream just yet.
Walking away from Bexhill I walked up a hill known locally as Gally Hill. I couldn’t help but notice the parked cars that had retirees relaxing by the side of the road. The peacefulness of the elderly population was to a Londoner very noticeable. It still had an English feel to it, something which is sadly gone from large swathes of London and most cities that have felt the impact of the mass importation of people from around the world. Stroll down the other side of Gally Hill and past the lookout posts that once kept watch for small french men hoping to invade you get to Stoney beaches - very typically found on the south coast of England.
If you are lucky you will witness the tide being out. If this is the case, you will be able to walk out to sea - for a good hundred metres or so before you get to any depth of water at your shins. In the old days before the world was overpopulated and the seas were able to replenish themselves from what we took from them it wouldn’t be strange to see an array of sea life looking back at you. Now the South coast of England due to dredging and overfishing by all European nations is lacking in any sea life. Catching crabs and observing life in the rock pools that dot this area of coastline I think may now be a thing of the past. The day I was there, I saw no signs of life other than a few small sandworms hiding away in the muddy sand.
Like the Native American who sheds a tear when he sees the damage to the land he once knew this is how I look upon our oceans in 2020. Critics will sneer and say I best scurry along and join the Extinction Rebellion folk with their protests. And yet these folk may be annoying and cause disruption but they are sadly right - the world around us is dying. Especially the Oceans and we as a species are simply watching it wilt right in front of us.
As I walk away from the beach like an Anemic Native American pondering when the humans will wake up to their destruction I approach the town of Bulverhythe, also known as West St Leonards and Bo Peep. Bulverhythe is translated as "Burghers' landing place". It used to be under a small headland called Gallows Head, which was washed away by flooding. In 1749 a Dutch Ship was washed up to shore called The “Amsterdam” that set sail to Java but ended up running aground on the sandy strip in 1749. The remains can still be seen today at very low tide. I failed to really notice them despite the tide being out!
Walking further East along the coast you will notice an array of beach huts of various different sizes. Some on the beach and some slightly inland. Each beach hut jostling for the land it now possesses. Beach huts came into existence in early Edwardian days and since then have been a fixture on the British Coast ever since coming in and out of fashion every 10 years or so. With the current COVID Plandemic, the staycation for Brits has made them more popular than ever before. In trying to find out more about these bizarre sheds on the beach I discovered huts can be rented by the day and also week. Rental can range from £20-£100 a day depending on the hut and the week obviously a lot more. I’m not affiliated in any way to this company but if you are curious about renting a hut for a day you can visit the website beach-huts.com
Leaving the Beach Huts behind and still heading East you will encounter the town of St. Leonards on Sea. The original part of the settlement was laid out in the early 19th century as a new town: a place of elegant houses designed for the well-off; it also included a central public garden, a hotel, archery, assembly rooms and a church. Today's St Leonards has extended well beyond that original design, although the original town still exists within it. And today's residents are with the greatest respect anything but well off. Of course, some of the big houses remain and I’m certain there are many who sip their lattes while nodding along to the wretch of a newspaper the guardian but a huge chunk of the people who now live in St Leonards are on the poverty line. Crack & Booze have replaced Victorian pursuits of grafting and leisure. Bottle Alley may have gotten its name from the wall made of bottles but the floors all year long I’m told are strewn with bottles of booze.
Asylum seekers, drug addicts & the homeless are shipped down from London to stay in the numerous HMO’s that scatter the landscape. The old and retired who used to think this place was quaint and idyllic now avoid going out at night because of the Anti-Social behaviour of the dregs of society who are native & foreign-born. I have to admit the contrast here to Bexhill & later the manicured Hastings was telling. And as Queen Victoria’s statue looked on as life went by if the lady could see what was here today I think she might shed a tear in the winter months. The glorious sunshine can make anything presentable I do wonder though what winters must be like here.
Leaving St Leonards behind you connect with Hastings - In reality, due to the growth of the two towns, you wouldn’t know where one ended and the other began until you saw the sign. Both merge into one. However, it does become noticeable as you leave the Pier and the amusement rides behind Hastings becomes very picturesque and beautiful, especially in the oldest parts of the town. Money is very clearly here and neighbours keep up with the Jones by keeping their gardens as neat as can be making their miniature castles as presentable as possible.
Hastings gives its name to the Battle of Hastings, which took place 8 mi (13 km) to the northwest at Senlac Hill in 1066. It later became one of the medieval Cinque Ports. In the 19th century, it established itself as a popular seaside resort, as the railway allowed tourists and visitors to reach the town. Today, Tourism has dwindled but Hastings remains a fishing port with the UK's largest beach-based fishing fleet. It has an estimated population just shy of 95,000.
The start of the Norman Conquest was the Battle of Hastings, fought on 14 October 1066, although the battle itself took place 8 mi (13 km) to the north at Senlac Hill, and William had landed on the coast between Hastings and Eastbourne at Pevensey. It is thought that the Norman encampment was on the town's outskirts, where there was open ground; a new town was already being built in the valley to the east. That "New Burgh" was founded in 1069 and is mentioned in the Domesday Book as such. William defeated and killed Harold Godwinson, the last Saxon King of England, and destroyed his army, thus opening England to the Norman conquest. William caused a castle to be built at Hastings probably using the earthworks of the existing Saxon castle.
Hastings was shown as a borough by the time of the Domesday Book (1086); it had also given its name to the Rape of Hastings, one of the six administrative divisions of Sussex. As a borough, Hastings had a corporation consisting of a "bailiff, jurats, and commonalty". By a Charter of Elizabeth I in 1589, the bailiff was replaced by a mayor. Muslim scholar Muhammad al-Idrisi, writing in 1153, described Hastings as "a town of large extent and many inhabitants, flourishing and handsome, having markets, workpeople and rich merchants".
And as I ended my leisurely walk in Hastings having climbed the hill to the top of the castle and then in a local pub I pondered that hastings was still flourishing and its inhabitants were all on fine form despite being so close to its poorest neighbour who will one day have a lift and sort its act out.
If you are considering making a weekend out of it or simply think it wise to