Friday, November 26, 1999

Walk 10 -- Pevensey Bay to Bexhill

Ages: Colin was 57 years and 202 days. Rosemary was 54 years and 343 days.
Weather: Watery sunshine with a stiff breeze from the south-west. Bracing!
Location: From Pevensey Bay to Bexhill.
Distance: 5 miles.
Total distance: 78 miles.
Terrain: Nearly all shingle, it was hard going!
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: None!! (Colin forgot to bring his ‘real ale’ guidebook, and since we didn’t pass any pubs at all we didn’t bother--things must be going downhill!)
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove to Pevensey Bay and picked up the walk from the same part of the beach where we had left it last time.
At the end, we left the prom at Richmond Road in Bexhill and walked up to Collington station where we caught a train back to Pevensey. While Colin walked across the fields to Pevensey Bay to pick up the car, I went into the castle again to take some photographs. After a cup of tea (from our flask) in the car park by the castle we drove home.

We took a chance with the weather today because the forecast was for gales and lashings of horizontal rain for the whole of the country—except the South-East. Our gamble paid off as we only had to contend with a stiff breeze from behind which actually helped to push us along, one of the reasons why we had decided at the outset of this venture that ‘anticlockwise is the preferred route’—the alternative title to ‘Turn Left at Bognor Pier’. Due to the wind, the sea was very rough and exciting so we both thoroughly enjoyed today’s hike.
We started off by walking on shingle at the top of the beach, and unfortunately this continued until we hit the western end of the prom at Bexhill—almost all of today’s walk. Pevensey Bay has no promenade of any description yet it is a beach of enormous historical importance. In October 1066, William of Normandy landed here with his armies and proceeded to defeat the then occupants of the British Isles, the Saxons, at the famous Battle of Hastings a few days later. That event, 933 years ago, was the last time these islands have succumbed to a foreign power—though Henry VIII’s Tudor Navy fought off the Spanish Armada nearly 500 years ago (as evidenced by numerous forts along this southern coast), NapolĂ©on Bonaparte had a good try at conquering us approximately 200 years ago (as evidenced by the plethora of Martello towers along this stretch of coastline) and Adolph Hitler also had a good go nearly 60 years ago (as evidenced by umpteen concrete blocks we are always tripping over and numberless ‘pillboxes’ stinking of pee which line this coast!)
What amazed us was that we found no reference whatsoever to the Norman landings anywhere on our Walk, just numerous unfriendly notices saying Private or claiming a stretch of shingle as a Private Beach (I’m not sure of the legality of this). Today only a couple of windsurfers braved the sea which was quite courageous of them because it was very rough. Even Colin remarked that it was not an ideal day for canoeing the waves!
As we began our Walk on the shingle we found we were being followed by a large caterpillar-type digger and had to move out of its way as it passed us to join a second one a few yards further on; then we heard another one behind us! We skitted past the first two, then looked back to see all three of them lined up menacingly behind us as if they were going to start a race to see who could run us down first! But not so, for their drivers just sat back chatting to each other—it’s what you call a day’s work! Fortunately for us, at least one of these machines had previously been driven several miles along the top of the shingle, almost to Bexhill, and had packed down hard a double path making it much easier for us to walk. I don’t know if my so-recently broken leg would have stood up to 4½ miles of shingle walking if it hadn’t been for those caterpillar tracks.
For all their Private notices, the inhabitants of the beach properties had suffered in the recent weather—we wondered if they had foolishly bought their bijou residences in the balmy summer months. Shingle was heaped up in their Private gardens, sandbags were piled against patio doors, windows were replaced by sheets of wood and one house had a smashed window with several mattresses piled up behind it! Why do people live so close to the sea and think it will always be Summer? A few weeks ago there was a freak storm along this part of the coast, they called it a mini-tornado. It caused havoc! The three diggers we had left behind ‘working’ so hard had obviously been employed to bank up the shingle and minimise the damage. I remarked that if the owners of these properties did lay claim each to their own bit of ‘private’ beach then I hoped they were equally willing to pay the costs of the maintenance of same.
Even today with the tide right in, the waves occasionally splashed over the top of the shingle and gave me a fright at one point—I had to run for it to avoid a shower (and Colin laughed, but then he would!) All this land has been reclaimed from the sea anyway because 2000 years ago when the Romans built the fort at Pevensey which is now one mile inland, they built it on the coast. The fort has not moved, it is the coast which has because the marsh silted up and was eventually drained for farmland.
Further east the houses and bungalows gave way to beach huts, and here we could see even more storm damage. Some were full of shingle, some were partially collapsed and one or two were simply piles of driftwood. Colin public-spiritedly tried to fix the swinging door of one, but the bolt no longer met and all he could do was prop it up with a stick. He said there was a lot of bedding inside which will ruin if it continues to get wet; it looks as though the owners never think to check on their possessions once the season is over.
We kept stopping to watch the sea. The waves were enormous and with the sun shining behind them it was a glorious sight! We passed a Martello Tower with a Danger – Keep off notice affixed to it, then huddled behind a wall facing inland to eat our sandwiches and were only partially successful in getting out of the wind. We didn’t stay long, and were disappointed to find that the public conveniences there were locked—perhaps they don’t think of the needs of mad people like us on our epic trek.

Further on we started to pass the first houses of Bexhill. At least they were built a little higher than sea level, but even there we were noting the erosion of the sandy hills they were built on and concrete garden features of yesteryear which had slipped somewhat. The caterpillar tracks suddenly stopped in a pile of shingle, but we were very relieved to find that a concrete prom began just a few yards further on. Colin tried to kid me that there was a notice saying ‘private promenade for residents only’ but I was not taken in. Although walking was now considerably easier, even here the prom had practically disappeared under shingle brought up by the sea, but we managed to find a path through.
We stopped to look at a street plan and wanted to compare it with our own map so we could find out the location of the station. Our own map needed folding to the next part and we nearly lost it in the wind while attempting to do this. We dashed between some beach huts in order to fold it up again. About fifty yards before our turning the prom suddenly sloped downwards and disappeared under the shingle, so we climbed up to the grass behind the beach huts (again marked Private very prominently) because we were just too tired to wade through stones any more. We skittered round, squeezing out between a hut and a fence, jumped off a wall on to the beach and immediately climbed some steps on to a brand new tarmacked prom where there was a very clean public convenience which was open. Relief at last!

That ended Walk no.10, we shall pick up Walk no.11 next time at the public conveniences situated at the beginning of the newly surfaced prom in Bexhill. We returned to Pevensey by train and drove home.

No comments: