Tuesday, December 14, 1999

Walk 11 -- Bexhill, via St Leonards, to Hastings

Ages: Colin was 57 years and 220 days. Rosemary was 54 years and 362 days.
Weather: Frosty start (we had to scrape thick ice off the car!) turning into a beautifully sunny day. Very cold out of the sun, but we were in it for most of the walk!
Location: From Bexhill to Hastings Pier.
Distance: 6 miles.
Total distance: 84 miles.
Terrain: Mostly concrete promenade, a little grass on low sandy cliffs and a mile of shingle walking which we hadn’t bargained on!
Tide: In.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: No. 7 at Hastings, but it was closed and we couldn’t go on it!
Kissing gates: None.
Pubs: The ‘Horse & Groom’ at St Leonards where we drank ‘Bombardier’ and ‘Harvey’s Pale’.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: None.
How we got there and back: We drove to Bexhill and parked the car near Collington station. After a cup of tea (from our flask in the car) we walked down to sea front to pick up the walk where we had left it last time.
At the end, we walked to Hastings station and caught a train back to Collington. After another cup of tea we drove home.

A couple of weeks ago we watched a favourite programme of ours on TV, a doodly sort of programme called ‘Coastal Ways’, and the subject that week was Bexhill! The ½ hour programme was made in August and doodled on about some of the people who live and work on the seafront there. Well, Bexhill seems to be a doodly sort of place in the Winter too, but all the businesses were locked up except for one cafĂ© and we didn’t see any of the people featured on the programme. The promenade is very pleasant and the whole place gives an air of being quiet and old-fashioned—really nice.
But we were in for a surprise! After stopping to eat our lunch on a sunny bench admiring the sea—it was beautiful with the sun shining brightly low in the sky and very little wind—we went over to read a notice and discovered that Bexhill is the home of motor racing in Britain! It all started in 1902 when some local rich people (in 1902 you had to be rich to own a motor car) started organising races along the sea front. The car that won was steam powered and called ‘The Easter Egg’ because it looked like one. It reached a speed of 54mph! That was a terrific speed for those days, most cars travelled at a top speed of 12mph. I wonder what the Grand Prix drivers of today would think, but I’m willing to bet that the 1902 drivers had more fun. When the prom came to an end we passed the starting line of those races which was marked by a plaque.
We climbed Galley Hill, which wasn’t much of a climb as it was a low sandy cliff, and found one of those direction finders at the top. We discovered how far we were from various places and which direction they were in, and that we were the same distance from Boulogne as we were from London. We also saw the direction of the ‘Royal Sovereign’ helicopter pad, and later on we could see a light flashing out from it in the gathering gloom of dusk.We descended to sea level again and were walking along a sandy path which seemed to get more and more narrow. Eventually we decided it would be easier to walk on the beach rather than fight our way through a thorn bush, so I leant on Colin’s shoulder to get down a very muddy slope to the shingle. My leg is fine for all normal activities now, but doesn’t take kindly to steep downhills especially when they are muddy. On the other side of the thorn bush the real path was blocked by a notice saying “Footpath closed. Please take alternative route.” Now they tell us!
Then followed a mile of shingle walking between the railway line and the occasional beach hut, some of which had been slewed at odd angles by the recent stormy weather. We tried walking in wheel tracks again, but it was easier this time to walk next to them. Colin was mildly sarcastic because I had described today’s walk as ‘easy’ as it would all be on concrete promenade—it had looked like that on the map but I was wrong.
As we stomped along we discussed the difficulties of our coastal walk so far, where we had been forced to walk long distances on shingle or go inland well away from the coastline because there is no official coast path in Sussex. All the way from Bognor we have been bombarded with a plethora of unfriendly notices saying “Private” or “No Access” or “Private Beach” or “Keep Out”, and we are certain that we had to extend our walk by four miles at Shoreham because a public footpath had a padlocked gate over it denying us access over some lockgates. The Government are supposed to be encouraging us all to lead healthier lifestyles, and you would think that in the overpopulated South-East, within easy reach of London, they would have an accessible right-of-way along a natural boundary such as the coast. It would not take much to make a walkable path along these shingle beaches, it might even help to ‘glue’ them together to withstand this increasingly stormy weather they keep threatening us with due to global warming.
They could even put a cycle path in as well to encourage us further, using the money they are saving on National Health because we are less likely to get ill! The scandal is the number of “No cycling” notices we have passed—it must be at least a hundred so far—as if cycling were some kind of criminal activity! If we had tried to do this venture as cyclists instead of walkers we would be on to a non-starter; it would be a case of break the law (Who was it said, “The law is an ass”?—Charles Dickens, I think) or risk life and limb on the roads where we seem to be invisible to all drivers no matter how bright and luminous our apparel.
Enough of this diversion, but while we were having a good moan we suddenly we stepped on to concrete. It was obviously the base of some structure long since demolished and we wondered what it had been. Looking on our ancient street map later we discovered it marked as a holiday camp and bathing pool. How miserable it looked today, and that went for the rest of our walk through St Leonards. Hastings was even worse! Dismal, derelict and demoralising were the kind of words that came to mind—the glorious English seaside gone to seed! I know it is Winter, but so it is in Bognor which is the archetypal ‘has-been’ resort. Hastings today makes Bognor look like the happening place!
We diverted in St Leonards to visit our ‘real ale’ pub, the Horse and Groom, which was quite pleasant but the beer was very ordinary. We returned down steep steps to the promenade, and as we approached Hastings Pier the lower prom went under cover which we thought was a brilliant idea. The inner walls had been decorated with broken coloured glass embedded in cement which was very effective—except that some idiots had tried to break the glass to make sharp and dangerous edges. I wonder what goes on in the minds of vandals that they have to try and spoil anything which is nice. (I am getting philosophical today!)
Colin remarked that the pier looked very ‘dead’ and that he hadn’t seen a single person walk along it. I remembered visiting Hastings about five or six years ago and thinking how jolly everything seemed to be on the pier and wondering if Bognor couldn’t learn a lesson or two on how to run such a structure. As we approached we saw what we had feared, the pier was closed ‘until further notice’ and completely barred off with huge iron fences. Colin asked a man who had just come through one of the padlocked gates and was locking it up behind him. He told us that he used to run one of the many businesses on the pier, but it went into liquidation last October owing £167000! People had until Friday to put in bids to buy it out, but it would need several million spent on it because the structure was in such a state. He pointed out the floorboards which had been prised up and broken off by the sea in the recent storms and it certainly did look in a terrible state, a miserable air of neglect hung about the place.
The demise of the British seaside—how sad!
We felt quite low then, despite a beautiful sunset—but it was only a QUARTER TO FOUR! How I hate this time of year when the day comes to a close in the middle of the afternoon. The tide was right in and splashing against the seawall. I looked over just as an extra large wave came in, and Colin laughed as I leapt back with a shriek to avoid getting wet. I stayed dry, but almost fell over because my leg still does not like those sort of sudden movements. We walked about a hundred yards further before turning inland and making for the station.

That ended Walk No. 11, we shall pick up Walk No. 12 next time at the same spot on Hastings promenade, just East of the derelict pier. We caught a train from Hastings back to Collington where we had parked our car and then drove home.

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