Saturday, June 03, 2000

Walk 12 -- Hastings, via Fairlight and Pett, to Winchelsea Beach

Ages: Colin was 58 years and 26 days. Rosemary was 55 years and 153 days.
Weather: Dull and overcast with just an occasional glimpse of the sun. Very warm and humid. Late afternoon it turned darker and darker, and eventually a fine drizzle began which was most unpleasant. There was not a breath of wind all day.
Location: From Hastings Pier to Winchelsea Beach.
Distance: 9½ miles.
Total distance: 93½ miles.
Terrain: Some grassy clifftops with three very steep glens to descend then climb out the other side, some gravel roads and tracks which were inclined to disappear over the cliff edge! and finally 2½ miles of narrow sea wall spattered with loose shingle which was very exposed (that is when it started raining!) Not an easy walk.
Tide: In going out.
Rivers to cross: None, just a tiny stream in each of the three glens.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos. 11, 12 and 13 between Hastings and Fairlight.
Pubs: The ‘Smugglers Inn’ at Pett Level where we drank ‘Pett Progress’ which was OK and ‘Harvey’s Sussex Ale’ which wasn’t.
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No.6 on the Downs beyond Hastings where it looked as if the true path might fall into the sea at any moment. Nos. 7 and 8 in the village of Fairlight where the actual roads have fallen into the sea along with one or two houses!
How we got there and back:
We camped the night before on the outskirts of Hastings. We drove to Winchelsea Beach and parked right next to the sea wall. Then we walked ¼ mile up the lane to the village and caught a bus back to Hastings.
At the end, we drove back to our campsite in Hastings.

Would you believe it? Five days after Walk 11, I fell off my bike and broke my other leg!! Not a simple fracture either, I completely dislocated my foot and broke my ankle in three places. I was four days in hospital having a plate and seven screws put in the fibula and one screw in the tibia. Then followed six and a half weeks in plaster, all over the Christmas and Millennium celebrations, but after that my recovery was very speedy. I had just started my physiotherapy exercises when Maria asked if she could ‘experiment’ on me, she had recently learned a new technique at a chiropractic conference. She pulled my leg, literally, and when I got down off the bed I could walk normally and the aching had gone! It was amazing! She had stretched the tissue between the muscles which becomes tangled when it is immobile, she said, “I’m untangling your fascia!” Subsequent visits to the doctor put all these accidents down to ‘bad luck’. He said there is no way I have osteoporosis or anything else the matter with me (least of all bad drinking habits!) so to go away and stop being so careless!
So, with both legs full of metal now, and with my new spring-loaded trekking sticks, we started this walk about a hundred yards east of Hastings Pier which is still closed six months later because no one can decide what to do with it. We walked down to the fishing boat pound where there is a little stone quay, but even that is half washed away. We then walked past a number of very tall black sheds which used to be used for drying nets but are now mostly empty and unused. A notice by ‘English Heritage’ stuck on them told us they are going to be preserved using European Union money, so at least that part of Hastings is not going to rot.
The quickest way up to the cliff path was by using the cliff railway, so we bent the rules a little so that we didn’t have to walk round—after all it is practically a vertical ride, it didn’t take us along any distance. The girl in the ticket booth made us both buy a return ticket for 80p each even though we said we weren’t coming down. At the top, Colin tried to give his ticket to some women who were waiting there to save them buying one, but they were foreign and didn’t understand—they probably thought he was a ticket tout—–or making a proposition!! We sat on a bench at the top to eat our lunch with a lovely view over the fishing boats far below. We couldn’t see how shabby Hastings is from up there!Then followed a long walk through Hastings Country Park. Now this really is beautiful, but then it is natural and so can’t get tatty very easily. The first glen is lovely, though steep to get down and get up—lots of steps. It doesn’t quite go down to sea level, Colin walked to the edge where the delightful little babbling brook goes over in a little waterfall. In a bush we saw a little green caterpillar hanging on a thread which was so fine it looked as if it was floating! A long walk followed along the top before we descended even further into the second glen. Coming up towards us was a family looking for a tea shop which they said they had seen a sign for at the bottom. We directed them inland because we knew there was no such establishment the way we had come—they did not look like walkers, especially the mother who said she was “all in!” When we got to the bottom, we found the sign they had seen; it was a bit ambiguous and they had taken the wrong path—I hope they found their tea shop!
There is a path by the stream at the bottom leading through the woods down to a secluded beach which I know is used as a nudist beach because when we were last here (four years ago) there was a sign up warning passers-by. The sign had gone, and I asked Colin if he was going to pop down to see. He said no, he wasn’t bothered (I think he was too tired for extra unnecessary mileage!) So we climbed the steep incline out of the glen again to the cliff tops, and that is where Colin got out his binoculars because you can just about see the beach if you lean very hard over the fence! He was disappointed—he could only see two men in the altogether, all the women he saw were clothed, in fact he was convinced that they were wrapped in Muslim type robes! While we were laughing about this and I was photographing Colin ogling, two teenage girls came along with their dog and began to discuss whether they would see anything ‘disgusting’ on the beach if they took the dog down. I told them they would be all right, though Colin was disappointed, because it seemed only the men down there had stripped off. They went off saying, “Oh no! We’ve just had our lunch!” but they went down anyway!
We could see a radar mast on top of the highest part of the Downs behind the trees ahead, and I thought that we had crossed all the glens (we had put the map away in my rucksack). We were very hot and tired, so we were aghast to discover a third gigantic glen hidden behind the trees! I insisted on sitting down and eating the second part of my lunch before tackling it. The radar mast gave off a loud hum which was very intrusive. The ‘Fire Hills’ beyond it is a beautiful place and it was a lovely afternoon. Lots of families were out enjoying the weekend with their children, but this continuous loud hum nearly drove us demented—it made us think that a flying saucer full of Martians was going to land at any moment! It was only as we left the Country Park and entered the village of Fairlight that the noise faded from our ears.
Fairlight was probably built well away from the cliff edge originally, in fact we saw an old map in a local pub the next evening which confirmed this. But now it is in real trouble! These cliffs are made of a loose sandstone which is no match for the sea. We walked along the un-made-up road between the houses and the clifftop. At first the clifftop was a field away, then it was quite near us, then the road ended dramatically in someone’s back garden which had half fallen into the sea! We had to retrace our steps and go along a couple of roads behind it. We remembered that when we first walked here eight years ago, the footpath had been diverted through this bloke’s garden (bet he was pleased!) because the real path had already gone. Since then there have been several large cliff falls and on the most recent maps the right-of-way has been diverted well inland, several roads further in than we actually walked. (Are they hedging their bets?) Now his garden is even smaller, and barred off with barbed wire and 'PRIVATE’ notices. He’s welcome to it, I wouldn’t live there!
Further east, even ‘Sea Road’ that we were walking on came to an abrupt halt with a wired up fence and 'KEEP OUT -- DANGER' notices all over the place. We looked over, and ‘Sea Road’ seemed to have gone home—for it had disappeared leaving a gaping great chasm for about twenty yards! We retraced our steps, walked along the road behind, then back along to the barrier on the eastern side where there were similar notices. Oh dear!! Last time we walked this way, four years ago, we were able to walk along that road.
We were very curious about a bungalow which had been built on the edge of the cliff without planning permission about five years ago, because it was new and empty when we walked here four years ago and we had asked a local woman about it. So today we asked an old gent who was in his garden, and he gave us all the low-down. He told us that it did have planning permission to be built there, but the owner then wasn’t given permission to live in it—which seemed to us to be very odd. He reckoned this chap lost a lot of money on it, and then he went and died. “Poor old John!” he kept saying. The bungalow was subsequently bought by the local doctor for his retirement and he has been happily living in it ever since, teetering on the edge of these crumbly cliffs! “He got insurance for it because it is classed as erosion, not cliff falls!” went on the old man. (Perhaps he thinks it won’t fall in the sea until after he’s dead, then it won’t be his problem anymore!)
We asked our informant if he wasn’t worried about living so close to the cliff edge himself. He got out a key and unlocked the gate opposite his back garden. I expect there was once a house there, but now it is just a two yard strip of brambles before the cliff edge. He told us that they had got together a Residents’ Association and insisted on coastal protection for their homes from the Local Authority. This had resulted in loads of large rocks being dumped in the sea a bit out from the cliffs, and now they are almost completely covered by shingle. “It’s the shingle that’s done it,” he told us, “now the sea never touches the bottom of the cliffs and we are confident that there will be no more falls.” He was very scathing about the houses on ‘the point’ as he called it. (He meant, in particular, the first house we had come to where the garden has practically all gone now.) “When we first wanted to form a Residents’ Association,” he said, “they didn’t want to know! Now look at them, all falling into the sea!” He didn’t exactly say, “Serve them right!” but we had the feeling he meant it!
Before we moved on, we had a look at ‘the Ark’, a house close by which has long since been abandoned. When we first came here in 1992 it was very near the edge with ominous cracks in the walls. On our next visit in 1996, it was still intact but the corner of the house was actually projecting over the cliff edge. Well, here in 2000 it is with us yet, but with magnificent sea views! The two walls leading to the corner have gone, splintered floorboards stick out over the cliff edge and the corner of the roof is very saggy! I wonder how an estate agent would describe it!All the while we were exploring the cliff dwellings of Fairlight, the sky was getting more and more grey until it almost seemed to be getting dark—but it was only half past five. We were very surprised it didn’t rain. As we started across some fields towards Pett Level, we met a group of people and were greeted with a cry of recognition from one of them—but it turned out that it wasn’t anybody we really knew. She had been in the shop on Winchelsea Beach this morning where I had gone to enquire about the bus and she had remembered me. Am I getting famous already?
As we descended through the woods towards the road at Pett Level, it did at last start to drizzle, and when we came out into the open it was time to don the wet weather gear. We were both very tired by then, and I declared that I couldn’t go on until I had had a good long rest. So we stopped at the Smugglers Inn which is a ‘real ale’ pub, but Colin was very scathing about it because it isn’t in his book of ‘good’ pubs. In the end he conceded that one of the beers he had wasn’t bad—condescending of him! We had hoped to eat there, but food didn’t start until seven and it was only a quarter to six.
After half an hour or so I felt better, so we braved the drizzle for our final 2½ miles along the sea wall. First we read a notice about a ship, the ‘Queen Anne’, which had floundered there sometime in the past and her hull could still be seen on the sands at low tide. It was low tide then, and there might have been something in the sand at the water’s edge where some people were dragging nets through the shallows (shrimp fishing?) but we reckoned if there was, it was so little to see that it wasn’t worth it and we were too tired and too wet to bother! It was horrible walking along that sea wall in the drizzle, though fortunately the wind was partly behind us, so we both walked as quickly as possible and got back to our car at Winchelsea Beach in less than an hour. That was when it stopped raining!

That ended Walk No. 12, we shall pick up Walk No.13 next time where the lane to Winchelsea Beach meets the sea wall. After changing out of our boots and partaking of a cup of tea from our flask, we drove off to find a pub for our evening meal before returning to our campsite.

No comments: