A look at the map suggested this would be a rather urban walk so whilst I always enjoy a walk along the coast I did not have particularly high expectations for this walk. But I ended up enjoying it far more than I had expected to.
I drove down to Cooden Beach where I ended the last walk (this time via the A21 rather than the A22, which was a much better road). I parked in the free little car park on the sea front (though not sure if it’s still free so do check if you want to do the same!).
Although winter (it was mid January) it was another bright sunny and clear day which always makes a walk more enjoyable I find.
I walked the short distance down to the beach where a vehicle had clearly been shaping the shingle in some way (re-profiling is what I think it is technically called).
There is no footpath shore here so it was either a case of walk along the shingle beach or beside the B2182. I found that there was some firm sand near the shore line so the beach it was.
In places it started to become more shingle and get a bit heavier going but just as I was about to give up and head for the road there would become another bit of sand ahead. In fact the tide was going out and soon there was quite a bit of sand. To be fair this is marked on the map but somehow I always associate most of the Sussex coastal resorts as having shingle or pebble beaches so always seem to be surprised to find sand.
After a while though the sand again ended and it was back to shingle so I was pleased to see that un-noticed by me initially there was now a promenade so I could walk on that instead. There were low cliffs here with beach huts at the bottom of the cliffs adding a bit of colour.
Later the low grassy cliffs ended and there was a line of concrete beach huts. These could have been quite ugly but I rather liked the dazzling colour scheme that had been used.
I was clearly nearing the centre now as I soon passed this rather ornate and also colourful clock tower.
Just past that I had reached probably Bexhills’ most famous feature, the De La Warr Pavillion.
This was built in 1935 as an entertainment hall in the Art Deco style. It is a beautiful building and I do like this style of building which was almost exclusively built during the 1930s. By the 1980s it became rather run down even though it had by then been granted listed status. Happily, in 2002 it was granted Heritage Lottery funding to embark on a major restoration which had completed a few months prior to my walk. From the front it looked brand new and is quite a landmark.
I was also quite taken with the lower structure (an outdoor bandstand?) that was built in front of it along the sea front. Sadly although the building was in good condition the area around it was already becoming run down again.
Children were skateboarding over it making that irritating clatter whilst the area in front of the building was covered with broken glass and rubbish (as you can see below). A shame to see. Still you could go to the top and look out over the balustrade which was a nice touch.
It was also good to see that the pavilion was busy even during the day in January. I thought it was a lovely building.
A short distance beyond this were some nice Victorian buildings, probably originally hotels they now had shops below and I suspect flats above but looked well cared for.
By now I had passed the town centre so the promenade was becoming quieter again though there were still quite a number of grand buildings.
The promenade continued for a while as the buildings behind were now a bit further back. I was in for another pleasant surprise! From reading the map (badly, as it turns out) I had though all the coast along here was flat. So I was surprised to come across cliffs again! Lovely orange sand-stone cliffs.
This is Glyne Gap a small stretch of undeveloped coast between Bexhill and St Leondards.
Unusually there was still a sort of path, a line of concrete along the otherwise pebble beach meaning it continued to be easy walking. The cliffs were showing signs of erosion as the soil was very soft and you could see where trickles of water along the cliff face had eroded the cliffs.
The section of cliffs did not last for long, about half a mile at most. As I was walking below the cliffs I had spotted what looked like a footpath post on the cliff top so when I reached the end of the cliffs I could not resists turning back up the cliff path to the top of the cliffs too, for a view over the beach I had just walked along.
From the top it was more obvious that the profile of the beach behind the path was different and I realised perhaps the path was actually the top of what was once a sea wall and the shingle on the beach is now about the same height? I could also see St Leondards and Hastings ahead though another small area of cliff was to come.
Over this second lower section of cliff I stuck to the cliff top path instead.
The railway line was right behind too, so passengers on the train get to enjoy the view too. Soon the cliffs ended and I was now following a wide sand and gravel track between the railway line and some artificial boulders placed on the beach for coastal defence.
I passed some ugly buildings behind the chain link fence on my left which turned out to be a train depot. And odd place for train depot I thought where the trains were exposed to the salt from the sea all the time.
I had now reached the edge of St Leonards though there is not an obvious point where St Leondards ends and the next town, Hastings, starts because they have merged together.
The beach huts here were less garish than in Bexhill with gentle pastel tones and I liked the fact they were all different shapes and sizes.
In front of the beach huts I was beginning to see fishing boats too. These too were all different shapes and colours and it all made for an attractive scene.
After a while there was a promenade again, beside the road, so I followed that. A gap in the buildings on the sea front revealed this large church which was unusual I thought in being all brick rather than stone built.
St Leondards was clearly a grand resort and in fact still was as I passed this beautifully kept hotel looking very grand and well maintained.
Looking along the beach from here too I could see the end of Hastings Pier ahead. Just past this hotel the coast turned slightly left and I was now rounding the corner into Hastings. A colleague of mine at the time hailed from the town originally and didn’t have a good word to say about the place, so I was not expecting much. However it seemed a pleasant enough resort to me, with more Victorian buildings to my left and a shingle beach to my right.
Soon I reached the pier.
This was built in 1872. It had been very successful in the past but had been in gradual decay since the 1960s. Unbeknown to me at the time it had suffered major storm damage in 1990 and was eventually closed to the public in 1999. It had however re-opened in 2002 so I was able to walk along it. Although some of the metal supports looked quite rusty the pier did not seem to be in bad condition to me.
As is usual for me I took a walk to the end of the pier and enjoyed the view of the town catching the afternoon winter sunshine. It was all rather lovely.
Looking east too I was pleased to see high cliffs and hills towering over the town, something I had not expected to find.
I had planned to finish this walk at Hastings anyway as I was not sure if there was a bus from the next place along the coast (Fairlight Cove) and it was also quite a way away, so these cliffs would have to wait until next time, but it was good to know what lay in wait. I returned from the end of the pier back to the shore.
I was particularly glad I had made it to the end of the pier because it was partly closed to the public again 6 months later (in July 2006) and closed completely in 2008 and structural engineers suggested it was “one good storm away from collapse”. However 2 years later the pier suffered a major fire (suspected arson) that destroyed virtually all the buildings and left it a burnt out wreck. I remember seeing photos of the burnt out wreck with what seemed to me a rather optimistic “you can save me” banner along the side (preserved on Wikipedia). However amazingly this was not the end of the pier. Another recipient of Heritage Lottery funding (the Sussex coast has done well out of the lottery!) along with Council funding meant the pier could be compulsory purchased and a major renovation began in 2013 which completed in 2016. So it probably looks very different now but it is good to know it was saved.
A short distance past the pier along the promenade I was just in front of the town centre and railway station where I was going to take the train back to Cooden Beach. But it was a lovely day and I saw no need to hurry home. So I continued along the promenade past a car park and then a childrens play park. But I was surprised at what I came to next. Fishing boats and equipment all up the beach with some old wooden sheds behind, this time not beach huts but used (I think) to store the nets.
It turns out that whilst Hastings may not have a harbour it still has a large fishing fleet but the boats are pulled up onto the shingle beach! It all made for quite a sight and was quite unexpected to me. (I later found out that Hastings has the largest beach launched fishing fleet in the country).
It was a colourful scene and nice to be able to walk around the boats too. Behind too there was now high cliffs and a cliff lift operating up to the top.
The colourful boats continued along the beach to a breakwater which I walked a bit along to get a good view back at the town and most particularly the beautiful cliffs beyond. I had no idea the coastal scenery here was so good and I was already looking forward to the next walk.
Looking back at the cliffs I could see holes (caves, even) part way up the cliff face and I wondered if they had been used by smugglers in the past.
I had enjoyed this walk and having walked along the beach I now returned to the promenade to head back towards the town centre.
This led me to another pleasant surprise. These lovely owls on show to the public walking past!
This is Hastings Old town and the place was really busy. I loved the tall wooden sheds used for drying the nets.
Although I’m not a fan of sea food there were also numerous stalls selling the days fresh catch. It was I suspected a scene that had changed little in the last hundred years or so.
On reaching the road a look up the street suggested the rest of the Old Town would be as characterful as the sea front.
I decided to go for a walk around the streets of the old town with it’s beautiful timber framed buildings mixed in with later stone buildings and a pretty stone church.
It was a lovely place and beside the church I found steps up which gave me a view of the whole old town below me. It was a beautiful sight.
I climbed higher up West Hill which separates the more modern town centre from the old town. It was a lovely viewpoint where I could see over all the old town and back to the beach and fishing boats. Looking in the other direction too I could make out the roof of the railway station, my next destination.
From the station I did not have long to wait for a train back to Cooden Beach.
It was a short journey back and before heading home I headed back to the sea, as the sun was now getting close to setting.
The sea was remarkably calm and it was lovely to sit on the beach for a few minutes listening to the waves breaking over the pebbles and reflecting on an enjoyable walk.
It had been a walk of surprises this one. What I expected to be a fairly uninteresting walk turned into exactly the opposite. The lovely De La Warr pavillion, the unexpected cliffs east of Bexhill and finally what turned out to be the delights of Hastings. From conversations with others I had not expected much of Hastings but the old town is lovely. packed full of charm and character, beautifully looked after and with some lovely coastal scenery too. Hastings became (and still is) my favourite of the resorts in East Sussex and I’ve been back a few times since.
Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.
Southern Trains run twice an hour (Monday – Saturday) between Hastings and Cooden Beach, taking a little over 15 minutes. One of these trains runs on to Brighton via Eastbourne whilst the other runs to London Victoria via Eastbourne and Gatwick Airport. On Sundays there is one train an hour between Hastings and Cooden Beach which continues on to London Victoria via Gatwick Airport. The timetable is available here.
If the trains are on strike there is a regular bus between Hastings and Bexhill though a less frequent one from there onwards to Cooden Beach (you might be best off walking back to the coast from the A259 road to Eastbourne). Local buses are operated by Stagecoach.