142. Hastings to Rye

February 2006

This was a lovely walk taking in a wild unspoiled and hilly area of coast, dramatic scenes of coastal erosion and a port that is now marooned inland.

I started from home and drove down to Hastings via the M25 and A21. I parked at a car park on the sea front just west of the old town and boating lake. From here I turned left to return to the old town where I had walked last time. Route finding looked to be easy as more or less straight away I had another long distance path to follow, almost a coast path in fact. It was the Saxon Shore Way and it is a route I’ll be seeing quite a bit of in the walks ahead. It follows the route of the coast as it was in Roman times from Gravesend in Kent to Hastings. So in places the route is in line with the coast now but in other places it is actually inland, giving an idea of how the coast has changed.

I reached the pretty area I had reached last time with the old sheds for drying fishing nets and the beach launched boats.

Hastings

But I realised I had missed the way up onto the cliffs. So I returned along the road and turned right into All Saints Street. Here I could soon turn right into Crown Lane and then the beginning of the path up onto the cliffs.

I had been pleased to see cliffs on my last walk so I was looking forward to this stretch. The path initially tarmac climbed up steps to a fine viewpoint where I could enjoy the views over the old town and the pier beyond.

Hastings old town

Hastings Old Town

For those wanting an easy way to the cliff top there was also a cliff lift. Except there wasn’t.

Hastings Cliff Lift

Glad I hadn’t tried to use it then!

Beyond the viewpoint the path soon became quiet, most people seeming to only walk up here for the view then return back down. I soon had the old town and harbour below me and this soon ended at a large breakwater. The tarmac path soon ended and I was on a lovely coastal path.

Hastings Country Park

It was easy to follow and right along the coast along the top of cliffs, steep enough to need steps in places something I could not think I had experienced on the mainland since Dorset! It was rural too as ahead along the cliff tops all I could see were fields and bushes, it was lovely.

In fact it turns out I had entered Hastings Country Park. I always find the name “Country Park” to be very confusing. Is it a park? Is it countryside? As far as I can tell a Country Park is basically an area of countryside with a large (pay) car park, a visitor centre, often (though not here) a cafe and some well marked walking trails (probably marked on a leaflet you can get from the visitor centre). Anyway whatever it is, it is lovely.

In fact it reminded me a bit of the South West Coast Path with a lovely path going across the steep cliffs. An indeed as so often on that path I was soon descending steps into a deep valley, Ecclesbourne Glen.

Ecclesbourne Glen

This was a very steep valley, reminiscent of the chines on the Isle of Wight. The valley exists because of the stream and at the wooded base of the valley you can cross the river. There is a path down to the beach too but it is currently closed. I think it was when I did this walk too. However I did go down there a few years ago when following another walk. And I’m so glad I did. The path was intermittently open between 2013 and 2015 but is now closed again. So allow me to indulge in a few photos taken on that day at a point when it was open.

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The beach is shingle with some rocks but some of the rocks have the most amazing geology with these beautiful patterns in the stone. A real shame you can’t get down there now and it’s a shame the local council seem not to be persuaded to open the path (claiming danger from landslips).

IMG_4375

It was a steep climb back up the other side too, with more steps. As I began to climb looking back there was now virtually no sign of Hastings, other than the end of the breakwater, it was now hidden behind the hills.

Ecclesbourne Glen

The cliffs too were stunning with the yellow sand stone visible and the rocks that have eroded from them at their base.

The coast near Ecclesbourne Glen

Once back at the top of the cliffs though the path was gentler and just followed the undulations of the cliffs. It was nice to be walking on high cliffs again and away from towns and roads.

Near Fairlight Glen

In less than a mile I was soon descending again, into another pretty wooded valley. This one is Fairlight Glen and the path is soon descending steeply down into the valley. No sooner was I out of the woodland and at the top of the cliffs and it was back down again into the third glen, Warren Glen.

Coverhurst Bay

It was another partly wooded valley but less steep than the previous ones and I was soon back on top of the cliffs again. Inland there was soon some sort of odd radar tower visible just behind the path. I believe it is part of a coast guard station. Looking back I could admire the views of this fabulous stretch of coast and the high cliffs I had been walking over.

Coverhurst Bay

Sadly this beautiful area of coast was coming to and end, but what a lovely walk to have so close to the town. The country park ended rather abruptly on a residential road, soon with bungalows on the left. In fact the road itself was odd too being un-surfaced and gravel. I had reached the western edge of the village of Fairlight Cove. The Saxon Shore Way continued along this quiet road but soon the road ahead became a dead end and the path turned inland.

The reason was clear – the village was suffering badly with coastal erosion as the cliffs are soft here. House at the end of the road had I think already fallen off the cliffs. So I turned along the road inland and then took the first road on the right, Bramble Way. Here, rather unexpectedly, I bumped into colleagues from work coming the other way. Surprising given that they lived in Kent, me Surrey and we worked in London! After a brief chat (my colleagues were, unsurprisingly, looking for a pub)  we continued our separate ways.

Ahead oddly the tarmac soon ended again. The official route of the Saxon Shore Way now is to turn inland though I don’t know why. I ignored it and continued on the track ahead (Rockmead Road). This had a sign saying no vehicles except for access though there was no indication it was private (though, oddly the speed limit increased to 60mph!). This road followed parallel with the coast, though out of sight for a while then turned left inland. Soon I could turn right onto a footpath which emerged at the end of Sea Road. Only part of this road still exists now as it has been cut into two dead-end roads by erosion.

On my right here at the end of the path there was another path to the right marked with this sign.

Fairlight Cove beach access

Well I wasn’t going to let that put me off because despite the signs it was clear it gave access to the beach and was still well used. So I ignored the notice and followed the path down to the beach. It was a lovely beach too, with a lot of sand as well as some shingle and rocks. Ahead there were some boulders put down presumably in an attempt to reduce the erosion though there was still sand below them. I decided rather than continue on the residential roads I’d follow the beach the rest of the way as it looked likely you could get round and there was access to the beach again and road a little under a mile ahead.

But on coming down to the beach I was very surprised at what I saw. I assumed the danger sign referred to the risk of landslips or cliff falls. But it was clear there was more too it than that. First I came across this house very close to the edge of the cliff.

Fairlight Cove

But rounding the corner there was another far more dramatic scene.

Fairlight Cove

A house quite literally hanging over the cliff edge. The wall of an out building had already fallen and there was debris down the cliff. The house itself, obviously abandoned, was boarded up and was part hanging over the edge with the land underneath having been undermined. I’m sure it’s long gone now though I’m very surprised to see this at all. Usually these days the Council will insist the unfortunate owner of any property they deem in imminent danger of going over the cliff pays for it’s demolition before it reaches that stage. For some reason, that hadn’t happened here and it was an unusual and interesting, if sad sight.

In fact on a later walk along this stretch of coast on the walk I mentioned earlier I stuck to the road as much as possible. Though it is not as easy as it may sound as many are now dead ends. Some were blocked off. But I did pass this site where obviously a house had been recently been demolished and danger signs warned people to keep out.

Despite this it hadn’t stopped an estate agent from trying to sell the land as the (rather optimistic “For Sale” sign indicated). I regret now not going to the agents website and reading the “blurb”. Somehow I doubt it said “For sale: plot of land about to fall over the edge of a cliff”. 

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Estate agents really will try and sell anything!

Down on the beach here though the cliffs were beautiful and reminded me a little of the area around Burton Bradstock in Dorset.

Fairlight Cove

Though knowing how unstable the cliffs were I stuck as close to the shore as possible.

Fairlight Cove

Though rounding the little headland at Fairlight I was forced to go fairly close to the cliffs due to the tide. They were beautiful as too were the rocks along the beach.

The beach east of Fairlight Cove

The beach east of Fairlight Cove

I found this hole worn into the cliffs I presume by the weather finding a softer area of rock. It was a beautiful place but clearly not somewhere to buy a nice cliff top property!

Cliffs east of Fairlight Cove

I made my way along the shore on the beach below the cliffs. There was always room though it was a bit awkward with the rocks in places. Soon though the cliffs ended and I had the road and promenade on the left again. This was the aptly named village of Cliff End. I liked this rather castle like building.

Cliff End

Now I had a good path along the back of the beach, raised in places. Soon though the houses on the left ended and the path was alongside the road.

The beach at Cliff End

It was clear that the geology of the land had changed quite dramatically now. The Saxon Shore Way headed inland, a sign that the coast here had changed. I was now on the flat Romney Marshes. And where (presumably) material had drifted along the coast and causes the sea to retreat leaving an area of boggy marsh inland and the old line of coast (and cliffs) which are in places more than a mile inland. It seemed so strange to see an area where the land is growing and the sea retreating next to a village which is slowly being lost due to erosion. The coast is ever changing. The marshes are now drained with numerous drainage ditches and channels as well as the Royal Military Canal. This meant inland it was now incredibly flat.

I continued for a while along the beach but it was hard going so headed back to the raised path behind the beach. I soon passed some large lakes, the Colonel Body Memorial Lakes which seemed to be attracting a number of birds, I could see a heron and geese.

Colonel Body Memorial Lakes

Soon I returned to the beach but it was now a mixture of sand and mud, with a ridge of mud at lower tide, so I stuck to the sand. Though even then I had to be careful, as it turned to mud in places.

The beach near Winchelsea

Soon though, as the tide was going out, there was enough firm sand to make for comfortable walking and I headed back to the shore.

The beach near Winchelsea

Inland the road soon turned away from the coast and I passed the edge of Winchelsea Beach though most of the houses were out of sight from the beach. Winchelsea is an interesting place. The town itself is now more than a mile inland but was once a coastal town The cliffs below the town were of course once the sea cliffs.

The beach near Winchelsea

Beyond Winchelsea the beach widened still further revealing acres of sand. It was a beautiful stretch of coast and a lovely walk.

The beach near Winchelsea

Though I had to be a bit careful of the odd muddy patch and area of water that had formed pools inland as the tide had gone out. This was a lovely stretch along the large deserted beach with just the sound of the sea and many sea birds for company.

The beach near Rye

I followed the beach to the odd concrete wall that marked the western side of the entrance to Rye harbour and the river Brede. Rye too was once an important port. Now it is around 2 miles inland indicating how the coast has been building up along here.

The beach near Rye

I walked up to the end of the beach at the concrete wall. Here I’d have to head inland as the channel is much too deep to attempt to wade (it is still used by large ships on occasion) and the nearest bridge is in Rye. I followed a rough gravel path (a track really) along the western edge of the harbour wall (now both a foot and cycle path) though the harbour wall was in poor condition in places. There were huge amounts of shingle now too stretching inland for about 700 metres! In a little under a mile from the coast I reached the car park at Frenchmans Beach holiday park and the start of the road.

I followed this road ahead, initially residential the houses soon ended and I passed the pretty little church of Rye Harbour.

Rye Harbour church

That would be the last pretty thing I would pass for a while. The light was now fading as the sun was setting. So I continued along the road which now transitioned from residential to light industry. It was one of those dusty dirty roads and it was not a pleasant walk though at least there was not much traffic. It was nice to eventually reach the banks of the river at Rye. I crossed the Sluice bridge over Royal Military Canal and then turned right to follow the busy A259 (a road I’ve seen a lot of on this coastal walk). The town of Rye is lovely though circled by this main road but up on a hill.

However it was now getting dark and I decided to save exploring it for my next walk (though it certainly does deserve exploration). For now I wanted to head to the station as a train was due soon and on this line they only run hourly, so I didn’t want a long wait. I picked up my pace and made it to the station 2 minutes before the train was due. I could hear the level crossing barriers coming down as I purchased my ticket and the train was pulling in as I arrived on the platform. Perfect timing! From here it was a short journey back to Hastings where I returned to the coast and headed back to the car park where I had parked.

This was a fantastic walk. It started well with a beautiful walk through the rolling and unspoilt coastline of the Hastings Country Park and continued down to the interesting village of Fairlight Cove, disappearing off the cliffs. The second part of the walk was easier as it followed the beautiful (and flat) beaches around Winchelsea and Rye to reach Rye harbour. The only negative was the last walk along the road inland from Rye Harbour to Rye, in order to cross the harbour mouth. But at least that meant I got to explore Rye on my next walk.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk.

Southern Trains Ashford to Hastings (Marshlink) line : Ashford International – Ham Street – Appledore – Rye – Winchelsea – Doleham – Three Oaks – Ore – Hastings. Trains run hourly seven days a week between Rye and Hastings with most continuing on to Brighton via Eastbourne. Note that not all trains stop at Winchelsea or Three Oaks (generally every other train stops). There is a limited service to Doleham and Ore.

If the trains are on strike or you prefer to take the bus instead, it is the following route:-

Stagecoach routes 100, 101 and 102 (Wave) : Lydd – Camber Sands – Rye – Winchelsea – Icklesham – Wincheslsea Beach – Pett Level – Fairlight CoveFairlight – Ore – Hastings. Buses run twice an hour Monday – Saturday between Rye and Hastings taking around 45 minutes. However there is only an hourly service to the places in between because some buses run inland via Winchelsea and others via the coast to Fairlight. On Sundays the bus runs hourly with buses running to destinations between Winchelsea Beach and Ore (inclusive) once every two hours.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

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