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Sep 2018

Hastings Coat of Arms

The tatty AA™ road atlas is still the preferred method of navigation in these wheels but it might finally be time to embrace the Sat Nav. Heading to Hastings, a wrong turn seems to have been taken, you see.

There's no sign of the traditional, seaside resort and the surroundings are all tarred weatherboarding that's typical elsewhere in these parts.

They look a lot like 'net lofts' so that means this must be some old fishing village or other?

Not quite, for it's not all Fish & Chips and 'Kiss Me Quick' hats here. Hastings has a remarkably well-preserved old town and the fishing is still very much part of it.

They've had several goes at building a harbour here but the English Channel has simply laughed in their faces. The 30-or-so fishing boats still have to launch from the beach and it looks like they will for a while longer yet.

They've  ditched any plans to redevelop the harbour area and by 'redevelop' it's really meant 'build'. They've only got what's left of a 100-year-old concrete wall to work with and it offers a lot less resistance to the sea than the local council did to those proposals.

  eat @ The Stade (Rock-A-Nore Road)

Stade is an old Saxon word for the shingle beach from which they launch the fishing ships. Gull comes from Celtic for a big bird that launches at your fish and chips.

Heading outside, there's an advance warning but they're not that fearless, waiting for customers to vacate the table before they flock in to finish off their toast.

Before the near-empty plates are politely returned back inside, there's a sight of the  Hastings Miniature Railway. The 10-and-a-quarter inch gauge track runs the full half-mile to the Flamingo Amusement Park and given that'll be this pair in 10 years time, nothing wrong with a friendly wave, eh?

Away from the seafront and up All Saints' Street, it looks like another wrong turn has been taken to end up in Lavenham? This comes as something of a surprise and it seems Hastings' Old Town isn't nearly so well known as the history they've had here since at least 1066.

Not that it's all that old, of course, although some of the wonky wood is said to date from the 15th century, they say.

  The Piece Of Cheese Cottage (Starr Cottages)

There's some interesting looking doings up one of the alleys or 'twittens' as they call them here. The shape and the colour of this building explains the name, which was built as a bet in the 1870s on a tiny, irregular plot.

It claims to be the only three-sided and the second smallest cottage in England or rather the holiday letting agency do should you fancy a week away without any convenient parking.

The Fishermen's Institute is home to the Winkle Club where members proudly compare the size and shape of their winkles. There's a fine for not showing your winkle when requested and some even forget to bring their winkles with them.

Winston Churchill, no less, was an honorary Winkler and it's all for some good, charitable work in and around Hastings. They can often be found fundraising on Winkle Island but don't get too excited, it's a traffic island with a statue of a winkle on it.

Not that you knew at the time, you'll end up walking straight past it, wink and you'll miss it.

There's more of the old town heading west over Old London Road where you'll suddenly find yourselves in Scarborough.

Why else would there be a cliff lift here? Hastings hasn't got one, has it? Two, actually, but more on that in a minute, and this is being pondered along the promenade and Pelham Crescent.

Things were booming, visitor-wise, by the 1820s and having made their way here without the railway, these early holidaymakers were fairly well-heeled. With not a lot of lodging options, the Earl of Chichester, whoever he was, constructed these fancy dwellings, which he looks to be still finishing off.

With the new resort of St Leonards to the west, this all required a large workforce but, if you're paying attention, there was nowhere for them to stay.

A shanty town for the labourers grew up on the shingle beach but started to attract all manner of ne'er-do-wells, naturally. This didn't go unnoticed by local law enforcement but when they came calling with the planning department, an American flag was hoisted in a, not too topical, display of defiance and independence.

The camp became known as the America Ground and lasted until 1835 so significantly longer than the similar setup in  Deadwood, South Dakota.

It's still a bit of a thing in Hastings when they raise the Stars and Stripes on the 4th of July and the occasional, public reading of the American Declaration of Independence has known to be addressed.

The promenade now cuts through where it all once was and they've since gone and built on the shingle. The approximate site is marked with an eye-catching mural but the boundary of Robertson Passage is now just a back lane full of bins, basically.

  The John Logie Baird (Havelock Road)

John Logie Baird had his bright idea while wandering the hills above Hastings but more on that in a minute. Not that this pair are massively big fans of these places, honestly not, although they do provide exceptional value in this age of austerity.

No, it's just understood that at some point in time there was a meeting of people to decide on an often unimaginative name. The Director of Contrived Waterhole Naming has delivered some reasonable work here with that little-known fact.

An underpass leads into the modern, shopping area and can be filed in the, sorry Hastings, 'could just about be anywhere' category. It's said 'could just about be anywhere' but not everywhere has such a decorative, Victorian town hall.

The best view's round the back, it's reckoned, next to a sympathetically done but what's still a burger van, really.

Speaking of Victoria, you can find Prince Albert round the corner. He used to be part of a memorial clock tower but lacking her historical clout, it was demolished when one way systems were invented.

A mysterious fire and some clumsy builders led to him living in a greenhouse for over 40 years so he's not in the best of nick and not nearly as well chiselled as he used to be.

  Priory Meadow Shopping Centre (Queens Road)

Opposite Albert is the entrance to Hastings' main area of indoor shopping and in there, yes, you could just about be anywhere.

Sorry Hastings.

Of course there's a pier here and of course there was a fire it's said tapping one's nose. This one as recently as 2010 having stood empty for two years it's said tapping one's nose.

A charitable organisation secured National Lottery™ funding and they did such a good job, it not only won 2017  Pier of the Year but also the national  Stirling Prize for architecture, no less.

There's not a great deal along it, just yet, some local wildlife and a visitor centre displaying local artwork are the highlights. The organisation, however, went into administration and an old friend from Eastbourne, 'Sheikh' Abid Gulzar stepped in.

That means the magnificent decking can be expected to turn 'Eastbourne Blue' sometime soon and you can look forward to his 'Thank you for visiting Sheikh’s Pier' sign, seriously.

  Bottle Alley (The Promenade)

Inexplicably overlooked today was Bottle Alley, a covered-in walkway beneath the promenade.

So called from the glass that's embedded in the brutal, 1930s concrete and it all lights up at night, apparently.

When Willie Conker was finished with all that business in Battle, he thought to fortify things making Hastings Castle the first and so the oldest Norman castle in England. Coastal erosion has seen to some of it but there's enough of it left for them to demand a few of your florins although you can get fairly close up for free.

While you're pretending to be in Southern Spain, the surrounding, soft sandstone has been etched with the words of who was here, when they were here and whoever's what-nots their hands were all over.

These intricate daubings are possibly Saxon, Celtic even and historians and archaeologists alike argue over the interpretation. I dunno, just looks like a primitive weapon from here, some kind of cannon perhaps? Kids eh?

If you've been paying attention, the West Hill Lift will bring you up here or Castle Hill Road is kind of a big giveaway.

It's not too much of a lug up on foot but, either way, the views down to the start of today's nonsense are top-notch.

  White Rock Gardens (Falaise Road)

There used to be a large lump of white rock, limestone actually, sticking into the sea just about where the pier is now. They plotted with gunpowder in the 1830s to make way for the road to St Leonards with what was left landscaped to create one of several public parks in town.

You can lug up to it if you like but something much more interesting-looking has already been seen, lugging up-wise.

Two cliff lifts here you say? Absolutely and the East Hill Lift is just about where it says it is, relatively speaking. The original settlement of Hastings sits in a valley, you see, and you might well have noticed this on the drop down as you drove in.

Every piece of ancient, still-operating machinery in the UK will make some claim or other and so it is with this funicular railway.

It just misses out on being Victorian, opening in 1902, and electricity replaced the original water tanks in 1976 so the oldest is still in Saltburn. The longest is in Aberystwyth, apparently, so you'll have to make do with, get this, the steepest.

The slope of 38° is a little worrying since it seems to be manned by a student with a winch but this isn't the steepest in the world. There's one in  Switzerland with a gradient of up to 110%, which means, well, who even knows what that means?

All this to head up to the start of Hastings Country Park, 850 acres of mainly meadow and woodland not to mention nearly three miles of clifftops.

Part of it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and, as should be known by now, they don't hand them awards willy-nilly although it's not thought that lichen should really count.

It was up here, while living in Hastings, that John Logie Baird had his bright idea. Visually inspired, no doubt, by the eye-catching vistas in all directions, possibly.

Not that there's that much else to do, you're sternly informed just what is and what isn't allowed. No camping, no cycling, no messy dogs, no fires, no barbeques, no horses, no swimming[1] and no motorcycles.

If only Logie Baird had proposed what was permitted on his soon to be patented 'idiot's lantern'. No Love Island for a start!

[1] In the ponds, it's presumed, and not having dived off a cliff.

Phew! Wasn't that a full day out and that's not the half of it. There's been no time for Alexandra Park, the True CRIME Museum, the Jerwood Gallery or the underground swimming pool that's now a BMX and skateboard park.

That one's admittedly niche but there's still no idea what's west of the pier and because this wasn't an overnight stay, nothing on the 20 Indian restaurants in and around town.

The battle has only been slightly touched on and, well, you can read about that anywhere. No, there's a hands-on personal battle now, a battle with the rush-hour traffic on the way out up Old London Road.

Not wishing to embroider the situation but it's busier than the Bayeux Tapestry along here and it's thought they'd crammed a lot into that.