When Samuel Johnson said ‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ he obviously hadn’t lived through a pandemic when everything that makes London worth living in is shut. I am officially tired of London. Tired of walking the same streets, of seeing the same sights, of listening to every single one of my neighbours taking the opportunity to use drills and hammers and lawnmowers constantly because now is obviously the perfect time to get all those little home improvements done. At the weekend, I’d had enough. The sun was shining, I texted a friend, and before I knew it, we were happily sitting on a train that was whizzing us out of London to the coast. East Sussex has a wonderful string of coastal towns and some absolutely stunning countryside filled with undulating, verdant fields and picture postcard villages that seem to exist outside of time. Away from the bustling seaside city of Brighton, which I hate with a passion and which is most people’s only experience of East Sussex, there is so much to explore, and my seaside town of choice is always Hastings. An hour and 45 minutes away from London on the train, it’s very much a place of two halves; the rather seedy, run-down side by the station, which is filled with crumbling Victorian and Georgian architecture, and an uninspiring shopping centre, and the Old Town, which is a gorgeous maze of streets zig-zagging up the cliffs, where there are the most beautiful historic houses with breathtaking views down to the sea, and a marvellous array of independent shops, cafes and restaurants.
Hastings was a very popular nineteenth century resort, evidenced in the beautiful, if crumbling, seafront promenades of Georgian and Victorian terraces with their charming wrought iron balconies and verandas, the original lifts that take you up to the top of the cliffs for bracing walks and the beautiful landscaped public parks filled with palm trees and colourful flowers. Much of the architecture has now seen better days due to the declining fortunes of the British holiday industry in the twentieth century, but there is still so much charm here to enjoy. The pebble beach is expansive and is towered over by the impressive cliffs that dominate England’s south coast. There is still a lively fishing industry here, and the original black-tarred nineteenth century fisherman’s huts still stand, and have been made protected monuments. Around a decade ago, Hastings Contemporary, a contemporary art gallery, was built on the seafront, and offers a fantastic cultural space to the community (sadly still closed). The Old Town has been transformed, with many independent shops and boutiques opening in recent years, selling locally made products, art work and all manner of lovely antiques and interior design goodies. Hastings has become increasingly popular with families and creative types priced out of London and looking for a better quality of life, and this has brought new life to the town. It’s an exciting place to be.
It was such a joy to get out of London for the day and breathe in fresh, salty sea air. I felt the stress and worry I have been feeling melt away as I looked out at the sea and felt its refreshing cold water run between my toes. It was a wonderful holiday from reality to be able to wander through the beautiful, gaily painted, palm-treed little lanes of the Old Town, seeing little glimpses of the sea between gaps in the houses as we climbed ever higher. We stuffed ourselves with delicious fish and chips in Maggie’s at our table that overlooked the sea, enjoyed browsing the shops and treating ourselves to some little pick-me-up goodies (there is a wonderful independent book shop in the Old Town called Hare and Hawthorn, which is beautifully laid out, has an excellent selection of books for all ages and interests – including a whole display of Persephones! – a must visit) and had yummy coffee and cake from Judges while we wandered along the seafront. We strolled through the pretty, expansive Alexandra Park and admired the many streets of lovely houses in the St Leonard’s area of the town. All in all, it was a marvellous day out, and we really had to tear ourselves away to get our train back to London. It was just what I needed – and as I write, with the background noise of drilling from my neighbour’s house slowly driving me mad, I rather wish I had stayed for a few days!