Saturday August 8th 2008
Hastings to Pett Level
Just over a year since our last walk and with one foot operation successfully completed, we continued the coast walk once more.
We set off early again from North Camp, changing onto the Hastings train at Gatwick, enjoying our breakfast while speeding through the Sussex countryside. By 10.15 we were back outside St Mary in the Castle on Hastings seafront and ready to walk. The weather forecast was mixed and the sky was grey as we set out eastwards.
There were rather more people about today and we soon discovered that the main reason for this was that it was carnival day in Hastings. Groups were gathering to prepare their displays and the coach park on the seafront was filling up rapidly. A group of children dressed as clowns emerged from one coach closely followed by a troupe of belly dancing pensioners. Tempting though it was to stay and watch the marching bands, look at the lifeboat exhibition and cheer on the tug-of-war teams, we had hills to climb.
Four hills, as it was to turn out, although as we set out, we really had no idea of the sort of climbing we were going to be doing. We followed the seafront past the go-karts and some rather peculiar looking swans on a boating lake before turning up the hill.
Our directions took us up a long flight of concrete steps, with lovely views back over the rooftops of the town as we climbed into Hastings Country Park.
Below were the famous fishing huts along the harbour front but as there is no way through from the end of the harbour to the cliff top we had to give them a miss.
At the top of the steps, the path continued upwards over a grassy cliff then suddenly plunged down through lush woodland to the bottom of the valley and Ecclesbourne Glen, now just woodland but which had once been an iron age hill fort with its own landing place. Apparently the valley is home to many rare mosses and other species.
A flight of steps lifted us slowly out of the glen and onto the hilltop and more beautiful views. The vegetation was thick and damp and, had it been warmer would have felt very tropical. But as we stood there, the cloud and mist rolled in and we quickly became quite cold and wet.
After a rest on the top, we descended again through the cloud into Fairlight Glen. From the main path rough wooden steps led further down to a beach but we decided to keep going. There were several signs at the top of the track to the beach warning of dangerous paths and hazardous access, although judging by the state of the path it is well used.
Another long climb and more uneven steps brought us to the top of the next hill and more amazing thick woodland and cloud.
We now began to look somewhere to sit down for lunch, preferably under a tree to escape from the drizzle, as we descended into Warren Glen. There was nowhere to rest at the bottom of the glen, just a pretty stream gurgling through the trees and out towards the sea somewhere to our right.
So up more steps and to the final top, Firehills, which apparently has fine views across to France but not today. The area is known as Firehills because of the frequency of the gorse fires hereabouts in the summer. Any fire would have had a job to take hold in this summer and we struggled to know whether we were on the correct path because we were by then in fog. A radar tower loomed out of the murk and it wasn’t until we got home and saw some photos that we realised there was a full coastguard station behind it.
However, even though we couldn’t see it, keeping the sea on our right seemed to work and we suddenly emerged from countryside into the village of Fairlight.
The contrast between the wildness of the hills and the well-kept suburban bungalows was marked and we finally found a bench on a verge outside a house. As it was nearly two o’clock, we stopped for lunch although it seemed a very strange place to do it.
Afterwards, still chilled, we decided to find the village pub in the hope they could provide us with a hot drink of some kind. They normally did, apparently, but the kettle was broken, so the barmaid couldn’t help. They did let us use the loos though, which was kind.
The way on from Fairlight took us away from the sea as coastal erosion meant that the cliff path was closed. So we followed the diversion route to walk out of the village along residential roads and eventually along a path beside a field, climbing gently all the time. The path finally levelled out and began to gently descend once more, abruptly emerging back at sea level in the village of Cliff End. By then my knee was very painful so we decided to stop for a rest and coffee in The Smuggler Inn, which was conveniently just around the corner.
Opposite the pub is the end of The Royal Military Canal which was built in the early 1800s as part of the defence against a possible Napoleonic invasion and runs from Cliff End through to Folkestone. Thankfully it was never needed in a military role and is now a much loved wildlife and recreational facility. We were right back on the coast again now as the pub garden, which must be very pleasant on a nice day, looks out over the seawall.
Once inside the pub, warmed up and rested, the temptation was too great and we made the decision to call it a day. We enquired about the whereabouts of the bus stop, which we couldn’t see, although the timetable said that it should be nearby. We were told to stand outside by the blue flower tub and stick up a hand when the bus came along. So half an hour later, we did just that! The bus whisked us back into Hastings quickly and we got off on the seafront.
There a slow wander back to the station, ice cream in hand was in order. The sun had come out and was warm and it could have been miles away from that damp cloud-topped hill we had been walking along a few hours previously.
We came back via a slightly different route, through Tonbridge and Redhill and were sitting down to some very welcome baked potatoes by 8 o’clock.
A good, if unexpectedly strenuous day’s walking and possibly the last time we will travel through Gatwick and Hastings
Running Total 181.6