Go Hiking to Explore the Sussex Coastal Culture Trail

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Hikers can explore the Sussex Coastal Culture Trail from Eastbourne to Hastings – all 29 km of it – comfortably in two or, better still, in three stages.

Such a longer trip ensures a better balance as otherwise, there is a risk that your Sussex Coastal Culture Trail experience will be all trail and no culture.

Or, perhaps the best option, you can pick one bit of the trail for your walk and use public transport for the rest (bus no. 99 runs frequently throughout the day along the coast). If that is what you decide to do, we suggest to select the 8 km long stretch from Bexhill to Hastings for your hike.

This part of the trail is entirely separated from car traffic and essentially a foot-and-bicycle path, full of attractive coastal scenery …

"hiking the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail at Bexhill on Sea"

… Edwardian splendour …

"pass St Leonard's when hiking the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

… and much more to discover.

"Bexhill on Sea beach front along the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

As far as the culture on this section of the trail is concerned, it is very much a story of two buildings, one from the 20th century right at the start and the other one, nearly 1000 years old, at the very end.

"Hastings castle along the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

But we start with De la Warr Pavilion, generally thought to be England’s first (and possibly most attractive) modernist building, …

"De la Warr Pavilion, the culture in the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

… which was commissioned in 1935 as a “people’s palace” by the socialist mayor of Bexhill (Herbrand Sackville, who also happened to own much of the countryside around here in his capacity as the 9th Earl De la Warr; the Earl was the first nobleman to sit on the Labour benches in the House of Lords.)

The pavilion is listed as a Grade I monument, and its seafront surroundings may be familiar to you if you have seen “period” movies such as the 1995 version of Richard III (with Ian McKellen).

"Bexhill on Sea along the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

It is now used an art gallery, but I don’t think it is too disparaging to the artists who are showing their works there to point out that they have quite a job on their hands if they want to match their ambience in terms of imagination and boldness of spirit. Most of the time, the pavilion itself will be the most exciting exhibit on show.

"inside the De la Warr Pavilion along the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

From the De la Warr, just turn left (the coast on your right hand side) …

"Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

… past St Leonard’s, one of England’s oldest seaside resorts (it was developed in the 1820s) and famous for the stark minimalism of its seaside pier …

"St Leonard's pier along the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

… all the way to Hastings, which is famous for something that actually happened somewhere else.

Now, it may be tempting to think of the Norman Conquest (1066 and all that) as a medieval, roles-reversed D-Day landing with the Anglo-Saxons defending entrenched positions at the beach against continental invaders, but this is not how it happened.

The Duke of Normandy (the epithet “the Conqueror” has stuck, for obvious reasons. But if it had all gone belly-up, as the invasion was apparently a close-run thing, he might now be known as a medieval equivalent of Eddie the Eagle, Shipwreck Willie or something like that) did not meet any resistance when he landed on the coast, near Pevensey, which is also on the Trail, and had plenty of time to raid the countryside for supplies and to prepare himself for a long siege near Hastings where he built himself a wooden castle on a cliff (with wood he had shipped from France).

King Harold led an army down to the coast to surprise the invaders, but William found out about this and saw a chance to turn the tables on Harold, moving out of his castle to meet the Anglo-Saxons approx. 6 km off the coast near the village which is now called Battle. This is where poor Harold got it in the eye on 14 October, …

"wall paintings depicting Battle of Hastings along the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

… roughly two months after William’s arrival.

The Battle of Hastings should therefore, strictly speaking, be called the Battle of Battle. (It is easy to see, however, why this moniker never quite caught on.)

So whether you are tired or not: you will simply have to finish the Sussex Cultural Trail by walking all the way up to the place where the story of modern England began.

From the coast, the way up to the old castle may look fairly arduous, but it is in fact a gentle and pleasant stroll through “Old Hastings” (like Eastbourne and Bexhill, Hastings also features an Old Village behind a 19th century beachfront) …

"Old Village of Hastings along Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

… to the castle ruins. Which are, in theory, open to visit, although the gate was closed when we arrived (mid-morning on a week-day).

"Hastings castle ruins along the Sussex Coastal Cultural Trail"

Still, you will find that there is a lot to do and see in Hastings, a busy and lively coastal town. It is simply the perfect place to round off a short holiday on the Sussex Coastal Culture Trail.

We thank the Grand Eastbourne Hotel once more for giving us the chance to explore the Sussex Coastal Culture Trail.

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