diamond geezer

 Sunday, April 08, 2012

Seaside postcard: Hastings
Halfway between Folkestone and Brighton, and not especially close to either, Hastings is home to almost ninety thousand people. Should you choose to visit (fifty miles down the A21 from London, or 100 minutes by train), here are ten potential attractions. (20 Hastings photos)
» Hastings Castle: Hastings is but a footnote in the story of its eponymous battle. William landed at Pevensey up the coast, may have made his original base camp in Hastings, but then fought Harold inland at Battle. After England had fallen the Conqueror came back and built his first castle on West Hill, the first motte and bailey in the country, not that anyone knew to call them that then. Other royals stopped by over the years, until dissolution sent the place into terminal decay (I picked all this up in the portakabin cinema in the courtyard, you know). Centuries of clifftop erosion caused further damage, with half the original site either crumbled to the ground or carved away to create a residential crescent below. What this means for visitors is that, sorry, there's not much of Hastings Castle left to see. Bits of the chapel, including an broken arch and two spiral staircases to nowhere. Some walls, if you like walls. And the twisty tiny dungeons, which would be highly atmospheric if only they hadn't been scratched by generations of teenage graffiti. The view from the castle mound's good, although arguably just as good from the neighbouring lawn. The toilets are terribly well hidden behind the ticket hut. And the castle's worth a look, but if you can get to Bodiam inland I'd far recommend that instead. (£4.25)
» Smugglers Adventure: Beneath West Hill run St Clements Caves, long used by smugglyfolk to hide themselves and their contraband. It's now the domain of "Hairy Jack", a fictional character who leads lawful cavers through a semi-modern tourist attraction. It boasts "life-size figures, push-button tableaux, dramatic lighting, eerie sound effects" and "surprises", which sounded like a lot of dimly-lit mannequins so I thought I'd give the place a miss. If you have children of an above-impressionable age, this might be for you. (£7.40)
» Blue Reef Aquarium: Thirty displays of sea creatures, including a walkthrough tunnel in an ocean tank. Didn't do this either. (£8.20)
» Jerwood Gallery: See yesterday (£7)
» Fishermen's Museum: A truly charming room and a half, the largest containing a hundred year-old sailing lugger you can clamber up aboard. Also contains the full story of the legendary Hastings Winkle Club (all members must carry a winkle with them at all times, and have to pay a fine if they fail to produce it when challenged). They seem a fun bunch - many were down at Winkle Island on Friday competing for a marbles trophy sporting a wide variety of ostentatious black headgear. (free)
» Shipwreck Museum: A warren of rooms, displayed 1990s style, outlining the many tales of salvage and sinking that have happened off the Hastings coast over the years. It's a bit one-track, but the story of the Amsterdam is fascinating - it slowly sank into mud in 1749, and the skeleton of its hull is still visible on the beach at Bulverhythe during exceptionally low spring tides. (free)
» Hastings Museum & Art Gallery: Out of the way up Bohemia Road, this old house hides many pleasant local secrets. As well as the amazing Durbar Hall and John Logie Baird exhibit, there's a tableau-ed reminder of the infamous Mods and Rockers influx one bank holiday Monday in 1964. One large section has been given over to native American culture, and to Grey Owl, the North Ontario environmentalist whose authenticity was trashed when it was discovered he wasn't authentically Apache but was in fact a bloke from Hastings called Archibald. Throw in a temporary exhibition of map-related art, and this museum's well worth a look. (free)
» Old Town Hall Museum: It's under renovation at the moment so the top floor's closed, but I hope they're doing a better job than the just-updated snoozeathon on the ground floor.(free)
» Hastings History House: A properly amateur hideaway in the backstreets of the Old Town, home to the local history society and with an eye to preserving the town's rich culture. (free)
» Jack in the Green: If you're waiting for an excuse to visit Hastings, come on May Day bank holiday weekend for this traditional pagan festival (and booze-up) where folk music and swirling dancers (and men wearing leaves) fill the streets. (free)

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