A friend moved to Hastings from Brighton ten years ago because he had heard it was ‘the new Brighton.’ One day, not long after he had arrived, he was sitting in a pub, quietly sipping a pint and immersed in a book when another customer, bawled across the bar
‘If you want to read get out of here and go to a library’.
Rather dispirited, he went back to live in Brighton, where he could sit and read in pubs, bars and cafes all day long without fear of admonishment.
I remembered this story as I sat in a delightful pub called The Crown on All Saints Street, Hastings on Midsummer’s Day. I ordered a Truly Minted, a refreshing concoction of grapefruit juice, sparkling water and mint and a delicious dinner of roasted mackerel served with beetroot and heritage tomatoes. Then I opened my copy of A Life of Montaigne and proceeded to read several chapters, without intervention or interruption.
All along All Saints Street, windows of the pretty, old houses featured intriguing displays. They appeared to be personalised collections of toys and nick nacks, carefully presented in a style that suggested a competition had taken place. I don’t think that this was the case. These displays were purely for pleasure and personal amusement, indicating that the residents of Hastings have their whimsical side.
At the end of the street loomed the tall, dark fishermens’ huts, long famous and a wonderful place to buy fresh fish and seafood. A few doors along, the Hastings Fishermen Museum told me everything I needed to know about the maritime history of the town. It’s free to get in but definitely worth making a donation to help keep this charming, fascinating collection available for all to see.
The best place to swim in Hastings is at Rock a Nore, which has a mixture of sand and shingle, is backed by cliffs and feels more wild and secluded than the main beach. To find it, walk past the fishermens’ huts as far as you can go.
In the centre of town, stretching boldly out to sea, Hastings new pier is the National Pier Society’s Pier of the Year for 2017. Wide and open, littered with smart places to eat upmarket versions of traditional seaside food and a viewing platform made from the remains of the old pier, it’s a Hastings highlight. Three Swedish visitors, teenage girls, quietly enjoying a school trip, were having a lovely time there, until their happy day was sadly marred by an angry local resident. This stout lady circled them on her mobility scooter, shouting, ‘how dare you insult me in my own town.’
I tried to explain to the girls, who looked rather nervous, that she didn’t mean any harm, although I wasn’t convinced of this especially when she turned her attention to me and told me that I could ‘f**k off as well.’
Mostly however, Hastings seems a very welcoming town, with many places to sit and read a book or a magazine or to gaze at your iPhone willing people to like your instagram pictures. It feels more suited to hipsters than the hip replacement crowd especially in such emporiums as Hendy’s Home Store where you can buy brooms, dusters, basic candles and balls of string, so temptingly displayed that misguided customers are prepared to pay double the usual price for these banal items.
You can save money by visiting the Electric Cinema on the High Street, a dinky picture house where the tickets cost just £8, there’s a diverse, ever-changing programme and jolly staff sell you wine and chocolates to enjoy as you view
If Hastings doesn’t feel quite hip enough however, there are streets in neighbouring St Leonards which are achingly trendy. The gently sloping Norman Road is packed with vintage/antique shops, cleverly stocked with restored 1950’s chairs, recycled wooden chests and dusty bales of retro fabric.
The Kings Road is also a good hunting ground for fashionable homewares and junk and has many inviting cafes. Fika.Coffee.44 is a light, spacious spot, serving good coffee and herbal teas as well as stylish vegetarian food such as roasted Moroccan carrot and chickpea salad or avocado bagels with feta and spiced dukkah. Their courtyard garden is a tranquil enclave for rejuvenating with a vibrant smoothie and the friendly owners are pretty smooth too.
If St Leonards feels a bit too nice, be assured that some of the Hastings crowd still consider it a danger zone – rough in places.
But as I strolled happily along the seafront on a bright June day it felt very appealing and cheery. I was even lured into the estate agents to see if seaview property was still affordable and was delighted to discover that it was.
Where to stay:
Hastings lacks hotels, so rent one of its beautiful historic townhouses instead. Sinnock Square is a good place to start your search for a seaside holiday home.