Friday, 30 January 2009

Saxon Shore Way Day 10 Rye - Hastings

Rye Windmill
Now we reach the climax of the walk and there are two distinct halves with the first being a low-level walk before the rollercoaster of the cliffs between Fairlight and Hastings. The walk into Hastings is one of the most memorable final stretches to any walk I have taken and is a fitting conclusion to this historical stretch of coastline.

Camber Castle
Unusually this section of the walk may best be done on a Sunday, since you will get free parking at Hastings station and the frequency of the Hastings – Ashford Service is actually the same every day of the week (hourly). Hastings station has been completely rebuilt and is now a very modern facility with trains to match. The grotty old trains that used to ply this almost forgotten link across Romney Marsh are now a thing of the past and the new trains are very much in keeping with the new image of the railways.

I undertook this section on a cold and snowy day but the weather actually posed few problems even on the cliff-top section. As I had a proper visit of Rye on the previous section of the walk I headed straight out of town and past the famous smock windmill. The path then heads across towards Camber Castle, designed along similar lines to those passed earlier in the walk at Sandown, Deal and Walmer and built during the reign of Henry VIII to fend off the French. This particular castle was rendered useless fairly quickly due to the shifting coastline in the area, which meant that it was landlocked within a few years of being built. However, it is almost a complete shell unlike Sandown Castle. It doesn’t appear to be much of a tourist attraction though, with access to the site being very limited.

Royal Military Canal
Shortly afterwards the path meets up with the Royal Military Canal once again, just at the foot of the hill upon which Winchelsea is built. This was a planned medieval town and was once a major port, although its maritime life was fairly short-lived due to the old enemy of silting and it is now over a mile from the sea. The path doesn’t visit this small town, although a quick look is thoroughly recommended if you have time, but follows the canal to the western entrance to the sea.

Cliff End
In keeping with the sections across Romney Marsh, this is a fairly desolate area of countryside and was the scene of a number of snow showers as I walked it, adding to its atmosphere. The old shoreline is clearly visible particularly on the early part and it is a little strange to think that where you now walk used to be under seawater. Eventually you reach Cliff End (another one!) and pass the houses largely built during the 1930’s along this lonely coast. One notable exception is the large box-like modern house, which you may remember from the TV programme ‘Grand Designs’ a few years ago.

Ecclesbourne Cliff
From here on, the path has a completely different character as it climbs up on to the cliffs at Fairlight. Initially as you look back through the trees you will see the last view across the Marsh and Dungeness. Once over the first of the cliffs, the only real views are out to sea and the path ahead. What the map doesn’t prepare you for on this section is the rollercoaster nature of the terrain. Unlike earlier clifftop sections, this is not a nice level section but rather tough going in places, especially today with a very slick surface caused by the snow showers. Although this is undoubtedly amongst the best scenery on the whole route, the slog up and down the various coves was a bit of a shock to the system and I groaned more than once as I saw another steep valley to cross.
Hastings View

Eventually you come to Hastings Country Park, a wide and airy grassy expanse at the top of the cliff overlooking the Old Town of Hastings. The view from this point westwards was amazing, with almost the whole of the southern part of East Sussex visible on this clearest of afternoons. Eastbourne could clearly be seen in the distance and from there the line of the downs could be followed all the way to Lewes, with Firle Beacon and Mount Caburn on the horizon almost thirty miles away. The town of Hastings looked at its best from up here, with the maze of the old buildings and fishermen’s huts clogging up the narrow valley just below me.

East Cliff Railway
I decided to cheat slightly and took the cliff railway down to the seafront to save me about twenty minutes walk. This was a very pleasurable way of finishing the walk and from here it was a short stroll to the train station to meet up with my car.

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