Wild woodlands, a classic park, a secret chine- this is the Hastings (and St Leonards) that most visitors don’t see. Plus a visit to the seaside to see the pier being reborn. It is possible to shorten the walk to about 3 miles
Ordnance Survey maps
Explorer series number 124
Distance and Time
11.5 km, 7 miles, can be shorted to about 3 miles
Although much of the walk is on tarmac, some of it is on earth paths. In St Helen’s Wood in particular these can be muddy after periods of rain.
Start and finish
Hastings railway station.
Trains run to Hastings from Brighton, Lewes, Ashford and London Charing Cross or Cannon Street.
All buses running through or round Hastings call at the railway station.
For times see here. You will see bus stops at various points around the walk should you wish to cut it short.
Cafes at Hastings Station. Café in Alexandra Park near point 2. Shops and pubs in Bohemia. Café in the Hastings Museum. Lots of cafes and pubs near the library and on the front.
3 in Alexandra Park at various points, Hastings museum, Falaise Road, White Rock Gardens
1). Come out of the station building. Turn right. Follow a path to the opposite wall. Turn right past the royal mail office on a tarmac path. Arrive at Cornwallis Terrace. Turn right under the railway bridge and follow the road round to the right. You are now in Braybrooke Road. Go straight ahead at a junction and then downhill.
There is a turning to the left and then an entrance to the park. Enter the park and immediately turn right.
Notice the railway embankment and bridge to your right. When the railway was built it was necessary to span the valley, ensuring that the main commercial centre was developed to the south.
Cross the park and turn left, walking on a path on the far side of the lake. Now keep to this side of the park, following the path as it bends past a number of lakes. If in doubt at junctions keep to as near to the right hand side of the park as you can without leaving it.
See point of interest (A) for more information about the park.
2) The route passes a metal bridge on the right. This carries a path out of the park. Do not take this. Shortly after the main path passes over a metal bridge. Shortly after this you come to an exit to the park o nthe right.. Opposite the exit is an imposing white Georgian house. Leave the park by this exit.
For a shorter and entirely urban walk Do not leave the park at this point. Instead continue on within the park. Continue to keep as far right as you can. Pass toilets and a park ranger station on your right. The park cafe is across the lawn to your left. Cross Dortrecht Way. Keep straight ahead. The path then veers in the centre of the park to avoid the gardeners’ yard. At the end of the yard is a junction. In front of you is a very large white shelter building. On your left is a small enclosed path which quickly goes up some steep steps. Take this to arrive at point 7. The main route runs straight ahead of you up a wide path.
To follow the main route turn left when you leave the park, cross the road by the crossing, turn left at the end of the crossing and then turn right up St Helens Park Road
This next stretch, on the road, takes you on a time line through Hastings. You start at the late Georgian or early Victorian Houses, then pass late Victorian houses, then 1930s dwellings before passing a row of houses built in the 1960s. Finally, before leaving the buildings behind you see a very modern contemporary dwelling.
Pass the church and descend downhill. At a four way junction bear left on St Helens Park Road. Pass Baird Road on your left and then come to a Y fork. Take the left fork, with woodland on your right.
Descend to a valley. Before you meet a stream take a lane to your right. This is a private road with dwellings on the right. The dwellings come to an end and you take an earth track straight ahead.
(The next part of the walk can be muddy after periods of heavy rain)
Almost immediately another track crosses your route. Keep straight ahead past a clearing with benches. Continue straight ahead, dodging any muddy bits, until you see a stream with a path on your left.
This is St Helens Wood. See point of interest (B) for more information about the wood and Grey Owl.
3). You now come to a junction of paths and track. Turn right here up some steps on a narrow path. Follow this path uphill until it comes to a track near the edge of the wood. Turn left here, walking into the wood.
Shortly, a field opens up on your right hand side. Just before you come to a pond there is a gate on the right, with planks beyond this which avoid the mud in wet periods. Go through this gate.
To cut the walk short walk straight ahead past the pond. Meet the route again in about 50 metres.
To follow the main route walk straight ahead uphill through the field. Pass a second pond on your left, which is almost entirely covered by trees. After this you can see a marker post on the left in the middle on the field. Head for this and then walk straight ahead to a wooden kissing gate in the fence.
Turn left after going through the gate. Aim for the right hand side of an enclosure ahead. Walk downhill with the enclosure on your left past horse paddocks. You will see a metal kissing gate ahead, slightly to the left. Go through this and turn right on the track you left earlier.
The alternative short walk re-joins the route here.
Walk uphill past houses on your left.
The track bears left and you come to a road junction. To your left you will see a path heading downhill on steps. Take this. At the bottom you come to an open field. Turn right along the edge of the field, keeping the field edge on your right.
After about 200 metres you come to a wooden kissing gate on your right. Go past this. You then come to a second kissing gate on the right. This is hard to see because it is hidden by scrub until you are nearly on it. Go through it. The path winds steeply up around trees for about 10 metres. Towards the end there are some steps.
(You can take the first kissing gate, but the path from it runs immediately to the left is quite narrow and may have some trees across it. It emerges at the bottom of the steps)
After the steps you emerge into an open field. Keep the houses closely on your right. After about 100 metres you will come to a metal kissing gate leading to a track. Cross this and turn right along the track.
The track becomes Hillside Road, with 1960s housing on either side. Walk for about 150 metres and then turn left down Parkstone Road. Then take the first road on the right, which bends round to the left.
Continue walking down this road and walk past a barrier which indicates that you are now in the Old Roar Estate. You come to a small wood on your left at the Roundel. It is pleasant to walk diagonally through this wood, but it is easier to take the first on the left after it
5) Turn left immediately after the wood and then take the first right, which is a cul-de-sac. At the end of the cul-de-sac you can see a narrow footpath that descends between two houses. Take this. It leads to a footpath. Turn left on the path. (You may want to turn rights for a couple of metres first to look at the bridge over the Gill). This is your first encounter with Old Roar Gill.
For more information about the Gill see point of interest (C).
Emerge at the end of the path at a road with 60s housing. Turn right and walk for 100 metres or so. Look out for a footpath in a gap between houses (I think that the path is after number 21) Descend into Old Roar Gill.
6). At a metal gate there is a junction. Turn right through the metal gate and follow the path to its end, at Little Roar falls. Return to the gate. This time keep straight ahead down the valley. You will follow this stream all the way down to Alexandra Park. If in doubt at a junction take the route that follows the stream.
At a junction of paths turn left over a bridge over the stream. Come to a road bridge over the Gill. The path crosses the stream shortly before this and then forks. Take the right fork which crosses the stream again and goes under the bridge.
Ignore a path going off to the right. Come to a junction and bear right. Come to two ponds and cross between them. Immediately after the ponds turn left to walk along the left hand side of a large lake (reservoir). You are now in Alexandra Park again. The lake was once the home of a giant carp called Martin, but he has not been seen for a long time.
At the end of the lake turn right, walking along the reservoir dam. At the other side of the lake bear left at a junction. Quickly come to a four way junction. Continue ahead on an earth track.
Follow this track for about 500 metres until you come to a lake on your right.
7). Just before the lake there is a path to the right. Take this
The alternative route from Alexandra Park re-joins the main route here.
Walk uphill, keeping to the boundary of the park. There are two lakes on your left hand side. At a fork keep right.
Come to a third lake and walk alongside it. Turn left on a causeway through the lake. Shortly after the lake the path divides. Take the right hand fork and climb up to upper Park Road.
8). On reaching the road turn right and walk along to Bohemia Road, the main street of Bohemia. Turn left along Bohemia Road past the shops. Then take the fourth turning on the left (St Pauls Road) At the end of this turn right into Horntye Road.
For more information about Bohemia see point of interest D.
The road turns into a footpath and goes past the school.
9). Shortly afterwards it enters Summerfields Wood. There is a board announcing the name of the wood and an an unpaved path going off to the right. Take this.
Almost immediately afterwards there is a further junction. Take the left fork and continue straight along quite a wide path. You come to a fork. There is a tree stump in the middle of the fork. Take the right hand fork. Continue until you see a large wall on the left. This is Bohemia walled garden.
For more information about the garden see point of interest E.
Turn left at the end of the garden wall and walk past the garden entrance, which will be locked unless the garden is open. Shortly after this turn right over a bridge and then bear left. Now keep the river on your left as you descend, passing a “roman bath” on your way.
For more information about the bath see point of interest F.
Descend, keeping the ponds on your left. At a fork go either way.
Just after a pond with sculptures the path joins a metalled path. Turn right and walk over the portal of the railway tunnel.
10). Just before the path meets the road there is another tarmac path sharply to the right. Take this. Walk up through the woods until you meet a lawn. If you look left you will see an old building (the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery). Walk left towards this across the lawn.
For more information about the museum see point of interest G.
From the door of the gallery your route follows the main drive out to the main road. Cross this and start walking down Falaise Road, opposite.
11). Come to a bend. There are toilets and a modernist clock tower. Walk past the clock tower and take the path to the right through the park, walking parallel to the road.
Keep straight ahead and then follow the path round to the left as it descends to the bowling greens. Bear left at the first green and pass a second bowling green. You are in front of a large pavilion
Now turn right and walk down a broad path to emerge at a small road, with parking spaces. You will see some steps opposite, slightly to the right. Go down these to emerge at a larger road. Turn left and then immediately right to descend to Hastings Pier.
For more information about the pier see point of interest H.
Cross the road to the pier. Before you continue turn right to look at the lower promenade and the concrete shelters.
For more information about the lower promade, the shelters and the concrete king see point of interest I.
It is possible to walk west from here for about 500 metres, either along Bottle Alley or the upper promenade, to join the St Leonards Walk at point (1), Warrior Square. To do the short part of this walk and the St Leonards walk would give you a walk of about 8 miles.
For the main walk, return to the pier and walk along the promenade for about 250 metres.
12).Take the first left into Robertson Street.
This is a good area for refreshment. Try Robertson street and the front.
Some of the tall thin buildings in this area are very impressive.
Almost immediately bear left into Claremont, walk past the library and some graffiti art and up steep steps.
For more information about the library and the area round it see point of interest J.
At the top of the steps turn left along the main road. Then take the first right- Cornwallis Gardens. At the fork keep right (you may prefer to walk through the gardens themselves rather than remaining on the pavement).
At a junction keep straight ahead and then, just before the railway bridge, find a path to the right, next to the mail depot. Walk along this and then turn left to return to the station.
POINTS OF INTEREST
A). Alexandra Park.
Once upon time local councils were proud of their towns and not afraid to show it. Municipal enterprise, of the type typified by Joseph Chamberlain’s Birmingham led the way in creating prosperity and happiness. Hastings never went this far, but it did create Alexandra Park, a classic Victorian urban park. According to 1066 on line “ Alexandra park is situated in the middle of Hastings and stretches for 2.5 miles, offering an incredibly diverse landscape, including ancient woodland and formal flower beds. The Heritage Lottery Fund helped with the £3.4 million restoration of the park, completed in 2004. Alexandra Park was originally laid out by Robert Marnock, a famous Victorian Landscape architect in 1878 and many plants and layouts have been chosen to recreate the Victorian Pleasure Park.” The park has different aspects and the walk looks at many of them.
There are a number of sculptures en-route or near the route in the park.: the listed Margaret Winser (Kent) war memorial, creations like Continnuem by Rick Kirby and also by artist in wood Joc Hare namely the “Billie Jo” memorial seat on the lawn between the lakes and bandstand and the “Peace Garden” beyond the tennis courts that features art in metal by “Leigh Dyer” ,the person who installed “The Winkle” and the metal Chess pieces in George Street. Further up the park near to the swannery lake off Upper Park Road at the Shorndon play area there is a new wooden Centipe sculpture by Joc Hare (Thanks to Bob Hart for the information in this paragraph)
Between points 7 and 8 you pass by the tracks of a miniature railway run by enthusiasts on some weekends (pictured)
The Sussex Tree Book describes the park as “one of the country’s outstanding public parks” with a large number of rare trees including the very rare Alder glutinosa ( by the miniature railway) There is a botanical collections of oaks(on the bank above the railway, by the pumping station), limes (on the bowling green bank) and hollies (in the avenue above the beech bank).
B). St Helens Wood and Grey Owl
Owned by the St Helens Wood Preservation Society this 100 acre plus site nestling between the slopes of a valley with views across the rooftops of Hastings to the sea. Situated at the foot of the High Weald and sheltered by ancient gill woodland.
The site consists of wooded areas, meadows and freshwater ponds, all providing a home for a varied selection of wildlife. Over 40 different species of nesting birds can be seen in the wooded areas including Tawny Owls, Woodpeckers, Treecreepers, Long Tailed Tits, Nuthatch and Jay. Large numbers of Chiffchaff visit the hedgerows in summer.
Fortunately or unfortunately, the society has not provided a lot by way of interpretive material. You will find what is probably the best map and description at 1066 on line You could easily spend a whole day here.
One who often did was Archie Belaney- Grey Owl. He was brought up by two maiden aunts and his grandmother in Hastings and became fascinated by wildlife. His fascination seems to have stemmed largely from his visits to this area. He was also fascinated by North American Indians. At 17 he emigrated to Canada where he assumed the identity of an Ojibwe Indian, telling a fictional story of his origins. At first he was a trapper, but then became a fervent and famous conservationist.
He was appalling to the women in his life, neglecting the women who had brought him up and fathering children with a number of women who he then abandoned.
Richard Attenborough made a film of his life under the title “Grey Owl”.
C). Old Roar Gill
The Victorians loved deep narrow valleys or chines along which they could build rustic paths with rustic furniture. It seems to have been part of a desire for nature at once mysterious but also safe. They were also very fond of ferns. It is said that this was because the plants did not display their sexual characteristics
The Gill was something of a tourist attraction at the time and was visited by the artists Dante Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddall. They and other tourists may have been disappointed by the waterfalls, which mostly whisper rather than roar.
According to “The Sussex Tree Book” the tallest Alder trees currently recorded in Britain grow by the stream to the north of the road bridge.
More information here
The one thing that Bohemia was not, in 2013, by Hastings and St Leonard’s standards was gentrified. In fact, scandalously, it was distinctly run down but, as one shopkeeper told me “We await developments with interest”
One advantage for the visitor about an area that has not been gentrified is that there are shops that might have disappeared elsewhere. So here you can find junk shops where you might just get a bargain, as opposed to antiques places, a lovely second hand book shop worth exploring, an ex army clothing shop and more.
Bohemia is in St Leonards, although no one seems quite sure where the border is. Will gentrification creep up the hill?
Gentrificaton or no, Bohemia is full of interest. Your walk passes an early former temperance pub, on the corner of Salisbury and Bohemia Roads, You also pass Bohemia Cottages on the other side of the road, the oldest buildings in the area. The Bohemia Village Voice will give you even more stories and background about the area.
E). Summerfields Wood and the Bohemia Walled garden
Perhaps the greatest Bohemian scandal is the way that the council has dealt in the past with the area around Summerfields Wood and the great houses that once stood between it and Bohemia Road.
You can read some of the story on the site of the Bohemia Walled Garden Association The area is now strongly defended. You can find information about the wood here. The Walled Garden is owned by Hastings Borough Council (HBC) and leased to the BWGA for them to bring the garden into horticultural use and to also provide a destination for visitors. The garden is open Sunday and Wednesday 10-12
Another remnant of the Bohemia Estate is the Bohemia Ice House at Horntye Park near the gates of the cricket ground. Next to the walled garden the “prospect Mound” was discovered dating in recent years, dating from the time when the walled garden was created and after clearance of undergrowth there is a spiral path to the top of the mound to a seat.
At the bottom part of Summerfields Wood around the bottom pond there are more wooden pieces by Joc Hare known as Hendley Repose with “Weir Tree” and others and also at the bottom pond the “Leaping Fish” is by Leigh Dyer. (Thanks to Bob Hart for further information about the area.)
F). The “Roman Bath”
The mock roman bath structure was constructed by Wastel Brisco) after he purchased Summerfields House in 1831 it was constructed to take advantage of a natural spring from the sandstone at this point. You could probably still bathe in it
Normally open Tuesday to Sunday. A local museum with exhibits on a number of issues, rather than attempting to be a complete history of the area. Exhibits about Grey Wolf and Robert Tressell. Also a local studies resource.
H). Hastings Pier
Every seaside resort must have a pier and Hastings and St Leonards once had two. The St Leonards Pier had a very chequered history and was demolished in the 1950s.
Hastings Pier has been a little more successful. In its time it was the venue for a large number of pop concerts. Syd Barratt played his last gig with Pink Floyd on the pier. Its recent past has been more difficult. Its owners neglected it. In 2010 it caught fire. Arson was suspected. The Hastings Pier charity raised money to re-open the pier and substantial charitable funding was obtained, but itdid not take ownership of it. Subsequently the owning body went bust and the pier was bought at a knock-down price by an individual. At the beginning of 2019 it was closed.
I). Sidney Little, the concrete king
By the 1920’s Hastings councillors were getting worried that their resort was losing its attraction. The felt that something new and radical was required. They appointed Sidney Little as borough engineer. He was an expert in the use of reinforced concrete, a new material for the town, which was then still largely Victorian.
As Wikepedia puts it “Little had great knowledge of reinforced concrete and many of his projects used this material. Improvements to the “Front Line” sea defences allowed the creation of the first underground car parks in the UK. Also a covered promenade as part of sea defences was created using concrete panels with thousands of glass fragments for decoration and became locally known as “Bottle Alley”. Other concrete projects included the construction of a large open air bathing pool at West St Leonard’s with a set of double decker seaside chalets in concrete. The White Rock Baths were reconstructed along with several other municipal projects”.
Here you can see the start of Bottle Alley and also the concrete shelters. Like all shelters these had seats facing both the sea and the land. In the days of boarding houses, holiday makers were often forced to leave their temporary homes during the day. If the weather was bad they could shelter here. If it was really bad and the wind and water were rushing in from the sea they could sit facing away from the sea until they were allowed back into their accommodation.
Little was not always popular. He was responsible for the demolition of a classic Georgian terrace to enable the construction of the massive Marine Court, which you can see to the west, the division of the Old Town, where he ran a new road through the middle, and the instigation of brash amusements on the Stade, where he nearly managed to drive the fishing community into the sea.
J). Hasting Library and other buildings in this area.
Hastings was badly bombed during the 39-45 war. This part of town is one that largely survived and shows something of its former grandeur.
The library was built in 1878 at the behest of Thomas Brassey, then MP for Hastings. It originally housed a rowing club in the basement. It is an impressive grade two listed building.
There are a number of impressive buildings in this area. They are all tall and thin to make the best use of the restricted space.