Coast, cliffs, woodlands, fairy glens, a secret beach, a cliff railway and some historic bits of Hastings . If you ever heard an announcement for a train to “Or” and wondered about it, do this walk. A town and country walk, it also be done as a country walk of about 5 miles or a town walk of about 4 miles
You can combine the shorter town walk with the shorter section of the Grey Owl and Bohemia walk
To make an urban tour of Hastings of about 7 miles do the short walk and, just before you would return to Ore Station, take the diversion to see Grey Owl’s other house in St James Road. Continue to the bottom of St James Road. Cross the main road and then turn right into Alexandra Park. You have now joined the Grey Owl and Bohemia walk just before point 2.
Distance, Terrain and Time
12 Kilometres, 7.5 miles with a number of steep ups and downs, some of which can be avoided. 5 o4 four miles for the shorter walks.
This walk explores the delightful Hastings Country Park and also the old town of Hastings. Alternatives enable you to shorten the walk and explore just one of these. The town only section is very child friendly.
This is a hilly walk with lots of steps but there are no stiles.
Start and finish points
Starts and finishes at Ore railway station.
Southern trains run to Ore half hourly Monday to Saturday, less frequently on Sundays. They run from London Victoria and Brighton. It is possible to change at Hastings from a South Eastern train from Charing Cross to get there quicker from London. If coming at Ashford you will need to change at Hastings.
If you arrive at Hastings station and have just missed a rail connection to Ore you can get a 22 or 22a bus from the station forecourt to Mount Pleasant Road, just by Ore Station. Make sure that your bus has “Ore” on the front as the buses also run westwards to other destinations.
For bus and train times see Traveline South East
Ordnance Survey maps
Explorer series number 124
Corner shops and pubs in Ore, Cafes, Fish and Chip shops and pubs at the Stade in Hastings, numerous cafes and pubs in the old town, Café at the top of the East Cliff Lift., The Beacon in St Mary’s Terrace on the West Hill (Weekends only)
Rock-A-Nore, just east of the Stade, At the top of the West Hill Cliff Lift.
1). Get off of the train at Ore Station. Now you will be able to tell your friends “It’s spelt Ore. I’ve been there.” Ore station seems shrouded in an immense sense of loss, although it is not clear what has been lost. The station is not actually in Ore and there have been suggestions that it should be renamed East Hastings, which would be less romantic. However it is the nearest railway station to the Hastings Country Park and Hastings Old Town.
Walk back up the ramp to the road. Turn left when you reach the road and then take the first left again (Mount Pleasant Road) to walk up hill.
For Hastings residents, this area is nothing unusual; being a number of streets containing Victorian houses, but for residents of London or Brighton or other towns where Victorian houses are either left to rot or aggressively gentrified this may be a shock. Here are houses that are mostly well cared for, but not gentrified.
Cross Mount Pleasant Road at the Crossing and then turn right by the Mount Pleasant pub into Calvert Road. At the end turn left into St Georges Road. Just before the end of St Georges Road see a footpath on the right, heading steeply uphill. Continue on this path as it crosses a road. At the end of the path keep straight ahead and then turn left into Priory Road.
Just before the end of Priory Road turn right on a footpath through a small cemetery. At the end of the path turn right along Bembrook Road with parkland on your left. Here you can enjoy fine views of the East Hill, which you will be climbing shortly.
2). After about 300 metres the parkland on your left gives way to a fenced school playground. Just before the fence there is a path with steps down. Walk down these steps. On your left is a playground with some interesting equipment (A). Turn right and walk along the edge of the school fence. A path comes in from the left, but continue straight ahead to a gate. Walk round this and continue straight ahead to join a road. Keep straight ahead.
After a couple of metres you can see a path going straight ahead, but your path turns sharply left and downhill on steps. Emerge at a main road. Turn right and then cross the road two roads at the crossing. When you reach the other side turn left and uphill on Harold Road. You can see a footpath sign ahead on the right.
Take the path indicated by the sign. The path climbs steep steps and then comes to a four way junction. Keep straight ahead and quickly come to a path turning off to the right and climbing steeply. Take this path to the right and within a few metres join the street of High Wickham with its posh houses, one of which was briefly the resident of the painter Lucien Pissaro (See plaque)
At the end of High Wickham take the path straight ahead to enter Hastings Country Park . Turn immediately left to walk uphill by the side of the garden of the last house and then through a tunnel of trees and bushes. There are a number of wooden waymarks in the park, but they do not correspond to the waypoints in this walk guide.
The area covered by the country park was a favourite courting place of the artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal It was also one of the places where the young Archie Bellany practiced his love of animals and other wild things that would enable him to become the Canadian Indian Grey Wolf in later years.
3). You emerge at an open green space.
If you wish to take a short cut, re-joining the main route at the top of the cliff lift, turn right here and follow the edge of the ridge to the top of the lift. This makes the walk more of an urban experience.
The main route bears left, following the line of trees at the border of the park, to arrive at a park sign and map. Pass these and follow the track behind them that bears right and then heads in a straight line.
There are grand views over north-east Hastings and you can see that it is still very much a Victorian town. The town grew at an amazing rate in the later part of the 19th century. It became the second largest seaside resort after Brighton, but after this went into something of a decline. The rapid growth caused problems in the 20th century when loads of houses became in need of renewal at much the same time. As they had been put up in a hurry the quality was often poor.
Pass a holiday park and then, after about 250 metres, turn right through a gate to return to the country park. Take the path to the left. This is a broad grass path and there are a number of narrower paths branching off of it and crossing it, which can be confusing. Keep to the broad path which bears left and arrives at the edge of the park again, by some houses. You can see a tall think wooden post which tells you all the things that you are not allowed to do in the park.
Turn right at this post and descend on a path through trees and bushes. You are descending into Ecclesbourne Glen. Just after a bridge over a stream you come to a junction. Take a path which bears slightly to the left. (not hard left). Walk beside Ecclesbourne reservoir which unfortunately is fenced off. At a junction bear left. The path curves left and then right and then straight ahead to join Barley Lane and national cycle route two. Turn right along the paved lane.
Come to Hastings Country Park waypoint number 11. Turn right here down a track. At country park waymark 13 continue straight ahead past a gate. Descend into beautiful Fairlight Glen.
4). Come to Country park waymark 15. Turn right here down the glen. About 5 metres after you turn there are steps leaving the main track and descending left towards the stream.
Be careful. It is easy to miss these and go striding on down the track!
Descend the steps and turn right, walking down the bottom of the valley next to ferns and waterfalls. Arrive at the end of the path. Turn right along a broad path. After about 3 metres you will see that one of the fence poles has been removed and there is a track on the other side of it. A sign tells you that this is the path to the beach but that the path is eroded and you are recommended not to use it.
I recommend that you do take the path for a short way. Cross the stream and follow the path down. However it is recommended that you only go a short way to look at the views over the beach. There is no difficulty on this stretch. The walk then returns the way you came.
The beach (B) here is very beautiful and secluded and is a well-known nudist beach. However it is a long way down and back up again and in February the path was very muddy. I met two groups who said that it was a lovely walk but involved some scrambling. If you take it you must take responsibility for yourself. I’m told that it is possible to walk to the beach under the cliffs at low tide, but you would have to check the tide tables carefully.
If you have walked down the beach path you turn left on your return, otherwise continue in the same direction. From here to point 5 the navigation is easy. Simply continue to take the most left-wards route at any point you have a choice. You will not fall in the sea as the route is fenced. Descend into Ecclesbourne Glen and climb out of it. You get fine views of the cliffs here. Then walk along open grassland to the top of the cliff lift.
When you arrive at the top of Ecclesbourne Glen and the ground opens out, you can avoid visiting the old town by turning right, keeping to the right hand edge of the open land. This will bring you back to a point you visited earlier, by the interpretation board. Return to Ore Station the way you came.
5). Arrive at the top station of the East Cliff lift,(C) which looks like an imitation castle. If the lift is open it is suggested that you use this to descend. It is open 11-4 at weekends in winter and every day in summer. Otherwise take the steps down to the right. These come out in Hastings old town on the Tackleway. Turn left and then right down Tamarisk Steps. At the bottom of the steps turn left to reach the bottom station of the cliff lift.
If you have come out of the cliff lift, turn left. If you have walked down continue straight on past the lift. The beach area here and in front of the old town is called the Stade. Pass (or enter) the Fisherman’s museum on your left and note the famous black net storage sheds.
On your right you will see an alley with a sign to the Shipwreck Museum. Walk down the alley and turn right. Turn right again at the end of the alley and see the miniature railway station. Your route follows the miniature railway to its western terminus and, if it is running, you may wish to ride on it.
If you decide to walk then follow the railway along a track which runs to the left of the line. Towards the end you cross to a concrete path on the other side to reach the station.
En-route you can see a wide range of the detritus of the fishing community and other human activities. Last time I was there, there was a model ship about 1.5 metres high resting on a trolley. You will also pass the Jerwood Gallery (E), (see below), the fun fair, the boating lake and the lifeboat station (with shop). You may wish to avail yourself of some of these amenities.
(6). Turn left along the side of the main road when you reach the miniature railway terminus. Cross the road at the crossing and then continue walking in the same direction. You quickly come to George Street (F), a street of shops and cafes which turns shaply back on your right
Turn down this street. For more information about George Street see below. Pass the entrance to the West Cliff Lift on your left. You may want to return to this point later to use the lift to avoid the steep climb up the West Hill. It is open daily throughout the year. The views are not great because most of it is inside a natural hole in the cliff.
At the end of George Street turn left. You are now in the High Street of Hastings Old Town. For more information about this fascinating part of town see G, H, and I below. You will probably want to explore the Old Town before continuing.
Once you have finished your explorations you can either return to the West Cliff lift, ascend and rejoin the walk at point 8, or you can walk up Salters Lane (7), at twitten that climbs steeply up the West Hill from a point next to 106 High Street. At the top of the lane turn left and then see a path climbing up the hill on your right. Take this and climb steeply up the hill. It is quite a pull!
At the top bear left along the edge of the grassed area, to reach Smugglers’ Adventure (J) on the left hand side of the path.
Unless it is very misty, you will now be able to see the West Cliff café and lift. Aim straight for this across the grass. If it is misty or the grass is very wet, walk straight ahead along the tarmac path and then, at a junction, take the path to the right. Thus brings you out just to the right of the café. Turn left to reach it.
(8). Pass to the right of the café and lift, past the toilets, and walk round the cliff edge. You will be able to see the castle on your right. The path curves round and joins another path. Turn left, aiming for the north side of the castle. (K)
The entrance to the castle is now on your left, but your route goes right down to the road (Hill Road). Turn left and immediately right along Castledown Avenue. At the end of this road cross Wellington Road and walk across the open area ahead. There is a concrete path slightly to the left. You are aiming for the left of the buildings in front of you.
Reach Plymlimmon Road. Ignore a path to the left. Take the first road on the left. This is St Mary’s Terrace (L) See below for more information. At the weekend you can take Saturday Brunch or Sunday lunch at the highly recommended “Beacon Arts Centre” which is about half way down the Terrace on the left. The garden has amazing views. Phone 01424 431 305 or email email@example.com before going to check that they are open.
You may want to make a small diversion to 1 Plymlimmon Road. A plaque recalls that this was briefly the home of Robert Tressell, the author “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”.
At the end of St Mary’s Terrace keep straight ahead along St Mary’s Road.
There is an alley to the left after about 100metres. You can descend this, cross the railway and turn left into St James Road to see another home of Grey Owl (M) Return the same way.
To make an urban tour of Hastings of about 7 miles do the short walk and, just before you would return to Ore Station, take the diversion to see Grey Owl’s other house in St James Road. Continue to the bottom of St James Road. Cross the main road and then turn right into Alexandra Park. You have now joined the Grey Owl and Bohemia walk just before point 2. Do the short version of this second walk unless you have a lot of stamina!
To follow the main route, at the end of St Mary’s Road turn left into Manor Road, right into Mount Pleasant Road and then left in Hughenden Road. Ore Station is then on your right. Your train will normally leave from the platform over the footbridge.
POINTS OF INTEREST
(C). The East Cliff Lift
Perhaps half of all Hastings postcards are off the lift, with the fisherman’s sheds and boats in the foreground. It was opened in 1903 and is the steepest cliff lift in the UK. There are spectacular views from its cars. In winter it is only open at weekends.
(D). The Stade and Rock-A-Nore
The word “Stade” is Saxon for landing place. Hastings has almost never had a harbour, so boats have to be landed on the beach. This has been going on for a thousand years and today the fishing fleet at Hastings is the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe. Many of the fishers still live in the old town. The tall net storage sheds came about because the council insisted that the sheds could not have a floor area of more than 8ft by 8ft. The relationship between the council and the fishing community has not always been harmonious.
Not surprisingly, you can buy fish here and there are numerous fish and chip shops (mainly to the west of the cliff lift).
There are also a number of attractions:
(E). The Jerwood Gallery and Hastings’ identity crisis.
The Jerwood Gallery is a recent addition to the landscape of Hastings and a controversial one. Some welcome it as a prestigious addition to the town. Some see it as a monstrous growth imitating and mocking the fishing buildings.
This dispute goes deep in Hastings. In the 19th century it grew massively on the back of the seaside tourist trade, with revolutionary initiatives such as allowing mixed bathing (an idea borrowed from the nearby daring trendies in Bexhill) vastly boosting visitors. But by the beginning of the 20th century it began to lose its way.
How was it to brand itself? Was it a sophisticated resort, in the way that St Leonards had set out to be in the past? Was it a genteel place of recreation, like Eastbourne? Was it a rowdy resort for the masses like Margate or Southend? Or was it, as the fishing community and others asserted, a working town with some tourism added on? Throughout the 20th century the town could not decide. Was it a working class or a middle and upper class resort?
The extensive damage that the town suffered in the blitz (some of the worst on the South Coast) did not help, and the trend towards foreign holidays in the second half of the century made things even worse. The cost of replacing the life-expired homes thrown up in the boom years was also a huge drag on resources.
In the 1930’s the council decided to develop a brash funfair and similar facilities next to the fishing boats, (something that the fishers did not appreciate at the time). But in a turnabout, it persuaded the Jerwood gallery to set up on the Stade in the 21st century, something that suggested that ordinary people were not welcome any more, only rich intellectuals. (In 2014 the entry fee was £8). The fact that the site had been the coach park was seen as particularly symbolic.
There have been a number of vexed issues like this. In the 1990’s the county cricket ground, which happened to be very near the town centre, was destroyed in order to create a large shopping centre, and there was even a plan to create a Hastings by-pass so that potential shoppers and visitors could avoid the place altogether.
(F) George Street – Signs of a solution to Hastings’ problems?
George Street has been part of the solution to Hastings’ problems before. When the town started to expand it was constrained by the hills on both sides. So it started creeping round the front of the West Hill. George Street was the first part of this and it was not initially seen as part of the town at all. Later large parts of West Hill were removed so that the town could expand west. Development flowed round the other side of West Hill creating what is now the town centre.
But now you can see a mixture of boho shops and trendy cafes, symptoms of a possible new version of Hastings. As I researched this walk a large number of people told me, often quite proudly, “We are the new Brighton”. Hastings has always attracted artists, attracted by the sea, countryside and proximity to London. Now large numbers of trendy people seem to be immigrating into the town. Coming from other places with edgy reputations, they are not worried by the fact that Hastings has a reputation for being “rough”.
At first this may seem strange. Other towns in the South East have seen an influx in London commuters, but the fastest trains to London take 1 ½ hours and an annual season ticket to London in 2014 costed over £4,400. The answer seems to be a combination of affordable Victorian and Georgian houses and the internet. People priced out of the trendy areas of London and Brighton see a way of affording the lifestyle they want. Many are able to work wholly or partly from home as a result of the internet.
Whether this influx is enough to have a significant effect on the economy in the long term is a moot point. There is also the question of where all this leaves the existing inhabitants. An immediate effect has been an increase in house prices, which will have made it more worthwhile to rehabilitate existing property, but may price local people out of the market.
Have a look at the garden that has been created on the site of no.69.
The Old Town
This is the original part of Hastings. Much of it has been preserved, although quite a lot has also been demolished over the years, much to the chagrin of the Old Hastings Preservation Society. The higgledy-piggledy houses crammed in to make the most of the available space, give rise to an atmosphere tourists would call “quaint”. Wandering around and getting lost if recommended. Regrettably the Old Town Museum (G) is now closed.
St Clement’s Church is the oldest church in Hastings, the writer, Catherine Cookson, who lived in the old town, was married there, as were Elizabeth Siddall and Dante Rosetti. It is open when an attendant is available.
Famous residents of the High Street include Elizabeth Siddall at number 5 and the Duke of Wellington at number 54. There are medieval hall houses at 97 and 102. 42a is the original market hall.
(H) To the left of the Church is Swan Terrace, which leads to Croft Road. In the TV series Foyle’s War, the detective, Christopher Foyle lived at 31 Croft Road.Sohia Jex Blake, one of the first women to graduate in medicine and a leading campaigner for women’s medical education, lived at number 18.
(I). All Saints Street, on the opposite side of the Bourne, is also worth exploring. 51, 58 and 125 date from the 15th century, whilst 127 was built in 1540
(J). Smugglers Adventure
Hastings had always been a smuggling town. Although the inhabitants colluded with, and benefited from, the practice, the smugglers were not the romantic figures that they are sometimes portrayed as. Most of the smuggling went on in the old town, where it was common for dwellings to have false floors and cupboards.
The caves here were no doubt used for smuggling, but they have also had many other uses, including use as an air raid shelter in the 1939-45 war. The tour of the caves is a very different experience from the rest of the walk.
(k). Hastings Castle
Built on a spectacular site over the town, the castle was one of many built at the behest of William the Conquerer. It is now in ruins.
(L). St Mary’s Terrace
This is a lovely street, with attractive houses and panoramic views over Hastings A plaque at number 36 recalls that it was the home of Grey Owl (see below) Number 43 was the home of Anna Whistler and her son James. His most famous painting is officially called “Arrangement in Grey and Black no. 1, but is more widely known as “Whistler’s Mother”
(M). St James’s Road and Grey Owl
St James’s Road is another attractive Hastings Street. No wonder the town is getting gentrified! Number 32 was the home of Archie Belaney- Grey Owl.
He was brought up by two maiden aunts and his grandmother and became fascinated by wildlife and 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”.