Seeing as I haven’t posted anything since February I thought I’d start with something easy, just so my brain would get accustomed to putting lines of text together.
There has been a lot going on in the UK this summer, more specifically a barrage of bad things. On the bright side, I don’t see any locusts around and there is definitely no flood on the way (only thunderstorms for the moment).
As if to highlight the failings of our society, nature turned up the thermostat to wash the city in bright sunlight.
While the city was slowly coming to a boil I found myself longing for things I was familiar with. I normally miss the sea every day of the year but now, with temperatures that reminded me of home, the thought of being far from the coast was asphyxiating.
Luckily, my housemate fancied a trip to the seaside as well so for once I didn’t take off on my own. After much contemplation we decided to head to Hastings, a place neither had visited before
The train journey from central London to Hastings is a little over an hour, with direct trains departing from Cannon Street. The tickets were expensive as per usual; for some reason though the single ticket at 28 pounds costs the same as the day return ticket. The guy at the ticket booth told us we should have brought another person with us, as you get a group discount for three people.
I told him about our other housemate letting us down and he joked that she was probably hangover. I don’t think my housemate is capable of being hungover-she was the one that happily offered to finish my bottle of raki after I mentioned it was too strong for me. We grabbed our tickets and boarded the train with time to spare.
Arriving in Hastings feels like arriving in any other English seaside town. The architecture is mostly consistent throughout the country so you can expect to see Victorian houses with balconies, a seaside promenade by a main road, amusement arcades (but why?) and a very long pier.
Hastings as a name might ring a bell because of the battle of Hastings, of which I know nothing except that it took place at some point. Hastings is in fact one of Britain’s oldest fishing ports. It has been a maritime center for over a thousand years. Nowadays, Europe’s biggest fleet of beach-launched fishing boats is based on the Stade, a shingle beach by Hastings Old Town. The Hastings Fishermen’s Protection Society preserves the fishing community’s medieval right to carry on using that beach for free.
The sea is at the very core of the society in Hastings. On the way to the Stade you will come across a fish market housed within a complex of tall, narrow wooden sheds, all painted black. These are the Net Shops, where the fishermen used to store their nets. Some of these buildings are listed as national heritage assets. Near the net shops you will find the Hastings Fishermen museum and the Blue Reef aquarium, none of which we had time to visit.
Our destination was the beach, specifically the Stade where the fishing boats were lying on the pebbly equivalent of sand dunes. The is divided on two sections by a car park and a concrete structure that goes into the sea. There are a lot of man-made constructions in English beaches whose purpose I still haven’t understood. Like what’s up with the wooden barriers that go into the sea, do they stop the sand from moving about due to currents or something? I have no clue.
Anyway, we stayed on the first section of the beach for a while and I braved a plunge and a swim. The water was-as expected- freezing and murky but I was satisfied just swimming around as I pleased and not in lanes. It turned out the freezing water was the least of my problems because some idiot with a dinghy boat decided to play a game with his family where he would throw a rope off the back side of the boat, they would hold on to it and he would drag them around, moving about in circles.
Mind you, the back side of a dingy is still equipped with a motor which comes with a propeller, which is the sort of thing you don’t want near your kid. The guy almost run me over twice as I was swimming; the second time I had to physically stop the boat and tell him to watch out. His kid apologised in his place, because I suppose when one is being an ass they might as well go all the way.
By the way, when driving a motor boat you are not allowed to use your engine at full speed past the line of buoys in the water-since there are people that might be swimming in shallow waters. I know people don’t need a licence for dinghies that size but that’s just common sense. Propeller=sharp. People=soft. Keep that in mind all you aspiring dingy pirates.
While I was busy dodging dinghies, my housemate was exploring the area and when I came out of the water she had already decided to go to the far end of the beach, which required quite a bit of walking on pebbles and rocks. It must have taken us around 15 minutes to traverse the rocky terrain and reach a part of the beach that was more isolated. A tall white cliff was separating it from the mainland but it was definitely not shielding it from the sun. Even if you do find some rock formations that cast shadow I would advice against sitting below a vertical cliff. England is not a seismogenic country, but it does get battered by the elements quite a lot. I can’t imagine landslides are that uncommon.
Swimming on that part of the beach was fantastic. Despite the waters being not-so transparent and the fact that I really missed the small background details-like the smell of thyme and the sound of cicadas-it actually felt like being on a holiday. There was even the occasional old man nudist,adding to that feeling of freedom, from life in the city, from being confined within buildings, from reality and from clothes.
Sadly my housemate noted pretty soon that the sea was rising fast and began worrying we would get cut off from the rest of the beach. Despite that little voice in my head telling me ‘you can totally get cut off and just swim back’ I decided that the prudent thing to do would be to follow my housemate. After all, none of us was familiar with tides. On the way back I made a game of running and jumping from rock to rock. ‘Don’t jump on the green one, it looks slippery’ my housemate warned me. ‘Naaaah’ I said as I slipped and fell flat on the pebbles. Sadly I don’t bruise easily, which means there is no evidence of my past mistakes-which means I tend to forget and repeat them.
After leaving the beach we made a stop at the Old Town, which was literally just across the street but still we had to google directions and ask a local man how to reach it. The Old Town is mainly residential; there is one short street with a number of restaurants, bars and coffee shops and then another street going up that is known for antique shops. My housemate had a sudden craving for sea food but alas, most of the restaurants were very busy-and looked quite touristic.
In the end I came across an old lady sitting on a chair, sunbathing in front of an antique shop and asked her for a good place to eat fish. She recommended a restaurant which was just around the corner but didn’t look so appealing at first glance. She mentioned they had grilled fish however, which sealed the deal for us. The place was called the Master and I do recommend it for the fish and the service. Plus, I was really excited to find fish that was not deep fried. It’s not that I dislike the ‘fish’ part of fish and chips, I just think it should be recognized as a crime against cooking at some point (don’t deport me yet).
If you walk around the Old Town you will find some pubs with nice cosy gardens that look very welcoming on a sunny day. I noticed that a lot of them were advertising gigs and a lot of the bands were playing sea shanties. Although this was obviously something for the tourists it did compliment the picture of Hastings as a sea town rather nicely. As we walked along the street where the restaurants were we also came across an outdoor comedy show. Two young guys were handing out leaflets for it a bit further down the road. A lady greeted one of them and told him she really enjoyed his last show and that she had checked out his videos on youtube. I gather these shows take place every now and then and they are open to the public and free of charge.
We didn’t stay long enough to have a beer and watch the sunset unfortunately. It was a Sunday, we had a train to catch (which we only just barely caught) and we both were working the next day. Even for one day, it did feel like a proper holiday. We both joked about how surreal it felt to be tourists on the British seaside. It all felt awfully familiar and at the same time inevitably foreign.
The sea has always been a familiar thing in my mind. Since my early childhood I have a clear picture of it, how it works and how I relate to it. For this reason, there are things here that strike me as particularly odd, from the way the tide works to hearing people say that freezing cold winter days are brilliant for a walk by the seaside. It’s interesting for me to try and put together an English person’s image of the sea.
Maybe if I grew up here I would have fond memories of my parents taking me to a ridiculously long pier on a winter day to eat battered cod. Maybe winter days would make me think of the seaside and the smell of sea weed would be more welcoming than the smell of thyme. Maybe I would also dislike shingle beaches and I would surf on a wet suit in Cornwall on holidays, or travel to the Jurassic coast with my my hypothetical kids to pick up fossils. Who knows.