The weather forecasts yesterday and early this morning promised us a “Sunny Saturday” but the sky is overcast and the scene is lit with grey cloud-light. There is even a hint of rain. The indicator at the bus stop promised a 214 in 8 minutes so we preferred to walk. When we reached St Pancras at around 9:30, the station was already busy and we had to thread our way between the cross currents of arriving and departing travellers, some of whom seemed to be wandering in a daze.
While Tigger queued for tickets I went upstairs and bought porridge and coffee for breakfast at the Camden Food Co. Porridge has come back into fashion and all the fast food outlets – even Starbuck’s – now sell it with a variety of extras such as honey or fruit preserve.
I joined Tigger again and, carrying breakfast gingerly in a plastic bag, we made our way upstairs to the HS1 platforms and settled aboard a train. This one will whisk us to Ashford International where we change for our final destination. We are heading for the famous town of Hastings. It is claimed that the one date everyone knows is the date of the Battle of Hastings (1066) which initiated the Norman era in these islands. The town itself is much older than that and dates from an earlier invasion, that of the Anglo-Saxons.
Town names ending in ‘-ing’ or ‘-ings’ are often old Anglo-Saxon settlements. The suffix derives from Anglo-Saxon ‘inga’, meaning ‘people’ or ‘folk’, so Hastings would have been settled by a man called Hasta and the name means ‘Hasta’s folk’.
As we speed south, the countryside is decked in a grey mist that dims the scene and closes out distant views. The hope is that the sun will after all break through or that the clouds and mist do not extend as far as Hastings.
While we waited on the platform at Ashford, thin spots and breaks appeared in the scudding clouds, allowing brief glimpses of the sun.
We board the Brighton train, which calls at Hastings on the way, and find seats at a table. The usual weekend engineering works are taking place and some trains have been replaced by buses on certain sections of the network but, fortunately, our service is not affected.
By the time we reached Hastings, almost as by enchantment, the sky had cleared and the sun shone brightly, though the air remained hazy as you can perhaps see by looking at the houses in the photo below.
We walked through town taking in familiar sights, and passed through a crowded Priory Meadow, once the property of monks, and now the site of a modern shopping centre.
After the closure of the priory, Priory Meadow became a cricket ground and continued in that use for over 130 years. Unhappily – or happily, depending on your point of view – it is now the site of the Priory Meadow Shopping Centre, the old purpose being recalled by a rather overly exuberant monument to cricket.
The handsome building that today houses the Hastings Information Centre carries this unusual two-faced clock.
We went down to the beach. You may have heard of the terrible fire that has devastated Hastings’ Victorian Pier. It had been closed for some time though there was some hope that the Council might take it over from its private owners with a view to reopening it. The fire has left its future in doubt.
For lunch we went across the road to The Italian Way, a restaurant we have visited before where good food is served by friendly and cheerful waiters.
This weekend, there is a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings and a lot of activity in the town had to do with that. We didn’t go to see it (well, we know how it ends!) and instead went to look at another event being held further along the beach.
The boating pool was closed and had been taken over by gulls. I have always been fascinated by their ability to take flight from the water and caught this juvenile doing just that.
What we had come to see was the veteran car rally being held in a section of the car part at the eastern end of the seafront near the the Fishermen’s Museum. Apart from a couple of what we might described as “works in progress”, all the vehicles were in immaculate condition as if they had just rolled off the assembly line.
The owners of the cars, and their families, seemed to be enjoying themselves, chatting to one another, and there was a sense of camaraderie. As time passes, I notice more and more among “veteran” cars, models that I used put petrol and oil in when I worked in a filling station years ago, cars that were then current on the roads. And no, I’m not saying which ones!
We made our way back through the town. At every turn there are beautiful buildings and fascinating things to see, such as the Old Court Hall and its wooden head decoration.
There are picturesque winding streets, often with steps, and antiques shops. (Or are they junk shops? Go in and decide for yourself…)
We returned to the seafront for a slightly closer look at the pier, with the sun once again playing hide and seek in and out of the clouds.
Most of the metal work seems to be still in place so perhaps it will be possible to rebuild the pier and open it again to the public, renewing a tradition begun in the Victorian era. It will require a lot of money, however.
We returned to the station and had a little while to wait for the train. Then we we followed the morning’s journey in reverse back to St Pancras.