6th JUNE – FAIRLIGHT WOOD, HASTINGS
After a swift beginning to our journey, things snarled up around Lewes. It took ages crawling in slow traffic, across the coast road on a hot sunny Sunday with the crowds out in force. Eventually we arrived at a camping site near the village of Pett, a blissfully calm oasis of green with mature trees surrounding the different levels of grass and hard standing pitches. The next puzzle was working out how to put up the new awning, turned out fairly straight forward and a wonderful additional space for comfortable camping! To make matters more perfect, we went to bed and listened to tawny owls hooting in the trees and in the morning awoke to the sound of the cuckoo, the first we heard this year!
From the corner of the campsite we went through a small wood, up the lane and across fields full of ewes and lambs making our way we made our way to the nearby village of Fairlight where we caught a bus into Hastings. Having driven along the crowded sea front the day before and not being keen on ‘seaside bling’, stopping in cafes or amusement arcades, we opted to explore the ‘old town’. There were lovely old black and white buildings, small lattice windows and some really tiny low doors, beautiful stone walkways with balustrades, flowers in pots, on walls, coming up through the pavement and out of the walls.
We walked up numerous steps to what looked initially like a castle, but it was in fact a funicular rail lift, up and down from the marina below. Back down the steps we went, through the narrow streets over to the other side of the town and up through a park to the ruined castle with its spectacular views over the town below and out over the sea. Thirsty work all that climbing so we stopped off to refresh ourselves and watch the world go by.
We used the bus to Rye and found a fabulous old town complete with an ancient stone entrance called the Landgate. It was built in 1329, complete with gates, portcullis and drawbridge, it is the only one of 4 gates left standing, originally built to protect the town. Many houses are black and white with terracotta tiled fronts, the building that houses the town council has lovely stone arches, numerous individual shops fit in perfectly with wooden facials and muted paintwork, no chain stores here.
The old castle had old cannons with piles of cannonballs arranged in front, it looked out towards the River Rother and over wetlands towards Rye Harbour now 2 miles away from the town due to coastline changes over many centuries The castle was not open due to Covid restrictions so we walked between the beautiful houses, quintessentially English with roses up the walls and gardens full or colour. There are many fascinating old hotels and pubs, the Bell Inn being the oldest pub in town dating from 1390 and we enjoyed lunch at The Mermaid which was rebuilt in 1420. These two establishments were joined to The Ship Inn and The Cinque Ports by underground tunnels, used by smugglers long ago.
Our final good walk in this area was down to the Pett Levels, along the Old Military Canal, up over the fields to Winchelsea. It was another glorious day and as we walked by the canals we saw common terns, a marsh harrier, lapwings and heard Cettis and reed warblers to name a few birds, also saw many damselflies, dragonflies, butterflies and numerous buzzing insects, it was a real flavour of summer.
Stopping at the top of a large field we looked at the view and realised there were several fields of grape vines. Further along the footpath we came upon Charles Palmer Vineyard where we enjoyed our picnic accompanied by a glass of beautiful Rosé and finished off with a glass of Blanc de Blancs 2014, platinum award winning wine. What a fantastic addition to our picnic!
Winchelsea itself is a small and very pretty small town with a lot of history. Sadly we didn’t have much time before the bus back so we should take time and return one day. There is so much to see in this corner of East Sussex.
10th JUNE – TANNER FARM, TONBRIDGE
The whole excitement of this stop was to meet up with friends and fellow motorhomers. Three couples we met in Spain, on sites in different locations, who we have met in various locations since, but not altogether. We arrived from our various homes on the Gower Peninsular, the Isle of Wight, Clacton on Sea and Salisbury at a rural campsite on the western edge of Kent, for a few days together to catch up and hear about changes of motorhomes and future travel plans. It was great to play Boules again, last played in Spain some 15 months ago, and Mölkky, a Finnish game with wooden skittles, also learned in Spain but a new game for some. Great fun was had by all including relaxing together with some Pimms and nibbles one afternoon.
The farm was on the edge of a commercial apple growing farm with acres of trees in neat rows kept to optimum height for picking fruit. The fields were surrounded with high hedges for wind protection and a footpath lead us on through barley fields, by converted oast houses, along the edge of a vineyard, eventually arriving at Marden village 3 miles away.
It was so hot and sunny so it was a hot walk and the Unicorn Pub was very welcoming with air conditioning, a large jug of iced water and our various choices of drinks. Suitably refreshed our return journey started well, then it just got even better when we discovered the Herbert Hall Vineyard was now open so another stop was added to sample the produce. We sat by the vines under a large umbrella with glasses of a sparkling white Brut; it was of course delicious and a wonderful impromptu stop before returning to the campsite.
A couple of friends are keen cyclists and rode several miles to Scotney Castle; from their description it sounded so nice that we also visited on our way to the next camping location. It is a National Trust property and garden with a large house built in the 1830’s overlooking the valley with the moated castle ruins providing the focal point of the renowned ‘Picturesque’ gardens, an aesthetic style created in the 18th century. It was absolutely beautiful especially on such a sunny day, the reflections of the castle and flowers were so clear.
The woodland walk area was full of rhododendrons, several colourful borders, a stream area and the new wildflower meadows were looking good and with lots of buzzing insects. We spent ages wondering around this peaceful haven before making our way to the next campsite.
14th JUNE – BRIGHTON
The campsite here was bigger than I’d imagined but done very well with small secluded areas as well as more open in the middle. It was a good 30 minutes walk to the Marina on the eastern side of Brighton with it’s restaurants, bars and a few shops. We spent some time along the harbour wall and along a stretch of the walkway high above the white cliffs and shingle beach, then headed west along the promenade another 40 minutes into Brighton itself. The Palace Pier built in 1899 stretches away into the sea with amusements located at the end, and the old seaside town hotels and guesthouses stand looking out towards the new wind farm far out to sea and barely visible on the horizon the day we visited.
Meeting up with two of my cousins for lunch was a highlight, not having seen them for a few years. Lots to talk about over lunch then a short walk to sit in the sun at the Marina enjoying a drink together before going our separate ways again. Having talked a bit about the old town area later we visited The Lanes area in Brighton was so different to the huge buildings on the seafront with small houses, shops and narrow streets.
The Royal Pavilion looked stunning with its iconic Regency architecture, the symmetry showed the elegant stonework set off with a small enclosed garden to the road side. I liked the contrasting styles of architecture and colours with other large buildings in the town, The Chapel Royal with its red brick clock tower dating from the 18th century and the Fabrica Art Gallery that has been created from a repurposed former Regency style church.
Between the shops and walkways the restaurants and coffee shops had spilled out onto the open spaces with seating and umbrellas, visually so appealing and tempting too, reminding me of the Spanish culture where eating outside is so common.
Having enjoyed our time away with 11 consecutive days of sunshine and visiting 3 different locations in the south earner corner of England, we decided to return home a day early due to a sudden, and very wet change in the weather. It would have been dismal driving back in the rain and it will be easy to return and explore more places in this corner of the country another time. It will soon be time to think of our July trip, north this time for a change.