One Cinque port and two ancient towns
Standard walk: 19.0km (11.8 miles), 6 hours. For the whole outing including trains, sights and meals allow at least 11 hours
Short walk: 9.5km (5.9 miles), 3 hours.
OS LandRanger Map Nos. 189 and 199. OS Explorer Map Nos. 124 and 125. Hastings, map reference TQ814097 is in East Sussex.
7 out of 10
This rewarding walk starts with a fine clifftop coastal walk with steep climbs along the way. This section is the most strenuous part of the walk. Lunch is at Pett Level, after which the terrain levels out, before leading up through the New Gate into Winchelsea for tea. After tea and just east of the town, you reach The Look Out, offering panoramic views across the whole of Romney Marsh and the Kent Downs beyond. From there it is down and along to Ferry Bridge, following an easy flat route north east to Rye.
You may reduce the length of the standard walk by 9.5km to 9.5km (6 miles) by following the main route directions as given until . Then follow the Shortened route directions which go past the Caves and the Castle to finish at Hastings. You may also reduce the length of the walk by 2.5km to 16.5km (10 miles) by finishing at Winchelsea station.
Hastings nowadays is most famously connected with the battle of 1066, although it existed long before as a small community, to become a Saxon settlement after the Romans left early in the 5th century, taking its name from the group of Saxon invaders, the Haestengas.
Hastings Castle (tel 01424 781111) was built high on the sandstone rocks above the town, by William the Conqueror in 1067. Although just a ruin today, it is still worth a visit which includes the dungeons and an exhibition area. The castle is open 10am - 5pm, daily from April until August. 11am - 3pm daily, from September to March.
St. Clements Caves, West Hill, Hastings(tel 01424 422964) have over time been put to many uses including a military hospital, an air raid shelter and even a dance hall. Open 11am - 5.30pm, daily from Easter until September. 11am - 4.30pm, daily from October to Easter.
Visiting Winchelsea today it can be difficult to imagine with the sea over 2km away, that 700 years ago it was one of England's leading ports. This new town of Winchelsea replaced the earlier old town, which was sited on a massive shingle spit somewhere out towards Dungeness (probably offshore from the village of Camber). The old town of Winchelsea was devastated by storms in the 13th century, with the great storm of 1287 causing its final destruction. At the time, the loss of Winchelsea could be compared to losing Portsmouth today, such was its importance. King Edward I ordered a commission to find a new site for the town. Building commenced in the 1280s, from the Strand to the New Gate (where you can see the deepest section of the town ditch around Winchelsea, part of the town's defence), with the streets being laid out on a grid system.
The wealth of new Winchelsea in its heyday was based largely on its huge wine trade. (There are 47 known cellars in the town.) Other trades included wool, timber, iron, shipbuilding and repair. Winchelsea along with Rye emerged to be of far more importance than Hastings (one of the Cinque Ports along with Sandwich, Dover, Hythe, Romney). The storms of the late 13th century, which had destroyed old Winchelsea, caused silting of the Hastings harbour ruining its future as a port. Thus Winchelsea and Rye joined the Cinque Ports to become the ancient towns whose duty in the days before a navy, was to defend England's most vulnerable coastline and provide transport for the King and his retinue in return for trading privileges. The King effectively gave them a licence for piracy, allowing them to attack anybody in the channel.
However the heyday of new Winchelsea lasted only a few generations. By the middle of the 14th Century the town was in terminal decline. In the 1340s it started to suffer from shingle drifts, and was unable to get ships easily in and it started to lose its livelihood. Eventually the returning shingle bank sealed the town's fate.
St. Thomas' Church, Winchelsea is semi ruinous. All that's left (the transepts and the eastern end) is about a third of the original 59 metre long building, although it is still a functioning church. It was badly damaged during various raids; particularly a French and Spanish raid towards the end of the 14th century. With the town in decline the damaged sections were quarried rather than being repaired.
The Look Out is named from the days when the look out man was stationed here during the French wars. It is also the site of Winchelsea windmill destroyed in the hurricane of 16th October 1987.
Rye as a port faired much better than Winchelsea and benefited from its decline and final abandonment as a port in the early 16th century. However over the centuries it had constant battles with nature, being affected by the eastward drift of shingle across the mouth of the harbour, and the enclosing of the salt marshes along the rivers Rother and Brede causing gradual siltation.
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Take the train nearest to 9.00am (before or after) from London Charing Cross station to Hastings. Journey time is 1 hour 30 minutes. Trains back from Rye run once an hour. Journey time 2 hours. Buy a day return to Rye.
Park centrally anywhere in Hastings.
Standard walk The suggested lunchtime stop is The Smuggler (tel 01424 813491), Pett Level, 10km from the start of the walk, which serves homely food from 12 to 2pm Monday to Saturday; 12 to 3pm on Sundays. If walking at a more relaxed pace you are advised to take along a picnic, or alternatively stop at the earlier Coastguards Tea Room (600 metres off route) or
Picnic Once out of Hastings, virtually anywhere along the route would be a good picnic spot.
An earlier version of this walk was published in Time Out Country Walks near London volume 2. We now recommend using this online version as the book is now dated.
Landslip at Ecclesbourne Glen
[Apr'18] - The coast path is still closed, and will be for at least 18 months. There is an inland detour. Unofficially, (and at your own risk), its easily passable (in dry weather).
"The landslip at Ecclesbourne is obviously still there but there is no need to do the (longish) diversion. It's steep down and up, but there absolutely no danger at any point; my friend and I were both baffled as to why the path was closed at all. There are stairs and yes it will be slippery in wet weather, but that's on all muddy paths, yeah?" - Trip Report, May'18
"it's a bit muddy and uneven, but passable quite easily with a bit of care." - Ecclesbourne Glen FB Group, May'18
Locals are trying to keep the path clear, but it may become overgrown again by the end of summer, when secateurs / long trousers might help. Do your bit to help by trampling down any nettles on the path!
Ecclesbourne Glen is a hanging valley [*] on the the coast path between Hastings' East Hill and Fairlight Glen. The coast path was closed at this point after a major landslip in winter 2013/14. A replacement path was destroyed by subsequent landslips in winter 2014/15. No further attempt to repair it has been made. There were further landslips in winter 15/16. Further landslips are possible after this winter's freeze/thaw and rains.
[*] The Glen doesn't quite go down to the beach, there's a low cliff at the end, just a little too high to climb up/down.
The County Park's website has no information about reparing the path. Local campaingers lost a battle with a caravan park (who they blame for the landslip, but whom consultants cleared of any blame). See: Save Our Glen (facebook) and Ecclesbourne Glen (facebook)
This is a safe inland detour for the TOCW2 walk (the TOCW1 walk does the same route, but in the opposite direction). See the OS Map page for details. Take a map - the diversion is poorly signed locally.
From East (Hastings) to West (Fairlight) : from the top of the lift at East cliff follow the cliff path as per the book for 600m then turn half left across the grass your direction 60° to Rocklands Lane. Walk along the lane for 250m an then turn right for 20m to come to an open area were your turn left your direction 75°. Follow the footpath for 250 m to come to directional bollard No 5. Turn half-right here your direction 90° for 290m to come to directional bollard no 7. Turn sharp right at the bollard your direction 200° initially and in 260m as you exit the woods turn half-left and go through the gate across the field your direction 120°. In 80m go thought the next gate and turn half left to rejoin the Book 2 route.
After the walk, we would love to get your feedback
Out (not a train station)
Back (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk