Sitting high up on West Hill yesterday, overlooking the picturesque roofline of Hastings Old Town and watching the waves crashing on the Stade far below my colleague and I were thankful that, although windy, it was a gloriously sunny afternoon for the walking tour we were about to embark on with a coach load of school children. School children are still a hardy breed, embarking on educational trips to the seaside long after most tourists have retreated from the coast for another year.
Our rendezvous time of 2.30 came and went and we received a message that the group had been delayed en route. We waited. The staff who had opened the Castle waited. The sun’s rays lengthened… and lengthened. According to my colleague’s phone app sunset was at 3.55. We started to discuss plan B – Hastings by night.
Finally at 3.20 a crowd of windswept teenagers appeared on the crest of the hill, their driver having helpfully dropped them right down at the bottom. We swept them into the Hastings Castle visitor centre to watch the 1066 Battle of Hastings video. By the time we emerged we were within 10 minutes of ‘sunset’ , but what a spectacular sunset, which was photographed with great excitement through the ruined arches of the castle.
Then it was off on our great dusk adventure with tales of coast altering storms, invasions across the Channel, shipwrecks, smugglers, haunted Hastings and World War 2 blackouts all acquiring an added atmospheric dimension in the fading light.
We nipped down steps through tiny squares of cottages, gathered under street lights and scurried up dark Twittens in the gathering gloom, peering out to sea from the Look Out, able to imagine the whole scene in past centuries far more vividly than would have been possible in sunshine. Another benefit was that the fear of getting lost meant no one dawdled too far behind.
Then on down to the Stade with its extraordinary Net Shops and sawn-in-two fishing boats. Being teenagers a little darkness was certainly not going to deter them from going right down onto the windswept beach to see Europe’s largest beach based fishing fleet and all the equipment used daily to launch and recover the boats which are such a unique part of Hastings life. So off we went, brave teachers valiently bringing up the rear as the group squealed their way across the deep shingle before we retreated to the comparative shelter of the Life Boat Station.
Despite our earlier concerns the children seemed to have enjoyed their different experience of Hastings and, once their teachers had managed to extract them from the final, and possibly greatest, highlight of the amusement arcade conveniently located next to the Conveniences, they all departed in noisy high spirits. We headed for the nearest historic pub.