MENTION the Sussex seaside town of Hastings and the first thing that comes to mind is probably the famous combat of 1066.
There’s certainly plenty to keep battlefield buffs happy but, as I discovered when I set off for a weekend break Hastings is as much about “hip” as it is “history”.
Fishing boats on The Stade shingle beach in the old townCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Hosting a buzzing creative scene, alongside beautiful countryside and other seaside activities, things have certainly moved on since William the Conqueror and his Norman army scored their famous victory over King Harold II. And I couldn’t wait to explore.
Easy to reach by car or train, my first hint that there would be more to my stay than just learning about the events of the Bayeux Tapestry came when I checked into the Old Rectory Hotel, in the historic Old Town.
The boutique bolthole’s rooms wouldn’t look out of place in a design magazine as local artists’ paintings, ceramics and sculptures adorn the walls.
Dulcie with sculpture on the Hastings Battle trail
It set the tone for the current vibe in buzzy Hastings. And as I settled in with a delicious fresh fish dinner on the seafront at Webbe’s Rock-a-Nore, surrounded by bright young things, I certainly got a good sense of why the town is often referred to as Shoreditch-on-Sea.
But for all its contemporary coolness, you still can’t come to Hastings without a trip to its most famous landmark. Battle, home to the eponymous field of 1066 as well as the Abbey built by William of Normandy after his victory, is located just a few miles inland.
Now run by English Heritage, it’s impossible not to feel an immense sense of awe visiting the exact spot where King Harold fell and Anglo Saxon Eng-land’s future was decided.
You don’t have to be interested in the past to enjoy walking the battlefield trail either.
Rounding off the day with a relaxing dinner
I encountered carved sculptures depicting Norman and Saxon soldiers and the beautiful scenery alone makes it worth the trip. It’s free to visit, but do book ahead as numbers are currently limited due to Covid restrictions.
Back in the town itself I was keen to find out what else modern-day Hastings had to offer, and was delighted to discover it is booze!
The full-day Grape and Grain Tour with award-winning Vine & Country Tours was great fun.
Tour guide Jamie took us to local vineyards and breweries, with plenty of tastings, samplings and a delicious locally-sourced lunch along the way so it was hardly surprising that the day flew by in a bit of a blur!
In nearby St Leonards-on-Sea, dinner at Farmyard, a restaurant offering a natural wine list, was the perfect spot to round off the day.
An impressive wine list was available to round off the perfect day
After a relaxing treatment in the Old Rectory’s fantastic spa, I wanted to get to spend my last afternoon browsing the incredible selection of shops in the town. Hastings Old Town and parts of nearby St Leonards are packed full of independent outlets — in fact, there are no chain stores at all except for some small supermarkets.
From clothes to interiors, crafts to jewellery, food to fine art there’s an array of treats and produce available, whether you are treating yourself to something nice, looking for a unique gift, or just browsing for enjoyment.
But if all this sounds a bit too cool for school, don’t worry, it’s not all pottery and paintings, and there are still plenty of traditional activities here to provide some good old British seaside fun.
You must pay a visit to Hastings AbbeyCredit: Alamy
Crazy golf, ice-cream and beach huts on the recently revamped pier, a ride on the East Hill funicular railway and Hastings Castle with its shoreline views all tick those time-honoured boxes, and co-exist cheerfully alongside the town’s trendier side.
A beachside lunch at independent pub The Crown was a lovely way to round off my trip, with food and drinks on the menu mostly supplied by local producers.
From medieval to modern, I enjoyed every minute of my break to this vibrant coastal spot.
The homegrown resort of Hastings has certainly conquered me.
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