Winding cliff-top paths, stunning views, and a whole heap of history. Head to Hastings Country Park for this fabulous East Sussex walk.
Distance: 6 km. Elevation: 200 m. Difficulty: Medium.
The first time I climbed the steps of East Hill in Hastings it was simply to catch the stunning views of the coast and West Hill on the opposite side of the Old Town. But the open grasslands stretching gently up and away were too much of a temptation and I was soon back, armed with an Ordnance Survey Explorer 124.
A bit about the park
Some places just have charisma. Hastings Country Park is one of them. At times, whilst I explored, I felt like Demelza from Poldark hurrying along a Cornish coastal path as the narrow track I’d chosen dipped and climbed along the line of the cliff. At others times, you can almost feel the murmur of Iron Age man as he watches the valley below.
Hastings Country Park is 850 acres of nature reserve made up of woodland, grassland and heathland. It’s a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It’s also an Area of Archaeological Interest and part of it is a designated Ancient Monument. Humanity has passed this way for thousands of years and finds here include artefacts from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Romano-British, Saxon and Medieval eras. Apparently, there’s also a small herd of Exmoor ponies and a herd of Belted Galloway cattle here now, although I didn’t see them. What is truly incredible is that until as recently as 2000, this was an overgrown area in massive decline. It’s clearly taken a great deal of vision, tenacity, and hard work to transform it into the stunning park that it is and make it one of the area’s major attractions.
Walking at Hasting Country Park
There’s a new, sustainably built Visitor Centre with a café on Lower Coastguard Lane opposite the main car park for the Firehills area. This makes a good place to start for a walk although I’d come up from Tackleway and the steps by the funicular. Although I had my trusted Ordnance Survey with me, there are maps and information boards dotted around the park which are more much helpful. Take a photo of one, and if you’re not sure where you are, you’ll find various numbered markers in the park which correspond to those on the map.
Fish Trail or coastal path
Tempted as I was by the Fish Trail which (with the funicular behind you) leads up more or less centrally through the park ahead, I wanted to follow the coastal path. The information board suggested some of it might be closed and I was prepared for a detour but in the event, it wasn’t. I think this must have referred to a section of footpath which was closed for some time due to a landslide but has been restored.
The path to Fairlight Glen
My ultimate goal was Dripping Well, a rather stunning natural waterfall at the north end of Fairlight Glen but unsure how far it was and with limited time, I decided to hug the coast as much as I could. The walk starts high up on the cliff top before the path narrows and descends through woodland before crossing a little bridge and rising again. At the highest point, you’re 110 metres above sea level and at the lowest only 20 metres above which gives you an idea of the steepness of some of the climbs.
Fairlight Glen to Ecclesbourne reservoir
Marker 12 is the start of Fairlight Glen but when I reached this point, I knew I wasn’t going to have time to push on to Dripping Well as I’d already walked the best part of 3 km, so I turned left. This took me across Barn Owl Box Field to Wet Woods and Fishponds Meadow, then down alongside Ecclesbourne reservoir and through Ecclesbourne Glen.
It’s here that you may find the Hermit’s Cave. In 1893 a London draper arrived in Hastings almost bankrupt. His name was John Hancox and he was well educated and intelligent. He settled for a hermit’s life in a cave that was only 10 feet square with no furniture and lived there until he died in 1918. Apparently, he wasn’t the only hermit in these parts, but he was possibly the most civilised and described as polite and quiet.
Back to East Hill
From Ecclesbourne Glen, it’s more or less a straight walk back to East Hill which opens up with its glorious views before you and leaves you feeling very much like a conquering hero returning home (to breakfast at The Stade as it happens). 6 km into my walk and I was conscious I probably hadn’t identified much of the incredibly diverse flora and fauna in these parts. When I revisited the map, I also realised, I’d barely got halfway into the park but that’s all the more reason to go back. There are dozens of footpaths across the park and so much to explore but above all else, it’s a stunning walk from start to finish.
If you like this East Sussex walk or are in the Hastings area, you may also like:
East Sussex Walks: Bulverhythe Coastal Link
Things To Do In Hastings, East Sussex
Pitts-Stop at Goat Ledge, St Leonards.
And for more information about Hastings Country Park visit: https://www.hastingscountryparkhistory.com/