Hastings to the Sea

Sam
Sam
Jul 4 · 13 min read

“I would prefer not to,” said Bartleby about his scrivening, or so I assume, having not read the story but in need of a hook and delighted to find one that so perfectly sums up my attitude to writing ride reports. Now all I need is a nifty quote about procrastination.

I’ll read it tomorrow

Last spring brought with it the urge to do one of my London to Hastings rides but without the London.

Planning is my idea of fun; leading, as an inveterate velosoloist, is more of a challenge. Easily the worst part is advertising then biting your nails as levels of interest wax and wane.

Fortunately Claud, a veteran of my rides, agreed to handle recruitment on CycleChat, which is generally a good place to find warm bodies for all sorts of expeditions. We had half a dozen volunteers. This suited me fine. I’ve never had Simonian ambitions of guiding multitudes (nor the organisational skills to match).

The ability of the human brain to continually line up a smooth flow of words for even the most mundane conversation has always struck me as a wondrous, even miraculous thing. I suffer from an occasional cerebral malfunction whereby it all goes blank, either dumbfounded by the possibilities or possessed of an insufficient buffer.

Upon arrival at the train station in Hastings I had the usual stage fright, it not taking much of an audience to trigger it. My pre-ride talk threatened to be Schwarzeneggerian.

“We go now”

A detour along the seafront proved becalming, which is clearly a word I’ve chosen for its nautical associations. The sight of familiar faces back at the station helped even more.

We were: Adrian, Claud, Greg, Nigel, and Ross. Andrew would join us later.

Adrian I knew. Greg, Andrew and Ross were new, though we may have shared FNRttC. I drew a blank on Nigel’s face, thinking him Ross at first, until he reminded me that he’d already been to Hastings with me. Twice. (I’d even joked with him last time about how clean he keeps his chainset.) While I may not have prosopamnesia, evidently I’m not a super recognizer. He was graciously forgiving, but I am freshly mortified while typing this.

We were also welcomed at the start by the eponymous TinyMyNewt,

aka Jenny, who was on a daytrip. Hastings has a fairly poor reputation, but offers its share of rewards for the intrepid rambler.

Street artist will paint you proto-cubist for a few extra quid
Beware touts offering boat rides from the train station
Make sure Conquest Hospital has your blood type on hand before going to the beach: actual footage

There’s some nice architecture in town. We bypassed most of it on making our way to the exit. (Sorry folks.) I chose a zigzaggy route

not quite

to give a view of the sea, then we surmounted the ridge, like an elite unit of William’s except on bikes, ready for conquest. Or something.

We accordioned north. It was mostly pleasant. I don’t remember much except dappled sunlight, a vineyard or two, and the bastard hill out of Sedlescombe, my least favourite thanks to traffic. I had previously taken note of particularly bombed out looking stretches of tarmac, and issued warnings. As it turned out, providence and road taxes (heh) had swooped in since my recce.

Castle up!: Bodiam. These days you need to pay the National Trust to get up close and personal.

Kindly direct me to the gents garderobe

Once we were past this magnet for squires and shutterbugs and heading west I was truly on home ground, pleased to be able to share the lanes I love.

My original plan had been to sail down into sleepy Salehurst, through Robertsbridge, and into the heart of Jack Fuller country.

Instead I apologetically directed us to scurry across a short stretch of the A21 and into Etchingham, chiefly known for being a stop on the Hastings line, which bumps up already fanciful property values. We passed a fine olde church with the second largest series of misericords in the country. One shows a fox preaching to geese, a common enough sight on the hustings.

Actually it was a house which had pulled me prematurely in this direction:

“Who is it?” “Looks like the milkman.” “DON’T LET HIM IN.”

Only weeks before the ride I had learned, after many years living a short spin away, that this was where Anthony Burgess lived in the 60s and composed his most popular work.

“They clopped over to the writer … whose horn-rimmed otchkies were cracked but still hanging on … and making ornaments shake on the mantelpiece … while he fillied with the author of A Clockwork Orange, making his litso all purple and dripping away.”

His semi-domi was put on the market last year at an eye-watering price.

Re-education therapy

“Prospective buyers may be rather put off by this fictional episode of violence in the home,” quoted the Guardian. Rightmove failed to shift it. For years a dental instrument manufacturer operated next door.

It’s safest to try before you buy

They’ve since moved on, the building converted to flats currently extracting rent.

Having dipped into the valley where Rother and Duwell rivers meet and ducks run the rapids, it was time to honk up the next hill just long enough wave my arm in the direction of Socknersh Manor. This former Jones-Humperdinck love nest is now owned by a eurolotto millionaire couple who wisely threw a good chunk of their winnings at their closest friends, which is one way of keeping them on retainer.

Then down & up again (the usual story), skirting the edge of Robertsbridge. “Old fraud and mountebank” Malcolm Muggeridge — Life of Brian critic, Mother Theresa promoter, author of the wonderfully named Chronicles of Wasted Time, #himtoo? — used to live over on the Salehurst side, but we’d skipped that.

I felt compelled to mention we weren’t far from the former estate of Heather Mills. If the ex Beatle ex had fancied a totally different lifestyle, she could’ve done worse than shift whatever she had left after splitsville’s legal fees into the nearby Darvell Community. This religious group has been settled here since the early ’70s. The price of admission is whatever you’ve got, mate. As a Bruderhoff she’d then be poor but presumably spiritually rich. They could put her to work in their toy sweatshop.

not a sweatshop

We passed a meadow of sheep and guard llamas. Or were they? It turned out a correction was in order.

Learn something new every day

Brightling next. Heigh-Ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to the mines we go. For years British Gypsum scraped whatever gypsum is from beneath this green and pleasant land. The chief evidence of their labour is a v e r y long conveyor belt patiently hauling this soft sulfate mineral (I looked it up) into the maw of an increasingly less ravenous industry, the workforce having shrunk from over a thousand to a few multiples of the population of our group.

We didn’t come this way for the gypsum: we came for Mad Jack.

Time traveller

If the man in the hat had been there, he might’ve shouted “Oi!” as I went on a bit too long about the gypsum mines and almost set off again without even mentioning the big pointy tomb behind us. It took a gentle prompting by Nigel to remind me that we don’t all go by pyramids often enough for them to fade into the background, and it would be nice to share what I knew about it. Thank Ra for links.

Fuller’s other follies include a tower, another pointy thing called the sugarloaf, an observatory, a deceptively spacious Grecian temple complete with wine cellar, and an obelisk built “to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, but as with most things [he] did, we’ll never really know why.”

We ticked the two o’s off that list before heading down, down, down (it had pleased me to offer those with a return engagement to this hill the opportunity to take it in the opposite direction), then up again to the Bear Inn in Burwash just as rain started breaking free from impressively dark clouds that had rolled in as if desperate to teach cyclists a lesson. In our haste we sadly left Kipling unselfied.

Pubs always make me feel like my fellow Americans Jack and David.

A pint of your finest root beer, good sir

Having companions provided cover for my native shyness. In search of accomodation for a dozen+ elbows (my wife would also be joining us, bearing blueberry muffins), we settled into the best seats in the house, if you’re a short-sighted football fan: directly underneath the TV. While it may not have been ideal for a dry guy avoiding exposure, we were close to the bikes. Andrew arrived as Tottenham were losing to Bournemouth 1–0, having done part of the route clockwise and happy to rewind.

The food was good. Thus endeth my review. I don’t have any pictures.

file photo of food

The rain finished in a timely manner. On the road again, I dropped my first bonafide name, if living in the same parish as the frontman for The Cure counts. Robert Smith is apparently something of a recluse. (I’ve certainly never seen him in the village shop, or Chaplin’s Hair Stylists for that matter. Perhaps they open just for him late at night.) According to his brother-in-law, this may be the result of a Slaughtered Lamb experience.

Did I mention his brother-in-law was on the ride? This was news to me. Anybody who is acquainted with Greg is two degrees of separation from this cool cat:

Interviewer hall of shame

In any event we didn’t get a gander at his big white house because I’d let Ross, ever in the vanguard, zoom ahead without telling him it was on the itinerary. It seemed prudent to skip it and find him before he decided to turn around and lose us.

Around the corner from Smith is a celebrated procurer of poultry.

Pete Townsend sent pudding but it got lost in the post

Long time Burwash resident Roger Daltrey owns a trout fishery, so he has something to fall back on if the gigs dry up. A neighouring farmer once told me he occasionally used to be spotted riding with his kids.

Last one home has to descale tonight’s dinner

You can get a peek at his front door if you know where to look. Naturally I showed everyone where to look.

The next league or two offered peace and quiet except for the pitter patter of ouchy hail, which is a near TMNing of an exclamation by Adrian. We temporarily sought refuge under a tree. The weather gods didn’t have their hearts in it, so we didn’t get too much of a battering after a decision was made to sally forth.

The accordian stretched out. I chatted with Nigel about a preference for degrees fahrenheit over celsius due to my upbringing in a metric resistant land, rather than a stubborn atavistic streak; then again, I still use toeclips (though seldom measure progress in leagues).

As we finished the last real hill I broke the happy news to all. Claud wasn’t buying it, going so far as to suggest that I have form for such declarations. But it was true, so help me Snopes. The remainder of the ride presented no demanding gradients. The only challenge ahead, at least for a confirmed roadie, was the Cuckoo Trail.

This is a shared use path taking advantage of a ghost rail line. Beeching, innit. We travelled along it for about 9 of its reported 14 miles. While normally I steer clear of byways whose main feature isn’t lovely smooth uncomplicated tarmac, it was a break from routine, a bonus dose of bucolic, subjecting us to only mild impediments in the form of dog walkers and a generous helping of debris.

bad example

Estate agents seem to like it, as they usually mention it.

The whoa factor
It’s not cuckoos you have to watch out for, it’s woodpeckers

I’d acquainted myself with this people’s pathway not long ago to ensure confidence on the day; there are a number of tributaries/possible points failures.

In my limited experience, politeness abounds amongst the users, though an outbreak of moral turpitude has been reported.

Release the hounds

We left the trail just south of Hailsham and headed east along Saltmarsh Lane, which FishAdvisor informs me is home to an angler’s paradise offering chub, carp, barbell, bream, roach, tench and perch; the taxonomy is a foreign language. Weren’t bream an alien species on Star Trek? Factcheck: those were Breen.

“Fishing is nothing to do with catching fish,” said a man with a rod and reel thought to be designed to do just that. It can be argued that the best cycling is nothing to do with getting somewhere. Even if a destination must, of necessity, be declared, wherever you go, there you are.

However incidental the coordinates of journey’s end, we were running a bit late. I was glad to see the Pevensey Levels, twinned with the Bonneville Salt Flats providing the wind isn’t against you. It wasn’t against us, but it wasn’t entirely with us either.

I kept pace with Ross, a baseball fan whose son made the Olympic team. Scanned the horizon for a glimpse of Herstmonceux’s observatory & curry house, relegated from the big leagues but still gazing heavenwards. Minded progress fore and aft. Glowered at a passing squall.

A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, just not on us

Upon arrival in Bexhill’s antechamber Cooden Beach, our numbers were depleted by Ross and Greg. I duly provided them with advance copies of the ride debrief. The rest of us ate up the last few miles back to the beginning.

The wildlife attracted to the cool of the evening along the seafront were a sight to behold. Ah humanity!

“Painted faces, torn fishnets, tinnies galore, short skirts, no knickers. Meet les demoiselles of Hastings.”

After running the obstacle course of the promenade — normally a pleasant alternative to the road, and de regueur given the promise in the name of the ride — we stopped at the mural

commemorating a certain short-lived quasi-republic.

My Country ’Tis of Thee
Damn Yankee

Years ago I’d caught Eric Faulkner & passing Rollerbabes singing Bye Bye Baby here. For the record, it had been a Sunday afternoon.

“Decide amongst yourselves who’s coming back to the B&B with me tonight.”

We went to the station, some dispersing for pints, others for points north. So ended Hastings to the Sea 2019. Nobody prefers to spend so much of their time in Southeastern’s company, but I’m glad you made it down here.

It remains for me to thank

Claud
Greg (out of shot, sharing an amusing anecdote)
Nigel
Ross

and Adrian & Andrew, who stumped this photo researcher. Oh, and

for being my reel.

NOTES

Portrait of my slack-chained bike in the Pelham Place public toilets, shortly before the ride. TripAdvisor review: You could eat off the floor. Nobody’s stopping you.

Mr Clean is a trademark of the Procter & Gamble Company, here used as an avatar for high standards of maintenance, and in no way meant to represent Nigel as follicly challenged.

Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio was a Yankee too. Rather than being damned, he is widely thought to be in heaven now.

I was confusing the Breen with the Antedeans. Makes all the difference to this report, right?

The relevant weather gods hear cries of “Ouch!” from puny humans and are unmoved.

Da haus of Roger Daltrey for Who

Climbing Mount Improbable: Mad Jack lives on as a muse.

Gypsum highway

The Bruderhoffs are very friendly. They’ll even feed you, as my wife and I discovered one day when we were exploring and invited to step not into a wicker man, but into the dining hall for a communal supper of pizza.

Hastings has some great museums, including this and this.

Re: TMN, a personal favourite is ASJT.

What Herman Melville Can Teach Bob Dylan about Plagiarism.

Ross was also the guide to a tour of London ghost signs in 2015 that I’d been on.

Speaking of stage fright:

London to Hastings 2016. See the guy in the red jacket below the welcome sign? That’s me, behind him.

Bet you didn’t know I invented the FNRttC

runs the gamut

here’s a delightful postcard album featuring the responsible party.

Prosopamnesia. Tml;to — Too many links; tab overload.
I may not always be great at faces, but I’m pretty good at remembering words. “Oh, you’re the one who said [something you said],” I’ll think, desperately trying not to be insulting while fishing for your name.

Yes that’s my brain.

Janice in The Sopranos, waxing Melvillean. That guy’s doing a line of coke, btw.

Perhaps I’ve read it after all. Who knows.

Sam

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