Sign up to Simon Calder’s free travel email for expert advice and money-saving discountsGet Simon Calder’s Travel email

I see a box of heads. Human heads, carved from wood. Then an eerie cast bronze bird, unsettling in a half-defined form. Then a mood-flipping collection of pleasant Sussex scenes: bends on River Cuckmere and a boat in Newhaven harbour.

As a start to a of walking, this is wonderfully, wildly different.

I’m at Towner Eastbourne art gallery, start (or end) of Coastal Culture Trail, an 18-mile bike-or-hike route tracking East Sussex shore. Launched in 2013, it runs between Eastbourne and Hastings via Bexhill-on-Sea, linking flagship galleries in each: the Towner, De La Warr Pavilion and Hastings Contemporary.

Towner Eastbourne is at the start of the Coastal Culture Trail

(Marc Atkins / Art Fund 202)

And though I meet no one else walking the trail the whole , its popularity is probably about to peak. From 28 September 2023 to 14 April 2024, the Towner hosts the Turner Prize, the premier art award in Britain. It’s the climax of a year spent celebrating the Towner’s centenary and, if you want to make an adventure of it, the perfect opportunity to tackle the CCT.

“The whole of the visual art world and, to some extent, the wider creative scene has their eyes on Eastbourne for that moment,” Joe Hill, Towner director, tells me.

Read more on UK travel:

“It will certainly bring in a huge amount of new visitors that we wouldn’t normally expect at that period of year. And that’s really critical. In a seaside town, those months can be quite difficult so if it can bring in more spending in those businesses, contributing to that economy, that’s fantastic for everybody.”

The economic ripples are already being felt. I hand over £3.50 at the Welcome Building, home to the local visitor centre, for the trail map, a suitably artistic depiction by illustrator Ben Phillips.

I’m accompanied by my partner Beth and our first day is through classic Sussex-shore scenery: beach huts, acrobatic gulls and pebbly beaches. It’s first around the Towner (we check out The Living Collection, a varied assortment of works reflecting the history of the Towner as a gallery), then along the Eastbourne promenade, through the mazey Sovereign Harbour, along a shingley stretch of Pevensey Bay and finally to Cooden, where we have a room at the Relais Cooden Beach hotel.

Hastings Contemporary is hosting an exhibition featuring the works of painters Chaïm Soutine and Leon Kossoff

(Hastings Contemporary)

Passing Eastbourne Pier and the 1930s bandstand, “the busiest on the planet” with more than 140 live events each year, we reach the city limits, heading to Sovereign Harbour, a marina complex with swaying yachts and a retail-restaurant development. As we leave, a common seal pops its triangular head out of the water.

The stage leads to Normans Bay on a pace-slowing trudge across slippery shingle dotted with tufts of hardy sea kale. Our goal, the map says, is our only inland venture, pleasingly labelled with a golden pint glass: a pub stop. Embracing opportunity, we stop at The Star Inn. Built in the early 1400s as a sluice house, it is now a country-style pub with picnic benches to an idle river. We have a pint each (alright, two) before an easy stroll to the Relais Cooden Beach, a 45-room waterfront retreat with a seafood-forward restaurant and a beach-view terrace.

Dinner is a feast (heirloom tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella; orecchiette with courgette, peas and truffle oil; and, to finish, four award-winning Sussex cheeses). I sleep easy, wake refreshed and continue the journey along a much-appreciated promenade to the middle gallery on the CCT: the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.

Despite the wind and grey overhead, my second day is all music, culture and good food

On this Sunday morning, the town is sleepy. Just keen joggers, dog walkers and the De La Warr: a brilliant all-white concrete-and-glass structure, its modernist style contrasting wonderfully with the natural beauty of the coastline. Labelled a ‘people’s palace’ upon opening in 1935, it’s now a multi-purpose entertainment hub combining music, theatre and art. I take my time, perusing the ground-floor record store before working around two exhibitions: one by Baghdad-born painter Mohammed Sami, the other by London sculpturist Katie Cuddon.

After, I continue along the seafront, out of town and over small cliffs. From the top, I can see the dark shadow of Hastings Pier in the distance; as I return to sea level, a topless man barks inaudible words (threats?) at walkers and cyclists as he heads towards me. I brace for impact.

“Happy Sunday, geezer,” he roars, grinning from ear to ear. “Happy Sunday”.

His delivery is brash, but the content is prophetic.

Eastbourne is a quintessential British seaside town

(Getty Images)

Despite the wind and grey overhead, my second day is all music, culture and good food. In St Leonards, I stop for lunch at The Bathing Hut Cafe, where I chat to owners Richard and Helen Groves and enjoy their fried halloumi burger with a zingy-sweet sauce. I then continue my march and stop again, this time for a pint at the Goat Ledge, a vibey beach bar with good music and huts for shelter. It’s then into Hastings and through the Bottle Alley promenade, a funk-jazz band soundtracking my walk.

I’m tempted to stop time and again; Source Park, an underground skating and BMX complex with an open-air courtyard catches my eye, but to complete the CCT, I continue through town to the Sir Quentin Blake-backed Hastings Contemporary. Inside, it’s blissfully quiet and I amble through an exhibition combining the works of painters Chaïm Soutine and Leon Kossoff. My cultural journey ends at the cafe terrace with a lemon cake, views over a fishing yard – and a promise to myself to re-do the trail when the Turner Prize hits Eastbourne.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Eastbourne station is a 15-minute walk from the Towner gallery. Catch a direct train from London Victoria. Alternatively, Hastings station is a 20-minute walk from Hastings Contemporary. Take the direct train from London Bridge or London Victoria.

Staying there

The Relais Cooden Beach is a stylish seaside retreat with decor inspired by the just-outside-the-door English Channel: sea blues, sun-inspired terracotta and nautical stripes. The contemporary restaurant serves a catch of the day – hooked by Sussex fisherfolk – and there’s a lovely terrace and lawn for pre-dinner drinks (preferably a bottle from the nearby Rathfinny Wine Estate).

Rooms available from{{#price}}{{price}}per night{{/price}}{{^price}}Check availability for dates and prices{{/price}}

{{#amenities}}Hotel Amenities{{#amenities.foodDrink.length}}{{#amenities.foodDrink}}{{.}}{{/amenities.foodDrink}}{{/amenities.foodDrink.length}}{{#amenities.internet.length}}InternetPlease check hotel for more information on amenities{{#amenities.internet}}{{.}}{{/amenities.internet}}{{/amenities.internet.length}}{{}}{{}}{{.}}{{/}}{{/}}{{#amenities.parking.length}}ParkingPlease check hotel for more information on amenities{{#amenities.parking}}{{.}}{{/amenities.parking}}{{/amenities.parking.length}}{{}}{{}}{{.}}{{/}}{{/}}{{/amenities}}

Read more of our best East Sussex hotel reviews

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On this website we use first or third-party tools that store small files (cookie) on your device. Cookies are normally used to allow the site to run properly (technical cookies), to generate navigation usage reports (statistics cookies) and to suitable advertise our services/products (profiling cookies). We can directly use technical cookies, but you have the right to choose whether or not to enable statistical and profiling cookies. Enabling these cookies, you help us to offer you a better experience.