An enchanted town by the sea
During my trip to England this past January, one stop I had to make was to visit a long-time friend at her home in Hastings, southeast of London. I met Catherine Orbach during my Junior year of college, while studying abroad in Florence. Living with a British roommate in Italy was a dual immersion in European cultures.
Where exactly is Hastings, you ask?
Roughly 60 miles from London, in the county of East Sussex.
It is a seaside town on the English Channel.
Since Catherine and I have had limited contact in 20 years, we were due for a proper catch-up. She gave me a whirlwind tour of East Sussex and showed me all the cool parts of Hastings Old Town (pre 19th century). If you're thinking of the battle of Hastings, you’ve got the right place. Fast forward 950 years, you discover a charming town by the sea, rich in history, with a truly distinct culture.
We walked around the Stade, which is the beachfront where the local fishing boats and all their gear reside. Hastings is also known for having the largest beach-launched fishing fleet in Europe.
You can see vertical black sheds called Net Shops, they were built for storing fishing gear. As well we saw several fishmongers offering their fresh catch in beachfront stalls. We meandered through winding streets stopping into eclectic shops in the Old Town. Today, it is an amalgam of artists, musicians, writers and local fishermen, who all contribute to the rich tapestry that gives Hastings its charm.
A couple things that caught my eye:
Judges Bakery and Tea Room
It is an ambitious bakery creating an array of sweet and savory organic goodies daily, including artisanal breads, breakfast items, cookies, cakes and tarts. They proudly display their gi-normous French style meringues in the front case. I learned during my trip that Brits love enormous meringues! In addition they offer organic and locally-grown produce, dairy and artisanal pantry products.
A. G. Hendy & Co. Home Store
There are brushes, brooms and dusters for every room in the house. You’ll never see a more interesting collection under one roof. They curate new and vintage everyday items for the home that are classic, well made and time-honored. The restaurant called Kitchen, located in the back of the building was closed the day we were there, but I imagine it's well worth experiencing.
The man behind this business is Alastair Hendy a multi talented fellow, whom I hadn't heard of prior to walking into his home store. Here's a quote that I found, by Neale Whitaker editor of Vogue Living "Bearing in mind that a word does not exist to describe what he does, and in a publishing world that prefers its talent to have one definable skill, Alastair Hendy the writer-cum-cook-cum stylist-cum-photographer-cum designer could best be described as a human magazine.." He’s a jack of all trades and no doubt a master of them all.
The village boasts eclectic locales, from picturesque cafes, to pubs where live music is a regular thing, to funky shops and historic storefronts. They all reflect the creative vibe of its residents. At less than two hours by car or train from London, the trip to Hastings is similar to that of Manhattan to the Hamptons.
Back in the car we traversed along the seaside road through St. Leonards to Bexhill. The journey offered magnificent views of historic architecture and the glimmering shore in the setting sun.
De La Warr Pavilion - Bexhill-On-Sea
This modern building on the sea is a comtempory arts center. It's truly spectacular!
It houses art galleries, a large auditorium, outdoor and rooftop spaces. They offer a wide array of community events, workshops, education, music, cinema, tours and more.
While in Hastings...Eat seafood!
Catherine and I were joined by her husband Duncan and her Mom Munko.
We had a delicious meal at Webbe's on Rock-a-nore, in the Old Town.
Hake Filet with chorizo, potatoes and Parmesan tuile; one of my all-time favorites is Seafood stew, their interpretation served with rouille, croutons & Parmesan did not disappoint; and Sea bass filet on shrimp risotto topped with tempura battered shrimp. All the dishes were beautifully presented, perfectly cooked and DELICIOUS! To see how Webbe's Rock-a-Nore does sea-to-table fare, click video link.
Back at the ranch...
Both Catherine and Duncan Curtis are innate artists. Duncan plays a mean accordion and shares his talent at venues in the community . Catherine co-founded a not-for-profit arts organization called Culture Shift based in Lewes. Culture Shift works in community, health and education settings, using the arts to bring about positive change. Click to learn more about Culture Shift and their programs.
Hastings is a place that celebrates with many festivals each year.
Coming up on June 25 - 26 is the Midsummer Fish Festival.
No doubt it honors the long history of fishing in the community with fish dishes and more from local restaurants and artisans. They offer local beer and wine, and as I understand it there is music playing around-the-clock and other entertainment too.
To check out future festivals.
Princess Elizabeth visit to Hastings in 1951:
This video is an interesting piece of history for the region of Sussex, in 1951 Princess Elizabeth visits coastal towns.
She stops in Hastings, for a ceremony where the deed to the Hastings castle and the famous Glens are given to the town for public use. It’s great footage. Video link
To Catherine, Duncan and Munko for hosting me in January. As well for answering my many emails with copious questions about Hastings.
It was a very special visit and that's why this story was important to produce.
To Ted Delano from Made By Sea for all your talent, efforts and patience in helping me keep up with producing these stories.