My attitude to Hastings can be summed up in a single phrase: ‘I do like to be beside the seaside.’ (Those of you who believe in such things might feel it has something to do with being a Cancerian. And, with the dawn of the internet (both a curse and a blessing), it’s become possible to live pretty much where you’d like. Which, in my case, is Hastings Old Town: more a ‘village’, really, of 4,000 people living in an extraordinary patchwork of buildings (from medieval to modern), tucked between two steep hills – with the beach at the end of the road. What’s not to love…?
When we moved here (that’s me and Craig Sams, health food entrepreneur, biochar guru and my co-founder in Green & Black’s Chocolate), it wasn’t exactly ‘Shoreditch-on-Sea’ – which is one of the comments often heard nowadays, as DFLs (Down From Londoners) discover our quirky mix of dozens of independent shops and restaurants.
Because it was hard to get our hands on good, organic food, we decided to take over our local bakery (founded 1826), turn it organic and put in a one-stop organic and local food store. Then, two years later, frustrated that there wasn’t somewhere I could go to do Yoga or have a fab massage, I transformed a run-down local Regency-era council building into The Wellington Centre: a 9-room ’boutique’ wellbeing centre which offers 20 classes a week (Pilates, Yoga, Tai Chi, etc.), and every imaginable therapy from Colonic Hydrotherapy to Deep Tissue Massage, via facials and Physio. In the past seven years, we’ve seen an influx of Londoners, who – like us – have moved here for improved quality of life.
I’m often asked why I like living in Hastings and I could fill a whole website with reasons – but here are 10…
A.G. Hendy Home Store (36 High Street/01424-447171). Self-taught chef, food writer and photographer Alastair Hendy has painstakingly turned back the clock and recreated a 19th Century hardware store (brushes, tea towels, enamel saucepans etc.), opening an astonishing seafood café in the back. (Plenty of veggie options, though, which keeps me happy.) It’s only open weekends but is the hottest table in town: you eat in the kitchen itself, or in summer in a small courtyard. Truly spectacular.
Butler’s Emporium – a.k.a. Be (70-71 George Street/01424-430678). This used to be the hardware store; since then, Rose Ratcliffe – who kept all the old shop-fittings – has filled this high-ceilinged space with old and new ‘knick-knacks’ (though that doesn’t do it justice), haberdashery and more. In search of a present…? I defy you not to find someone’s heart’s desire here.
The Wellington Centre (44 Wellington Square/01424-442520/www.thewellingtoncentre.com). The health centre I selfishly opened for myself (though happily, other people love it too). 8 a.m. Yoga classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday keep me sane; regular Thai Massages with Alex Obradovich keep my muscles un-kinked, and Acupuncture with Deborah Green (who also offers the ‘cosmetic’ option) keep me healthy. We get a lot of visitors from London because prices are so much lower, yet the standard of therapists is world class. (Many are ex-Neal’s Yard Therapy Rooms.)
The Jerwood Gallery, Rock-A-Nore Road/01424 728377/www.jerwoodgallery.org). This new, modern art gallery sits cheek-by-jowl with Hastings’s unique fishermen’s ‘net huts’ but is drawing visitors from far and wide with its collection of 20th Century British art. The whole town is a mecca for artists, but this has one of the most stunning views in town, from the gallery café. (Al fresco in summer – and summers are pretty spectacular here.)
Robert’s Rummage (68 High Street). If you are a junketeer from way back, as I am, your heart will beat a little faster as you cross the threshold: it’s one of the last true ‘junk shops’ in Britain: stacked floor to rafter with affordable treasures. Like something out of Dickens.
Warp & Weft (68A George Street/07947-225424). Stylist Leida Nassir-Pour mixes astonishing vintage finds with her own made-in-Morocco collection, in an incredibly chic way. Hastings is pretty eco-minded: we love anything vintage, but Leida manages to get her hands on quality pieces that have disappeared, mostly, from elsewhere: Victorian wedding dresses, peasant smocks, 40s tea gowns, marabou stoles, etc.
Made in Hastings (82 High Street/01424-719110/www.madeinhastings.co.uk). To say this is a ‘craft’ shop conjures up images of dodgy pottery and lace-trimmed coasters, but everything here is über-stylish. A collective of five women ‘makers’ edit submissions from almost 100 local artisans: chunky wooden chopping boards, fabulous felt animals, hand-painted tambourines (from Claire Fletcher, renowned children’s illustrator), and piles of cosy hand-knitted socks. A must-visit.
Rock-A-Nore Fisheries (3 Rock-A-Nore Road/01424-445425/www.rockanore.co.uk). This is where to head for to buy the fresh-caught fish you’ll want to take home; Sonny also smokes a wide range of seafood on the premises, much of it Marine Stewardship Council-certified sustainable. Fish comes off the beach and less than 50 yards into the shop – and surely, your EFAs don’t come much fresher than that…
Judges Bakery (51 High Street/01424-722588/www.judgesbakery.com). From healthy sourdough loaves to somewhat less healthy organic jam doughnuts, the shop offers a viable alternative to supermarkets, offering everything from Ecover cleaning materials to a rather fine Touchstone Chardonnay, alongside cheese, storecupboard basics and a world-class muesli. (Don’t mock till you’ve tried it.)
Swan House (01424-430014/www.swanhousehastings), or its ‘sister’ location The Old Rectory. World-class, these B&Bs, and where smart out-of-towners stay. The former is higgledy-piggledy in a 16th Century building; the latter is a converted Georgian rectory, but the designer/owner used to work for Katharine Hamnett and Reiss and has more style in his pinkie than anyone I know. An eclectic mix of furnishings that works 110%, with sky-high comfort levels and great breakfasts.