Coastal Culture Trail
Linking three major Sussex galleries this coastal cycle ride can be done in sections, or as a walk!
Here’s a cycle route to tackle on two wheels, plus, an Eastbourne hotel stop that’s brilliantly placed for events in the area.
The Coastal Culture Trail links the three major Sussex galleries of the Towner in Eastbourne, The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill and the Jerwood in Hastings – (soon to be renamed Hastings Contemporary) and you can buy a map at each.
I’d been planning to try the cycle route for months but with engineering works affecting much of the train route that I needed to use to get home it was late autumn before I cracked it (do check for continuing odd days of engineering works along the coast over weekends).
My husband and I cycled Eastbourne to Hastings. The ride could of course be done in reverse but that tends to be the prevailing wind direction. Check out the website for other ideas of what to do around the trail with kids or for more leisurely lingering.
THE VIEW HOTEL, EASTBOURNE
We kicked off with an overnight stay at The View Hotel in Eastbourne, which handily has a bike locker in its underground car park. If you’re coming by car it’s good to know there’s only a nominal charge for an overnight parking permit. There are also public hire bikes right opposite the hotel, a bit heavy for tackling a whole day of cycling but fine if you fancy a shorter pootle about.
The hotel is in a cracking location right on the seafront – and just around the corner from the Towner gallery, the theatre and Devonshire Park tennis ground. Naturally for big summer events like the pre-Wimbledon Nature Valley International tournament and free air show Airbourne (which you could watch from your balcony!) you’ll need to book well ahead.
The View has an interesting history having being built in the 1970s by the Transport and General Workers Union as somewhere its members could recuperate from illness.
It’s just had a makeover giving it a more contemporary feel with a retro nod to its roots (look out for the black and white photos in the corridors). It may not have the prettiest frontage but it’s certainly a nice antidote to Eastbourne’s chintzier seafront hotels.
I particulary liked these staircase lights…
…also, the wood panelling in the bedrooms, (I’ve seen a similar look in a rather more pricey hotels in New York).
The restaurant has unfussy favourites like lamb shanks, steak, fish and chips and veggie curry on the a la carte menu or you can make your selection from the buffet, and there’s a carvery roast on Sundays. There’s also a range of burgers and simple classics like fish and chips and ham, egg and chips in the bar. Breakfast is the usual full English, or lighter fare, from the buffet with sea views from the window.
For the dinner I pigged out on the melted camembert because, hey, I could cycle it off, before going lighter with a rather large lemon sole with an orange salad and fries, while my other half raided the buffet. We also shared a nice wine, taking a recommendation from the waiter.
The hotel has been putting on events aimed at a younger crowd and a 90s night was in full swing when we were there, with people wandering about dressed like the Spice Girls! I peeked into the function room in the day time and it has a big floor-to-ceiling corner window, great for parties.
The best bit? Grabbing some autumn rays on the suntrap balcony and watching the comings and goings on the beach. It’s not called The View for nothing. Many rooms have balconies and if you upgrade to a corner like we had you get extra room. The cafe/bar at street level also has sea views.
I needed prising a way from a bit of autumnal sunbathing I can tell you!
In the area
Eastbourne still has a rather elderly image (my husband, who worked here about 20 years ago has to be almost forced back) but there’s some great stuff to do. Here are my tips:
Most obviously, the Towner Art Gallery has contemporary works including the UK’s largest Eric Ravilious collection. Also drop in to see the latest exhibition and check out the shop at the much smaller DC1 Gallery and Cafe on Seaside Road.
Vinyl Frontier is a cool record shop and cafe in Little Chelsea – the best area for indie shops.
The Beach Deck right up the East end of the beach serves up good bistro and fishy fare and coffee and cake overlooking the sea with seating indoors and out (book ahead for sunny days). See my waterfront eateries feature for more ideas along the coast. Just a few doors down from the Hippodrome is new Jamaican restaurant Bready Delights which has developed a following through its street food vans in Brighton.
If you’re in town at the right time catch an African supper club with the lovely Lerato, who also does cooking lessons.
So, to the cycle ride.
Disappointingly you can’t cycle along the lovely seafront itself at Eastbourne so you’ll have to use the road alongside, or push your bike till after the striking gold-topped pier.
First pit stop. Take a look at the unusual beach huts designed by artists and available for short term hire. We headed East from here out past the Beach Deck (mentioned above) good if you’re already in need of a coffee stop. On the other side of the road is attractive Princes Park.
At a small private marina I arrived just in time to see a cormorant catch and down a huge fish while a dive bombing seagull tried and failed to steal it from him!
Next, you travel partly along the coast and partly on a divert inland to Pevensey. It’s a nice quiet stretch of beach and there were several impressive kite surfers doing their thing when we were there.
Look out too around here for some lovely Art Deco houses and one converted from a sea defence tower.
It’s important to know the Coastal Cycle Trail online is frustratingly sketchy on detail with very basic maps so at this point, if not before, you’re going to want a back-up local map or to use Google Maps.
We went wrong after as we missed the divert through Pevensey Levels and took a very scary main road to a major roundabout that is mentioned as a possible route but I definitely wouldn’t recommend.
We did get a distant view of Pevensey Castle on the way before cycling past a lot of pampas grass and wondering if it’s true what they say that swingers plant it outside their houses.
The off-road divert you can make is between The Beach Tavern and The Star Inn & Pub. I would suggest you could also skip a bit by taking the train for five minutes between Pevensey Bay and Normans Bay when they are running.
And so into Bexhill and the second landmark gallery the Modernist De La Warr. There’s a quite pricey cafe upstairs if you want to eat with a sea view (shame there aren’t more seafront options here) and of course you can drop in to see the latest exhibition and browse the shop.
My tip is Kerry’s on the road behind the seafront. It’s an unpretentious cafe serving toasties, jacket potatoes and crumpets (I went for one Marmite, one marmalade and apparently I’m not the first!) but you can also order fish and chips from the shop a couple of doors up and they’ll deliver it for you to eat inside the cafe if it’s not nice enough to eat outside.
Sadly the wonderfully retro Di Paolo Cafe ice cream parlour recently closed.
If you’re stopping for a browse around, Bexhill has a few vintage shops and a wonderfully eclectic museum with an impressive collection of vintage clothes, a section on the area’s motor racing heritage, plus Eddie Izzard’s trainset!
Don’t miss this house with a bonkers display of bouys, on the seafront just east of the De La Warr!
Now, the nicest bit and if you’re only doing a short section and you don’t mind a couple of hills this is the part I’d recommend. It takes about 45 minutes, is traffic free, and should be possible with older kids. You follow the line of the sea so you shouldn’t get lost.
It starts with two short, steep hills but they won’t take long if you have to walk up them.
The first, Galley Hill, has a beacon at the top and a sign about the area’s smuggling past. There’s a lovely children’s playground alongside and people were flying kites while I was there.
The second hill takes you down into the outskirts of Hastings, where beach huts line the route.
There’s a good view along the coast but keep a keen look out on the fast decent – there were several dogs off their leads chasing balls into the cycle lane when were there, prompting some sharp braking. It also might be a bit fast for kids so try walking them down the first steep part and launching them lower down.
Want to really show off and do some tricks on a bike? When you get to Hastings Source Park, inside a former Victorian swimming baths, is the place for BMX and skateboarding antics. Personally I prefer to sit in the balcony cafe overlooking the action and see others’ doing tricks. Read my feature from when it first opened.
There are plenty more hipster diversions nowadays in the Old Town and the Jerwood Gallery is your official end point. There’s a beach view cafe here with fishy fare. Also if you have panniers and it’s not a hot day pick up the catch of the day from the huts nearby to take home.
The whole ride took us four hours with fairly brief stops. The Pevensey to Bexhill section is a bit of a drag so plan your route here well and consider chopping a bit. The great thing is the train links this part of the coast well so you can choose where you want to join and can get back to your starting route without pedal power… just watch out for those pesky engineering works.