TRAVELLING THE COASTAL CULTURE TRAIL
As the trainline hugs the beach, skipping across the pebbles and the beach huts race by, you know exactly where you are. The East Sussex coastline is unmistakable – taking you from the dramatic watchful eye of Beachy Head just above Eastbourne, through the calming openness and pace at Bexhill, to the historic aesthetic of the weatherboarded net huts at Hastings.
These three towns make up the Coastal Culture Trail, where I embarked on a journey during a time when lockdown restrictions were easing, and doors to culture and heritage sites across the country were reopening once again.
Starting at Eastbourne, the sprawling town took me on many versions of itself, all with something to offer. I was able to stop by the Volt gallery on Seaside Road, part of the wider Devonshire Collective, to catch Olivia Sterling’s exhibition steeped in Sussex superstitions before picking up the blue rope which guided me to the Towner Gallery. Celebrating English Tourism week is easy when you are visiting somewhere like Towner, Eastbourne. With its personality colourfully and boldly worn on the outside of the building in the form of Lothar Götz’s long lasting exhibition Dance Diagonal, from the well laid out internal gallery spaces, feeling cool and welcoming from the spring heat, the gallery offered a diverse exhibition programme – John Nash The Landscape of Love and Solace and John Akomfrah Vertigo Sea, – alongside its collection.
It was in Eastbourne that I was also able to see the first of the outdoor artworks as part of England’s Creative Coast. Mariana Castillo Deball: Walking through the town I followed a pattern… inspired by local archaeological sites, explained why I found my way to the gallery with the help of fractured blue ropes, and is accompanied by the exhibition A drawing, a story, and a poem go for a walk. With families embracing the space, and the vibrant cafe and balcony full to capacity, it was easy to see why Towner Eastbourne was awarded Museum of the Year 2020.
A stone’s throw away, I soaked up the opulence of Compton Street with its vegetarian restaurant, deli, and bottle shop behind the infamously luxurious hotel The Grand. Eastbourne has a lot to explore, with coffee shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and, with most of the seafront being given over to hotels, you won’t be short of places to stay.
But, as you can do the Trail in a day, I decided to keep going and jumped on the train; Bexhill bound.
Getting off at Bexhill station encourages you to turn right and head to the sea and as I did, I tried not to get too distracted by the micro pub and cute vintage shops along the way. It is hard to ignore how proudly independent the businesses in this town are. Bexhill’s history greets you almost immediately with its mid 19th century architecture, until you hit the seafront and see the 1935 modernist De La Warr Pavilion to your right. Standing within the lawns of the beach front and Colonnade, the De La Warr Pavilion really is the jewel in the East Sussex town. With its balconies overlooking the English Channel, it is an undeniably special spot and the perfect place to stop and have a delicious lunch. Once recharged, I was able to indulge in All In The Same Storm: Pandemic Patchwork Stories , a hugely important exhibition co-organised with the Refugee Buddy Project, Hastings, Rother and Wealden as well as the intriguing and witty exhibition Indifferent Deep by Holly Hendry linked to the second England’s Creative Coast outdoor commission, Invertebrate also by Hendry. Breaking down the barriers between inside the gallery spaces and outside on the lawns, I was taken by how well the sculptures and exhibition narrative fitted within the context of the architecture and coastline stretching out in front of me.
The Pavilion was alive with people exploring the exhibitions and taking time to stop in the shop, the independent record store and Cafe. It is easy to see the important role the venue plays in the town, with a host of live events attracting household names sitting neatly alongside community projects.
Resisting the urge to stop at the Colonnade Cafe for a slice of cake, I continued along the Trail to Hastings. The coastal train line took me within touching distance of beach life, watching windsurfers as I sped towards Hastings. Although a little further from the station than the other galleries , the walk towards Hastings Contemporary takes you through the Old Town where George Street comes alive with bookshops, bric-a-brac, gift shops, and as many bars and cafes as you could count. Another truly independent offering, I could have spent all my time exploring the sights and sounds of these old cobbled streets. I found Hastings Contemporary sitting discreetly among the black weatherboard fishing huts, with its black iridescent tiles becoming the backdrop for the final outdoor artwork in the East Sussex arm of the England’s Creative Coast; Sea Wall by Andreas Angelidakis , highlighting issues around climate change and coastal erosion in this playful and imposing sculpture.
Inside, the gallery plays with large scale and domestic-size spaces and encourages visitors to explore all corners of each exhibition. Like in all three spaces, families were engaging with the exhibitions with a large scale, almost immersive Quentin Blake artwork, part of the We Live in Worrying Times exhibition. Sitting alongside Quentin Blake, was Seaside Modern: Art and Life on the Beach which was befitting of the the gallery’s location, among the fishing fleet right on the beach.
There is much to do on the Trail (check out the website) but if you are thinking of taking the family, an additional treat this summer is the world’s first Art GeoCache Tour, part of England’s Creative Coast. Just download the Geocache App and off you go!
When I do the Coastal Culture Trail again, (which I definitely will!), it is clear that spending more time in each town is needed, and I would encourage you to do the same. Perhaps spend a night in each town? The Port Hotel in Eastbourne is temptingly close to Fusciardi’s ice cream parlour ; Seaspray Rooms in Bexhill is directly opposite the De La Warr Pavilion and above Rocksalt, famous for its burgers and close to Bexhill Museum; Moore Guest House in Hastings vibrant Old Town is attached to music venue and the bar Porters.
Find out more on the Coastal Culture Trail website here, and follow them on social media to start planning your next adventure.
Blog by Katie Lineker, freelance writerPosted by sally on Tuesday 1 June 2021