The plan had been to go to Berlin for my birthday last month, but for reasons I can’t quite recall, we ended up in Hastings and St. Leonards. Why there? You might well ask. Well actually I was born there and spent my first ten or so years in the town, and now find myself strangely drawn back. As a teenager I couldn’t wait to escape the place. As far as I was concerned, it was a dump, and many may still see it that way. But like many of our seaside towns, down on their luck, there are tantalising glimpses of a more promising future. Like Margate, there is a rather impressive new art gallery on a prominent seafront site, and like Whitstable, there are one or two pretty good restaurants. Hastings and St. Leonards have long had a big artistic community. And where they lead, others inevitably follow, as can be seen in places as diverse as St. Ives and Shoreditch. The ‘ripple’ effect is also leading people to the town, as an affordable alternative to Brighton. House prices here really are almost embarrassingly low.
So, we set off for the south coast on a glorious friday, stopping off en route in the infinitely smarter Eastbourne, for a spot of lunch on the beach. We arrived at the apartment in St. Leonards, which we booked through airbnb, late in the afternoon. It was in a lovely terrace, high above the town, with wonderful sea views. Naturally, saturday morning, despite forecasts to the contrary, it was overcast. Down the hill we headed to the centre of St. Leonards, to the area around Kings Road and Norman Road, which I’d heard was becoming quite an oasis of creativity. The main road up from the front wasn’t looking too promising until I spotted this sign.
Housed in a former pub, Philip Oakley Illuminations was about to light up our overcast saturday.
Philip worked for many years on the Blackpool illuminations, and he now sells both vintage pieces, and manufactures new work to commission.
Stumbling out into the daylight, we felt like we’d been to the cinema. Next we headed along the much improved Kings Road and found a wholesome lunch in a Vegan cafe called Moose’s Kitchen.
Then on to Norman Road. It may not be Berlin, but it could almost be Shoreditch on sea. As well the street art, I did spot quite a number of twiddly moustaches and tweed trousers.
Among the art galleries, antique shops and cafes on pastel painted Norman Road, is Wayward, a rather wonderful old fashioned (but new of course) haberdashery. I was reminded of my artist friend, Penny Leaver Green who did a project on buttons, and people with button phobias. Such people should avoid this shop at all costs.
A wonderful day of discovery was rounded off with a superb dinner up the road at St. Clements.