From wandering into a ‘blessed little sea shanty’ at Pett Level beach to people watching at sunset beside the prettiest street in England, Saira reflects on the little things that made her walk from Hastings to Rye memorable
What makes an excellent Slow Ways journey? I’ve chalked it down to the following: varied terrain, a handful of hidden gems, unexpected encounters, new discoveries and ending at an infinitely interesting settlement.
Towards the end of last year, I followed a Slow Ways route that checked all these boxes! Hastings to Rye (Hasrye 2) traversed ancient woodland, steep glens beside the sea, quirky villages and flat pastures home to grazing sheep.
On my walk, I passed houses with names like Moonwind, Witchwood and Paix (French for peace). I enjoyed a cereal bar while taking in sweeping sea views from ‘Hughie Pringle’s Bench of Awesomeness.’ I spotted wildlife: sanderlings and a snake, a medley of mushrooms. I shared a conversation with a priest by the river at Winchelsea. He told me he had walked the Camino in recent years, a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, a city in Galicia. “The trick to walking long distances”, he says, “is to pace yourself.”
Although I stuck to the route, admittedly, I did veer off at times to explore nearby places of interest before returning to the set path. I wandered into a ‘blessed little sea shanty’ at Petts Level beach, not far from one of my favourite areas in the South East, Dungeness. Known to many, as the UK’s very own wild west, Dungeness is home to number of outsider artists and writers as well as a lighthouse, a nuclear power station, filmmaker and campaigner Derek Jarman’s’ garden, and Europe’s largest shingle beach.
On my journey I also stopped off at the Empty Sardine Can Gallery, beside a supremely unhelpful fingerpost (this way? that way? up? down?) and a local café that sold the best lemon drizzle cake I’ve ever eaten. I woolfed it down, and chugged a can of lemonade on a microbreak by the sea. After I finished checking the route, I walked down cobbled Mermaid Street, one of the prettiest streets in the England. I took photos, and watched people. I peered into the house with Two Front Doors and watched the sunset over Rye from a high place. It was beautiful! Once the sky had bled black and my hands had become numb with cold, I headed to the small train station.
In retrospect, there were other places I would have loved to linger; Fairlight Glen Beach, a hidden beauty spot on the rugged coast not far from Hastings, and the ruins of the otherworldly Camber Castle, but due to fading daylight, it would have been impossible to get to Rye before nightfall had I taken any more detours. Nonetheless, it was a brilliant walk and an excellent adventure, as are most Slow Ways journeys.
If you want to experience the magic of walking Slow Ways, I would start off by walking a route like this one!
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