When Visit Britain got in touch to take part in their Escape the Everyday campaign I was quite excited because so many of my favourite trips in the last few years have been local ones. The United Kingdom is such a gorgeous place; full of history and legends, cozy cottages and breath-taking landscapes. Visit Britain seemed well aware of my penchant for the old and charming as they packed me off to 1066 Country with a weekend in Hastings learning about smugglers, wandering through castles and cloisters. Bodiam CastleWe packed so many excursions into our weekend I don't think I could possibly fit them all into one blog post! As someone who does love exploring old castles and manors and admiring the architecture while learning some of history's more fun stories and legends, Hastings was a perfect escape from the everyday. This region is also ideal for weekend escapes, or longer trips; there's a lot worth exploring in a small region so you can really see a lot in one weekend. Here are a few of our highlights from the trip. 

Mermaid Inn in Rye

The current building dates back to 1420, but the Mermaid Inn is even older and its cellars date back to 1156. The Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers used the Mermaid Inn as a stronghold in the 1700s. It’s said that they would sit at the Inn with their loaded weapons laid openly on the table after a successfully running cargo to shore knowing that no magistrate would dare cross them. Even if they did have to make a quick getaway they could exit through a secret tunnel in the Mermaid Inn’s cellar that led to a revolving cupboard. Rye itself was a perfect excursion from Hastings (a short bus ride or drive away), filled with loads of charming architecture and antique stores. 

All Saints Street in Hastings

Our host at the Swan House in Hastings recommended we take a walk down All Saints Street and we are so glad we did! We set out late in the day and watched the street lights turn on and cast everything in a golden glow. Some of the oldest surviving buildings in Hastings can be found on All Saints Street with homes dating back to 1450 and it’s a real treat for anyone who loves quirky architecture and old half timbered buildings. Remove the occasional parked car and paved road and this street doesn’t look far off medieval Hastings. It was really fun walking down this street and just trying to absorb all of the details; some of the windows were buckled from age and others had interesting knockers or plaques explaining some of the history of the house. Truly a feast for the eyes!

Bodiam CastleBodiam Castle

This region boasts a number of castles (there was even a castle in Hastings and another in Rye), but one of the most striking castles of this area has to be Bodiam with its impressive moat that surrounds the castle on all sides. It was built in the late 1300s, a very turbulent time in Europe and England and you can tell just how defensively this castle was built as you enter it down a single, long pier. The outside of the castle is in good condition, but the interior fell into ruin and now little is known about how it was organized. Some clues to the past still remain however, like identifiable mason's marks and "witch" marks! In Bodiam Castle nearly every entrance and window of the castle boasts a "witch" mark or a protective carving in the stone. These marks were intended to defend the castle where arrows and a moat could not by offering supernatural protection and warding off evil spirits. Yet another sign of the times in which this castle was built and insight in the psyche of the people who designed it.

The Bell Inn TicehurstHistoric Hotels

We stayed at three different hotels on this trip and each was so special they deserve a special mention in my highlights. I think I'll do a l'll do a longer post on where to stay in and around Hastings, but I love that in addition to wandering medieval castles and dining in a former smuggler's stronghold, you can also sleep and enjoy breakfast at 15th Century Inn or a former rectory with a bathroom hidden behind a bookcase! It made the whole weekend feel like an immersive experience; we weren't just exploring historical places during the day, we were also sleeping alongside history with the modern comforts as well. We stayed at The Bell In Ticehurst, Swan House, and The Old Rectory

Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey

Whenever you think of Hastings one of the first things to come to mind has to be the famous "Battle of Hastings" in 1066; this region even goes by the moniker 1066! The battle of Hastings however did not take place in Hastings proper, but down the road in what is now a town aptly named Battle. Battle Abbey was built here in 1070; William the Conquerer founded Battle Abbey as penance for killing so many during his conquest of England. Today the grounds are maintained by the English Heritage and cover the battlefield, medieval fish ponds, the Great Gatehouse (which was truly great and massive with spiraling stone staircases and stained glass windows), remains of the abbey church, vaulted rooms, etc. Exploring the Abbey and learning the history of this region and the buildings that remain could be an entire day trip by itself. One of the most striking rooms is features the vaulted ceilings and columns above and was originally a Common Room for the monks. 

Net HutsThe Stade and Net Shops

Hastings is a seaside town and the shingle beach at its edge is known as The Stade which is the Old Saxon term for "landing place." This area has a lot of interesting and unique features to explore, like the towering black Net Shops, East Hill Cliff Railway (essentially a tram that runs straight up a cliff), former smuggler's caves, and a host of quirky antique and vintage shops, to name a few things. One of my favorite sites was Half Sovereign Cottage, positioned amongst the Net Huts and also tarred black for weather-proofing. One of the punishments for being caught smuggling was to have your ship confiscated and "sawn asunder amidships". This led to shacks being made out of the remaining half boats; Half Sovereign Cottage is a perfect example and a really quirky looking little building with the beams of the ceiling being made out of what was formerly the bottom of a boat and a fun bit of history.

East Hill LiftI hope you enjoyed this wee peek into some of the history and things we enjoyed exploring in Hastings and the surrounding region. It's definitely an ideal trip for anyone who loves old architecture and legends and we really enjoyed our visit. Thank you Visit Britain and 1066 Country for such a fun weekend and helping us escape the everyday!Hastings beachThis is a guest post from blogger 'a clothes horse' - you can see the original here.

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