London - I felt the tug of the sea the moment I walked out of Hastings railway station. No need for a map. Just follow the seagulls wheeling downhill to the beach.
Hastings, the natural capital of 1066 Country, is burnishing its credentials as a leading South Coast destination, to match Brighton and Bournemouth. I took its pulse with a bracing walk along the prom, starting in the west in the sister town of St Leonards.
Do this walk in a fog and you might think you’re pulling alongside an ocean liner. But you’re actually beside Marine Court, a 1937 Art Deco apartment block styled on the Queen Mary.
Hastings changes style in a few steps. I passed the Georgian Pelham Crescent, which would fit easily into Brighton or Bath, then some daytripper attractions you might find in Blackpool. But the real gold is at the east end of the seafront.
The Stade is the old fishing quarter, huddling under the cliff face, a maze of steep-roofed fishermen’s huts near the Jerwood Gallery, which opened last year.
A line of boats was drawn up on the shingle – Europe’s biggest beach-launched fishing fleet. You can taste the catch in Webbe’s at Rock a Nore, just back from the shore. They can even tell you which boat caught your fish.
The restored East Hill Lift took me up to a wide, grassy plateau, with wonderful views back over the Old Town. Back down there I walked a network of lanes bordered by raised pavements with Victorian cast-iron hand rails and tantalising passageways, known as the ‘twittens’, leading off.
Here there are independent shops and a rich choice of one-off bakeries and restaurants.
From my base at Black Rock House, a boutique B&B in a transformed Victorian villa, I took two trips into 1066 Country – and you can make them both by train. The first was obvious, to the sloping battle site at Senlac Hill, near Battle. On a misty autumn afternoon I imagined arrows hailing down.
Next day I travelled east to Rye, the hilltop town name-checked in the recent BBC adaptation of Parade’s End.
At Camber Sands, I looked over the wide, golden and empty beach, just as Benedict Cumberbatch does in the saga. The cast stayed at the Gallivant Hotel opposite the dunes and that’s where I called for another delicious sustainable fish dish.
Black Rock House (01424 438448, black-rock-hastings.co.uk) offers double rooms from £110 per night including breakfast and welcome drinks. Visit visit1066country.com. - Mail On Sunday