In my bag there are three books, a half bottle of Champagne, pyjamas and my laptop. I have newly polished toes, and a happy-go-lucky swagger that carries my overnight bag and small amount of luggage on to the train. Today is Friday, but I am not “at work”. I have taken the day off. And I am on my own.
Swiftly traversing the English countryside south from London Charing Cross to Hastings, the slower train stops at a number of places that in my thirty something years of living in this country, I still remain unfamiliar with. Until we get to Battle I don’t recognise anything, save for the well-etched historic ‘Coronation of Harold’ marketing that now dominates the other side of the rail carriage’s window. Five minutes later, familiar seagull squawks announce our firm arrival into 1066 country, and a stroll towards the seafront completes this coastal postcard picture.
It might not be Miami beach, but it is a beach. Pebble-strewn and wavey. The sea-salt breeze licks through the air, covering faces in welcome seaside slobber from this altogether other kind of loyal, homely best friend. The destination does seem a little “random” even to my friends, but upon setting foot here I can quickly see reason for its ever-growing charm, one particularly favoured by us often urbanly-overcooked, London types.
The one-time classic British seaside resort is still in evidence – from slot machines and sweet-shop facades painted in appropriately sugar-dusted colours, to countless fish and chip shops all boasting authentic freshly-caught fish, battered to perfection. An array of more recently installed cultural attractions beckon now here too. The Jerwood Gallery, opened in 2012, is home to a number of changing exhibitions – current ones include “Off the wall” by artist Gus Cummins and “Moonlight travellers” by Sir Quentin Blake – both of whom also live locally. The gallery sits angular across the bay, a short walk from the Stables Theatre and Arts Centre, while Stirling Prize winner, while the newly designed “Pier of the year 2017” provides more linear corners yet on which to sit and marvel.
The reason for my visit is a stay at The Old Rectory, an eight-bedroom bed and breakfast on appropriately named, history-infused Hastings’ Harold Road. At the back of the property is a wide, walled garden, planted with pretty greenery. Today soft catkins on the pussy willow, daffodils and white croci frame the view over the rest of the town, and onto the neighbouring All Saints Church, from which the building gains its original name and purpose.
Inside, the feeling is much more modern than in its prior incarnation; design-led furnishings drape the main public spaces, whilst each bedroom, named after the various Hastings’ streets, offer something more classic-contemporary. Mine for the evening, a palatial residence of a room, homes a roll-top bath, enormous double bed, and ensuite loo that is hidden behind a faux bookcase – decorated inside from pages of books and journals through time, including the cover of a Stamford Mercury (“Britain’s oldest continually published newspaper”). I flick the freeview on, stick the bubbly in the fridge and get that bath going. Me time has never looked any better – thank you, Billecart Salmon rosé.
After a long, relaxing soak, I wander into town in search of something to eat. The cutesy-cobbled high street offers an enticing array of eateries and shops you can’t help but want to delve into – the Boulevard Bookshop doubles as a well-reputed tasty Thai restaurant come evening (handily BYO too). Swish-looking Seed Tapas, Rock-a-Nore Kitchen a little way down towards the beach, and a handful of Moroccan inspired places come recommended by the guesthouse owners.
During the daytime the street comes alive with its many coffee, flower and antique, bric-a-brac shops. The Crown pub (Observer Food Monthly’s Best Place to Drink 2017) is bright and busy at the tip of All Saint’s Street – a road painted in black and white Tudor housing, from which sounds of the radio leak. I choose somewhere a little more casual, elect for a glass of Sussex grown white wine (a Bacchus from nearby Carr Taylor wines – just one of a few English wineries and vineyards located nearby), and dig into SOUND THE GONGS gluten-free calamari (for a coeliac, dear reader, this really is as close as it gets to heaven on a plate). Fish follows in a variety of styles and colours – such is the requirement for ordering when you can see the nets in fair (sea) view ahead.
Breakfast the next day after a night of brilliant sleep comes to the table homemade; granola, bacon, sausages and richly replete fruit smoothies form stroll-incentivising choices. Other guests include trendy couples who befit the wider interior atmosphere – an antler-clad furry throne inhabits the main sitting room, tactile, woody additions finish the bedrooms, while other touches include shampoo and shower gel under owner (and former design director at British fashion house Katherine Hamnett), Lionel Copley’s own label. Those keen to replicate the feeling bestowed upon this place will find all other designers and creative contributors listed in the back of the in-room, hotel directory.
Before I leave, the final jewel in the crown to this weekend are the treatment rooms – opened as recently as December. In-house therapist Charlotte Connelly, a former model trained under well-known beautician Nichola Joss, offers services here from Thursday to Sunday. The “Inner Facial” is one of her signature treatments – a favourite also performed on royal-in-waiting Meghan Markle, and so popular, she says, she has clients who come a couple of times a month to receive it. This is a work out for the face, exercising tired muscles and relieving frown-induced tension.
Smile re-awakened, I conclude my visit passing Hastings Winkle Club and the quirky looking, beach-side Victorian “net shops” – a heart-warming way to round off a stay of ultimate luxury at its most simplistic.
The Old Rectory, Harold Road, Hastings, East Sussex TN35 5ND. For more information, including details of the treatments rooms, visit www.theoldrectoryhastings.co.uk.