Weren’t the few days of crisp sunshine between Christmas and New Year such a respite from the sedentary, food-filled few days either side? Charged with energy by the orangey sunshine and sharp focus of everything, my very dear friend (and mother of my sometimes-daughters), and I headed down to Bexhill-on-Sea with our children, leaving our other halves to fester at their desks.
We were in search of a leg stretch for all, a chance to turn our faces towards the warm sunshine, and – most importantly for us mothers – some culture. This is where the Sussex Coastal Culture Trail is such a treat. Never mind London, we’ve got it all on this here coastline: art AND beaches! Comprising the De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill-on-Sea, the Towner in Eastbourne and the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, it’s a 20-mile stretch of coastline that caters for all.
We chose the De La Warr because it was the final few days of a rich and varied photography show called ‘Magnum Archives: One Archive, Three Views’. Although we only managed to skim its content (thanks noisy, restless kids), it was well worth the trip. Some of the images were totally arresting and there was plenty of everyday Martin Parr-esque shots to luxuriate in. But when the kids made an activity of spotting bums and boobs, we knew we were outta there.
The beach at Bexhill is huge – and we timed things right tide-wise for some very thorough rock pooling. My family and I have been to Bexhill many times, but I’ve never known you could rock pool there – there were flats just to the left of the Pavilion and a hop over a few groynes, when facing the sea.
In fact facing out to sea is the easiest way for me to describe what to find at Bexhill beach-wise. From the De La Warr, you can walk for miles to the right (as above) along a promenade that is amazing for a bike and a scoot, or to the left, past boats pulled up on the shingle (see below, and be warned: there is dog shit EVERYWHERE around these, so watch your step – and theirs) and along the pavement edging the beach which again goes on and on.
But before all this we headed straight into the Pavilion to settle into squishy leather sofas in the upstairs café (it was post-Christmas and cold – too much cooking had happened in the days before to allow for a packed lunch). The only complaint about this spot is that the sofas are in the full beam of the sun, so we were roasting – but since it was freezing outside, this was nice. Lunch was pretty good – large doorstep sandwiches for us of posh smoked salmon and some wasabi scenario, and a kids’ meal at £6.50 of fish and chips, a juice, and two HUGE scoops of ice cream. My two both had a cheese sandwich at £2.50 and I paid a little extra for the ice cream scoops.
(If you’re after other eating options, one reader told me via Instagram that she and her family always eat at Minnie Bertha’s for fish and chips, which is at 47 Marina. There are also two italian cafes on the road side of the Pavilion, one called Di Paolo’s.)
After eating we were straight out on the aforementioned beach, where the eldest three scampered off, leaving my sometimes-baby to dip her toes repeatedly in the surf. We didn’t stray far from the Pavilion, because of the rock pooling (see way above). Try as we might to get the four children to embark on a bracing walk, they just wanted to find ‘sharks teeth’, the legless husks of crabs, and smooth, chipped pieces of flint.
I have to mention the little row of houses to the left of the Pavilion that faces the sea here includes ones trussed up like a Christmas tree, with brightly coloured (but now sun-faded) nets, shells, signs about a grumpy dog, and buoys. All the children loved this and were desperate to get through its gate – amazing how something even vaguely offbeat has such child appeal. I guess that’s what happens when they’re used to Farrow and Ball’d house facades and neat black-tile frontages!
We’ll be back within the next few weeks for the ace-sounding ‘Ladybird by Design’ show of 200 illustrations from the late ’50s to early ’70s in celebration of 100 years of Ladybird Books, which opens this weekend and runs until May 10th. The exhibition will focus on images that reflected the way the reader lived. Here’s some blurb:
‘Affordable and accessible, Ladybird books hold a significant and affectionate place in the collective psyche of the nation, conjuring up, through written word and illustration, life in Britain in more innocent times.’
As an aside, I have a vague recollection about something to do with water fountains or features that kids can play in being built in Bexhill in 2013, because I think a few readers emailed or tweeted me about when it was being installed. I didn’t see this this time, but we were rooted to a small area of the beach by tiny legs, a two-hour (I kid you not) sunset, and the need to be near an indoor retreat because of the cold bite of the day. If it is exists, it’ll be something to return for in summertime, for sure.
Also I gather Bexhill Museum is worth a visit but is currently closed until February 2nd.
ABOUT THE DE LA WARR PAVILION
White, crisp and clean-lined, the modernist De La Warr Pavilion was opened in 1935, remembered in the foyer on a plaque laid by its namesake Earl De La Warr, which says:
“A modernist building of world renown that will become a crucible for creating a new model of cultural provision in an English seaside town which is going to lead to the growth, prosperity and the greater culture of our town”
A Grade I listed building, it was refurbished in 2005 and has since been visited by over three million people, who come to see its innovative art and culture exhibitions and events. It remains one of the most important Modernist buildings in Britain.
Drive: 37 minutes (parking is at the Pavilion and is Pay & Display, whatever day you’re visiting)
Train: 40 minutes from Lewes, sometimes with one change
Address: Marina, Bexhill, East Sussex, TN40 1DP
Tel no: 01424 229 111
Website: dlwp.com; coastalculturetrail.wordpress.com
Hours: Daily, 10am-5pm
Price: Largely free! Some gigs, family shows and special exhibitions may be charged for
Ladybird by Design: runs from 24 Jan to 10 May 2015; free
Disclosure: No compensation, financial or otherwise, was offered or accepted for the writing of this post.
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