“They do it down on Camber Sands, they do it at Waikiki.”
Pop legends Squeeze revealed as much to us back in 1980, though it’s taken over 30 years to experience this corner of East Sussex for myself.
And, truth be told, I was more adept at pulling muscles on the dunes than mussels from a shell.
Camber Sands is a great swathe of sand and pebbles seven miles long and a good half-mile wide when the tide’s out.
You may have seen it on the silver screen, those rolling dunes doubling up as the Sahara Desert in Carry On Follow That Camel or as the Normandy beaches in war epics The Longest Day and Dunkirk. Even The Inbetweeners have succumbed to its charms.
Half the fun is getting on to it. Choose any of half-a-dozen paths from the road, of varying degrees of steepness, through the dunes and down on to the beach.
On the return (downhill) journey, it’s impossible not to freewheel with flailing arms, teaching your daughter the old Banana Splits theme at the top of your voice. Magic!
In low season there aren’t the crowds you’d normally see on a summer’s day but that’s no bad thing since it’s almost like having the place to yourself. Lots of dogs, mind…what a place to unleash your four-legged friend – he’ll think he’s in canine heaven.
Mechanical diggers carry sand blown into the dunes back to the beach, an indication of just how windy it can get down here.
But it’s that bracing, great-to-be- alive sea breeze that makes a beach walk so compelling.
Kids on horseback are a regular sight and once you get to the stony section of the beach you’re in windsurfing and kitesurfing territory, where hardy souls fly across the breaking waves.
This is what’s known as 1066 Country, two hours from London and a historic corner that will be forever England. Castles, conquests, old towns, battles – towns called Battle, even. It’s a history GCSE paper come to life.
Four miles away is the “Ancient town” of Rye. How ancient? Well, the first day we went I admired the old buildings, traditional pubs and harbour area. “We’ll come back tomorrow and do the old part,” said my wife as we walked back to the car. Pardon?
Turns out that, while most places have an Old Town district, Rye has an Old Town and a Now That’s What I Call An Old Town.
Part of the original Cinque Ports confederation set up in the 12th Century to provide a fleet of ships,
a treasure trove of historical wonders.
Walk up through the stone archway and you’re transported back into a medieval world of church graveyards, castles and cannons, cobbled streets (leave the heels at home, ladies), old pie shops and smugglers’ pubs…250 years ago Rye was the smuggling capital of England.
Further along the coast Hastings town centre has the usual identikit high-street shops, so don’t waste time on your way to the Old Town, made up of a warren of narrow lanes and alleyways called “twittens” that lie between the East and West Hills.
Take one of two cliff railways up to enjoy the gorgeous views out to the Channel. East Hill’s version is the steepest in England, West Hill’s takes you through a tunnel, in the best smuggling traditions.
Further on still is Bexhill, with its impressive promenade and grand houses overlooking the pebbly beach.
I can understand Rye and Hastings being among the Cinque Ports but Winchelsea? It’s inland, for a start, like Sandwich and New Romney, the result of waterways being silted up down the years.
Two miles from Rye, Britain’s smallest town is so twee and tidy you almost feel like taking your shoes off for fear of leaving a yard to pay our respects to its most famous resident, Terence Alan “Spike” Milligan, who died ten years ago. “I told you I was ill!” his gravestone informs the curious… in Irish, since the diocese thought the epitaph a tad disrespectful for the English language.
Our base for the week was The Light House, just a five-minute stroll from Camber Sands.
Set in a New England-style estate of whiteboard houses, it boasts three bedrooms, two bathrooms plus a huge front room with a 42in plasma screen, surrounds sound and PS3. That was the teenage lad sorted, then.
There’s also a swish kitchen- diner but do set aside an evening for a real culinary treat
Everyone raves about the award-winning Gallivant restaurant but it gets booked up quickly, which is why we found ourselves at The Green Owl pub instead. Lucky for us.
Its warm surroundings, friendly staff and top-notch food couldn’t be faulted.
We enjoyed the mariner’s pie, a rack of Romney Marsh lamb, sticky toffee pud, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc and drinks at the bar for a touch over £50. And a four-minute walk home into the bargain.
Bet they aren’t fed that well in Waikiki.
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