Life in St Leonard's on Sea
We've been here for nearly two years now, here being St Leonard's on Sea. Made the move from the big city to a small coastal town in East Sussex.
Hastings, which is adjacent to and merges with St Leonard's is home to the largest beach launching fishing fleet in the country, although diminished in size, there is still plenty of fresh fish to be bought down by the net huts. Two large dressed crabs cost me £10 the other day. Boats are pushed out by tractors into the sea. Having been brought up in a town with a river this seemed unusual to me when we first moved here, now it all seems perfectly normal. We often sit on the balcony of the Jerwood Gallery and watch the boats go out or the process reversed when the boats are pulled back up the beach.
Seagulls are a big feature of every day life here, huge, well fed birds. They, like all wild life in this country, are serious scavengers. In the first week we were sitting outside a cafe drinking coffee when there was a crash from the table next to us and the beating of wings as a gull took off carrying the sandwich it had grabbed from the plate.
As I said they are big birds and they don't just do smash and grab they can also be very patient. They utilise an edging closer technique which can be quite unnerving.
I love the big skies and the constant of the sea down here. The sign of a storm approaching as the clouds roll in or the blue sky clearing the white clouds to let the sun warm us. The sea moves, sometimes benignly at others with so much power that it threatens to overwhelm the human beings braving the weather to watch the waves crash on the shore.
And the light is wonderful down here, opening up those corners that would be hidden in a city. Nearly every night is a light show at the moment of the sun going down and magic hour lights up the cream of the late victorian houses that line the streets.
And of course the sky provides spectacular photos and good light for all the pictures I have taken on the pier, around the pier and under the pier. Good or bad weather there is always something to photograph on this simple structure that has given me so much pleasure. Voted Best Pier this year it is also up for an architectural prize which says a lot about the overall style and simplicity of the design.
Back lit by the sun.
Stretching out into the English Channel on a hazy day.
And reflections in the rain. This photo is currently on display in Cafe Des Arts although it will soon be replaced with the backlit pier shot.
The other phenomenon in Hastings is the willingness on a large part of the local population to take part, enthusiastically, in the three main events of the year which require dressing up. Actually the quality of costume and participation means that dressing up doesn't really do justice to what occurs here. The three events I've mentioned are the Jack in the Green day, Pirates Day and the Bonfire Day celebrations. The following photos are just a few to highlight the quality of these events.
There are lots of shades of paganism, and downright anarchy to be honest. Loads of drumming and an array of costuming that would put the RSC to shame, plus the sheer numbers of people who get involved.
Next on the annual agenda is Pirates Day. Which makes sense as there are historical smuggling tunnels along the coast and it's another opportunity to get dressed in clothes from another time and is also somewhat anarchic. There is a pattern emerging here.
And finally to the big one, the Hastings Bonfire Procession is one of the biggest along the coast, Lewes is the largest. Of course the papist plot of Guy Fawkes has a lot to do with it. The fact that the gunpowder used was allegedly procured from Battle, just up the road from us could be fiction, but who knows. The more recent celebrations were re-invented in Victorian times and mark something just as political. The numbers of protestants burned for their faith by Mary, Queen of England, sister to Elizabeth 1 and popularly known as Bloody Mary, are marked by crosses in the processions.
Bonfire societies from around the coast attend each others' events and preparation is feverish in the months leading up to the day. The event is quite dark, lots of fire and dark clothes and makeup. The feeling is, well the only word is anarchic.
One costumed woman in the procession last year. I should add that it was pouring with rain for most of the parade, slashing rainfall coming straight at us and my lens, so the following shots may or may not include rain spots.
Here is one of the Lewes Bonfire Society participants.
Parent and child join in the parade.
And lastly a picture of sunset to close the piece.
A reflection creates molten gold in the signage and windows of one of the cafes on the seafront.
So there you have it, never let it be said that coastal towns are dull. The sea, the sky the celebrations the marking of the seasons all brighten the year. Do I miss London, well I miss people and galleries but in truth I have settled here. I don't miss the crowds and the lack of sky. And the undertow of eccentricity in this community appeals to me.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog. I am not writing so frequently but I hope it remains interesting.
Thoughtful and well written article Patty, thank you and I love the photos. As we were there in June it's all very fresh for me still, staying with Ellie my mother in law, seeing Samphire ( edible plant) and a variety of fish unknown to me, being from Australia, was a particular joy. I was one of the lucky people to be blessed by a seagulls enormous droppings while flying past. Funny it didn't feel lucky at the time but my stay there was lovely. You are right about the light, I took the best pictures of our trip in Hastings and on the pier. I did meet you and am glad to hear you are enjoying your piece of paradise.
Correction - pram race!
Beautiful photos. A truely clear and accurate description of the amazing towns I have lived in for 20 years now. Thank you. Blessings.
You've captured our seaside life so well - in words and images. The light is glorious in so many of your photographs. Looking forward to future instalments - pray race next Wednesday?
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