Tuesday 13 August 2013

Hastings Old Town Carnival Week

When not in London, I am lucky enough to spend time down on the coast in the seaside town of Hastings. Though usually only popping down for the weekend, I recently spent a few lovely days there, celebrating Hastings Old Town Carnival Week!

Coming off the train and making our way to the High Street, we walked straight into the annual Seaboot Race. Organized in memory of old towner Peter Trickett who died in 2002, competitors have to run down Courthouse Street, around a lobster pot and back again, whilst wearing a pair of very heavy seaboots! The winner gets to keep hold of Peter’s walking stick for a whole year, although all participants get a certificate. The race was followed by an auction, filled with all kinds of donated prizes from artwork to trips on a fishing boat, which raised hundreds of pounds of the RNLI. 

We walked up to the Cinque Ports pub on All Saints Street for a drink that evening, where we were accompanied by tables of detectives, nurses, glam rockers and pirates… all teams taking part in the fancy dress Treasure Trail.

Tuesday started with breakfast at the East Hastings Sea Angling Association clubhouse, and all the rumours were true – it was pretty great! To walk off the grub, we took part in the Twittens and Catcreeps tour, which took us up and down the narrow pathways and steps of the Old Town, and taught us much about the history of the streets as we went. This was one of many tours taking place throughout the festival.

During Carnival Week many houses open their gardens to the public. That afternoon we enjoyed an organic cream tea in the stunning gardens of Craig and Jo Sams, the founders of Green and Black’s chocolate and Hastings’ Judges’ bakery. Tea, scones, squash, and even a lovely bar of chocolate as we left; it was the perfect way to relax in the sunshine.

At seven o’clock whilst enjoying a tapas dinner in Harris, The Wardrobe vintage shop opposite was putting on a fashion show, showing off some of their best garments. The models walked up and down the old seawall to the smooth sound of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and we had the perfect view with a table in the window.

It’s probably true to say that every night, all year round, one can find live music playing in the Old Town, but to witness the best, you need to be in The Stag on a Tuesday for Folk Night. The Stag Inn is the oldest pub in Hastings, dating back to 1547. As always, the small group of local musicians who play on a Tuesday night were super, and even a few of All Saints Street’s cats came in to join us for a pint. There’s such a great crowd in The Stag, and usually a bit of a sing-a-long at some point during the evening too.

After quite a busy Tuesday, we tried to relax a bit the next day, enjoying a lovely lunch at Latham’s on George Street, and a bit of retail therapy in the afternoon. But in the evening, all hell broke loose again for The Pram Race! The Pram Race is a pub crawl around the Old Town, and is thought of by many to be the highlight of Carnival Week. Teams started to gather outside The Cutter Pub a few hours before the race actually began, all themed with costumes and pram designs to match. There were army teams with tanks, Vikings with sailing ships, spacemen with rockets, the royal family with royal pram (complete with royal baby!), jockeys and horses, bathtubs and girls dressed as multicoloured loofahs, hoola girls with portable tiki huts… to name but a few! One of my favourites had to be the fridge-freezer pram, pushed along by Captain Birdseye and eight 6-foot fish fingers! The queue at the start line was so long that it came all the way up West Street and past our front door, meaning we had great view from our kitchen table! Down on the seafront was where the atmosphere was best, with sailors already sampling their rum despite being about to begin a tour of all the pubs in the area.

Thursday was more tours and open gardens - the day, and my time in Hastings, coming to an end with the Trader’s Street Party. Stalls were set up all along the High Street selling garments, nick-nacks, food and holding games for the younger children. We enjoyed a paella dinner, and I bought two wonderful vintage shirts for a steal. There was also live music, with The Moors set up on stage outside the Jenny Lind Pub, and later Blair MacKichan and friends were playing up by the First In Last Out Pub. All music provided by Hastings locals, we were also lucky enough to have Liane Carroll come up and play with Blair. What a voice she has!

Although having known Hastings for a few years now, this was my first ever Carnival Week. It was filled with all the things you’d expect from a Hastings event; laughter, fun, food, drink, music, and many excuses to dress up!  You’ll find these kind of events all year round on the Old Town calendar, the next ones being the Seafood and Wine Festival in September, and October’s Bonfire Night. I can’t wait :)

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