“ Hastings / East Sussex / England „
We spent a week on the South Coast this summer, and one of the places we visited was the Smugglers Adventure in Hastings. This is actually the St Clements Caves - a series of tunnels and caverns once used extensively by real smugglers.
Having looked on the website before visiting, my son was convinced we were going to be shown around by 'Hairy Jack' in person, and was quite disappointed to discover Hairy Jack was just speaking on a film! There are in fact two short films - one just after entering and one a little later on, giving some interesting history and insight into the caves and the widespread practice of smuggling.
As you progress around the caves there are plenty of interactive displays and over 70 life size figures bringing the days of smuggling to life. We particularly liked displays showing back-to-front horseshoes and innovative places to hide smuggled goods (bottle of brandy under a doll's skirt, anyone?) - all ways to foil the taxman. Many of the displays have a button to press to hear a short commentary on what you're looking at - well three buttons to be precise, as the commentaries are available in English, French and German.
There was plenty to keep children occupied, and indeed it seems a popular place for school trips, but I was pleasantly surprised by how interesting I found it too. I don't think I'd ever appreciated the sheer scale of the smuggling operations which went on! I think what I especially liked was that the quantity of writing on the walls was about right to be able to read it all rather than having to skim through it as often happens when visiting such places with children.
We did have a few minor gripes. Some of the life-size figures were looking a bit shabby, and some of the buttons didn't work too well - the English ones anyway. Nothing too bad, but it did detract from the experience slightly. It was not always entirely clear which way to go next, and we did actually manage to miss one of the caves completely! Also, this is just a personal one from that particular day, we had timed our visit badly and were being closely followed by a German school trip. Not a problem in itself, but it meant we were hurried into the second film showing before we were quite ready, because the next one was going to be in German.
It takes about an hour to go round (before ending up in the inevitable gift shop!) - before going we thought this sounded quite short, but actually we found we were kept engaged throughout that hour, we had chance to see and read everything (well except for the room we missed!) and the children didn't get bored at all. I would say for a family visit the time is about right.
At the time we visited, this was one of the attractions available on the Tesco Clubcard Rewards programme, so we didn't actually pay for our tickets as such, but it is unfortunately no longer possible to pay for entrance using Rewards vouchers. Still, the admission prices are not too steep - at the time of writing ticket prices are : adult £7.20, child £5.20, student/OAP £6.20, family £22.80. We thought this was about right - if we'd been buying our own tickets we'd probably still have bought them at this price, but wouldn't have wanted to pay much more.
The caves are not accessible to pushchairs (though baby slings are available to borrow) and there are steps and low ceilings to negotiate.
Overall, it was an enjoyable family outing, and combined with a browse round Hastings itself made for a lovely day out. We found there was plenty we'd seen that we were talking about in the car on the way home, which for me is a mark of a good family trip!
We decided to visit Smugglers Adventure on Saturday as we were in the Hastings area. We decided to go here because my partner was very interested in it and thought it would be good fun. It also looked like a place where adults could quite happily go alone and not look like big kids! Smugglers Adventure is some caves located in Hastings which used to be used for smuggling. Smugglers Adventure now tells the story of the smugglers.
So we set out to find the place. We had a leaflet which suggested we park in one of the pay and display car parks and then walk up to the caves. So this is what we did, only problem is it was very difficult to find! Although it was signposted on the seafront, once we got to the car park there were no signs and it was more a guess! There was a small map on the leaflet, however we still found it difficult to find. We ended up asking a man who pointed us in the right direction and then we managed to find it. Incase you do go, it is located at the top of Hastings (so there are quite a few hills to walk up) and you go across a sort of village green to get to it. It is also worth noting there is limited pay and display up near it so you may be better off hazarding going up there to park.
Upon arrival there are some steps to go down and then you go forward into the caves. The man behind the counter was very friendly and helpful, asked if we wanted to pay separately or together and was not at all pushy asking if we wanted to ask guide books etc.
We then progressed into the caves. There are lots of tunnels to go down and you will quite often have to bend down to squeeze through so this is not an attraction which can be visited by disabled people. There is a buggy park at the start as these cannot be taken in either. However, free loan baby slings are available which I thought was a nice gesture.
The tunnels guide you round and there is only one way to go round, you cannot get lost! One of the first places we went into was a large room where as we entered a large video started playing on the wall. This told the story of Hairy Jack, a smuggler who used to use the caves.
You then go forward and there are lots of things to look at in display cabinets including things which were used by the smugglers and their clothes. There are also a lot of models here showing the smugglers in action. There were also a lot of games for children to play on including computer games and seeing how the smugglers used to live, these were educational and children seemed to love them (there was a school trip there at the same time that we were there).
You then go on to watch another video which was educational and good fun and then progress through more tunnels in order to understand how the smugglers used to live. There are lots of buttons to press around the caves for commentary and you can learn a lot if you are prepared to listen.
That was the end of the caves and you then go on into a small gift shop. There were some souvenirs here which were reasonably priced but we didn't buy anything. You then have the option to fill in a comments card and leave. I imagine you can return throughout the day once you have bought your ticket but we didn't ask about this.
We spent about 1 ½ hours in the caves and we were trying to take our time as we knew there wasn't too much there. The signs say to allow an hour for your visit which I would say is about right. We enjoyed our visits to the caves and learned a lot. It would be a great place to take kids as it is something different and there is plenty to see and do. We would visit again as it was good fun and good value for money, however we would have preferred it if we could have spent more time there. I would not recommend this to people with very young children as it is very dark and at quite a few moments I was quite scared!
Prices (for 2010) are as follows (however, you can get joint tickets for here and Blue Reef Aquarium which would be great if you were looking to spend all day in Hastings - prices for both are about double the entrance fee just for Smugglers Adventure).
For Smugglers Adventure:
Senior Citizen £6.20
It is open 10am-5pm during summer months and 10am-4pm winter months.
For more information and how to get here, please visit the website http://www.smugglersadventure.co.uk/smugglers/smugglers.shtml
A nice place to visit for an hour, very educational and a nice alternative to a zoo or farm! Would visit again.
I've been spending a lot of time in East Sussex lately, as my boyfriend lives there, so it's a nice place to get away for a bit of a break . My breaks tend not to be much about lazing around on the beach soaking up the sun though - I'm very interested in history, not just kings and queens, but natural history and local history . So when we went to Hastings, I was pretty keen to visit Smugglers Adventure, and learn a little more about this interesting career choice.
I didn't know much about smuggling prior to my visit . I knew it had happened, but not why, or how . I remember reading about smuggling in an Enid Blyton book too when I was younger . But, its fair to say I was pretty ignorant about the whole thing
The south coast has a rich history of smuggling. Lets face it, it's ideally located - the beaches of Hastings, Eastbourne, and Bexhill were great drop off points for Brandy, Silks, Tea, and many other goods smuggled over from France, and particularly during the many wars when taxes were introduced to many items and raised on others, bringing items over to sell on the black market was a very profitable career choice .
Of course, getting the goods from the beach to the wagons without being seen was a difficult job, and this is where the natural cave formations around the area came in useful . What started out as natural fissures n the rock were enlarged by human hands , into a complicated maze of underground passages where goods could be stored until a later time, or where they could be carried from the base of the cliffs to wagons higher up . Many of the caves had entrances in the local pubs or in the gardens of private residences, providing smugglers with an easy means of escape should the preventative men come knocking at the door .
We drove to Hastings from Eastbourne, btu we found finding Smugglers Adventure a little tricky - eventually we gave up and parked the car on the seafront, and we found a cartoonish little map indicating that the caves were in fact at the top of a very steep hill . It wa sa hot day, and we really didn't feel like climbing, so we instead took the West Hill Lift, a small tram car that climbs almost vertically up the hill , and costs £2 return for adults .
This took us to the top of the hill, from where the entrance to the attraction was signposted , and after walking down a short flight of steps, we were there . We didn't notice any parking for this attraction, and a quick enquiry at the desk confirms there isn't any , and also that most of the nearby streets only allow parking with a residents permit.
We also noticed that the entrance, being down steps and very narrow, would make wheelchair access very difficult. The attraction also does not allow pushchairs inside the caves, although baby slings can be hired at the front desk . You can also purchase torches here for a couple of pounds should you feel you need any extra light.
Entry costs £7 for adults, £5 for children, and £6 for students or OAPs . There are also family tickets available, at £21 for 2 adults and 2 children, with an extra child costing £4.
After paying, we were told to wait behind a gate for the light to go green, as part of the caves are audio guided, with a voice playing over loudspeakers telling you a little about the caves, and their uses . We only had to wait a couple of minutes, and while we were there, there were information boards about the Ball Room (now used as the gift shop) and the monks walk , which were carved into the caves as a grand entry way in the 1820s after their accidental re-discovery by Joseph Golding, who obtained permission to re-open the caves and give candlelight tours .
Once we got the green light to start, we went down a narrow passage called the Monks Walk, which was quite thin, and was 40ft long, with a slight downwards angle . There was the occasional light in a recessed niche in the wall, but overall it was quite dark, and rather spooky . I actually found the darkness and the slight downwards slope very disorientating, and felt a little dizzy . I also felt it was perhaps a little scary, and can't imagine a young child liking it too much, although an older child of perhaps 8 or above would probably find it quite exciting .
We then entered a larger cavern, where we were greeted by a video presentation of Hairy Jack, a smuggler who tells you a little about the caves, and mentions particular features worth keeping an eye out for on your way round .
After that, the audio guidance stops, and you get to explore on your own .
A lot of the exhibits are interactive, and many come with audio that can be triggers by pressing a button on the exhibit, and speak in either English, German, or French. I liked that many of the exhibits were interactive - there were a couple of video games tailored specifically for the attraction that I thought were pretty good, and many exhibits that challenged your knowledge about smuggling, including a rather fun one where you had to guess from a persons outfit what they might be smuggling . Some of the smuggling hiding places were rather clever, such as a bottle of brandy hidden in a wooden leg, and smaller bottles hidden inside books - both methods I'd seen in the Simpsons!
There were also some pretty nifty moving figures, although some of them I thought could do with a good clean .
Along the walls are also boards with more information, including pictures of when the ballroom was used for parties, and the caves used as air raid shelters, holding over 600 beds . There were also some amusing tales of how the caves were sealed up at one point because the local youth were using them to indulge in a little pre marital hanky panky!
One feature I liked was the ghost story wall, which told modern stories of reported hauntings in the caves . It was set up so you had to press your ear to the wall to listen, which made it feel as though the story was special, told just for you .
The gift shop I think was pretty feeble . Something I've noticed with a lot of Sussex gift shops is that they will sell London souvenirs, depsite not being in London, and this shop was no different - It sold I wide range of items stamped with I love London, which seems odd since its not IN london . There were some rather interesting magnets with family crests, some unusual gothic jewellery and bags, and the usual stash of pens, rubbers, and other tat you could fin in any souvenir shops . I couldn't find anything that related specifically to smuggling though, which was a shame - I would have liked to , for instance, be able to buy a map of the caves with smugglers routes marked out , but sadly nothing of the sort was available .
Overall, I enjoyed my visit - I learned a lot of things I didn't know, and had fun playing with the interactive exhibits . With that said, the gift shop was disappointing, and it wasn't the easiest place to find, especially by car. Add to that no pushchair or disabled access, and the fact that I think younger children might be a little scared, and I'm going to have to give a rating of only three stars.
With that said, I do still recommend a visit . It took us a little over an hour to go through the whole thing, and I found it entertaining and enjoyable .
With Hastings being quite a quirky, British sea-side town it comes as no surprise that 'Smugglers Adventure' is a quirky, sea-side related museum. It is not very large and does not contain a wide variety of displays or things to do but what is there is of mild interest even if it cannot be described as fascinating. For anyone with a desire to discover a bit about an aspect of the history of the area, this museum is an option. Located near the Old Town by fishing boats, huts and fishmongers, the location is very suitable. There is also a medium sized car park very near by. However, 'Smugglers Adventure' is not a good distraction for children from the Sealife Centre as it is located on the same complex. It is also important to remember that some children can be easily frightened by the displays of wax figures and dark caves.
The south coast is famous, or notorious, rather for smuggling. Much like piracy, this nefarious activity has been joked about and romanticised for centuries, making many of the smuggler's caves and dens tourist attractions along the coast.
Hastings, along with nearby towns such as Eastbourne and Brighton, were heavily involved in the smuggling industry throughout the 1500's to the 1800's. Any time a war was on the taxes were put up to pay for it, and the only way to turn a profit was to involve yourself in smuggling in some form or another. In fact, so many people in Sussex were involved in smuggling that at one point it was considered a county income.
So why Hastings? Well for a start it is one of the closest points to France, making wool and tobacco smuggling easy and swift. It also meant that during various wars with the French money could be made smuggling spies back and forth, from both sides. The coastline was also largely deserted, it wasn't until much later that it was declared that sea bathing was good for your health and all the seaside towns we are so familiar with sprung up in that area. In fact one report of Brighton and Hove written in 1756 stated that "it is a desolate empty town, largely deserted, but for a few resolute fishing families, slowly eaten a little more by the sea each day, I expect the entire town to be under the ocean before the decade be out!"
Hastings also had another gem within its borders, St Clements's caves.
The caves run back hundreds of feet into the cliff above Hastings town, and are so ancient that no one knows who originally carved them. Smugglers, found ample use for them, as storage, and movement tunnels for their contraband. Many of the passageways used to come up in local pubs, providing instant boltholes for smugglers in a tight spot. Now the caves are a tourist attraction, run as a private business open most days of the year, with shortened hours in the winter.
A couple of my friends and I went to the caves to check out its viability as a school trip for a project on local history.
The caves are not actually very easy to find, we luckily had someone with us who knew the entrance, but it sits right up on the top of the hill and isn't very well signposted. There are maps of the Hastings attractions dotted around the seafront, but they are cartoony and not all that helpful, you could see roughly where you were, but not clearly how to get to the next place. My advice is to park on the seafront and take one of the Victorian hill trams up to the top, where you can see the entrance to caves, if you know what you are looking for. Be careful which tram you take, one will just take you up to a golf course, whereas the other will take you up above the town, the guys on the gate will tell you if you're getting on the right one. Tickets for the tram are £2-£3 and the trams are very quaint, an experience all in themselves.
The caves are to the right on the tram exit, across a little common ground. You can see the sign from the exit. At the sign you will go down some pretty steep steps. This attraction is not wheelchair or buggy friendly due to the nature of the caves.
The entrance prices are pretty steep I thought at between £4 and £7, there are discounts with group bookings and they do offer family tickets, information can be found at http://new.discoverhastings.co.uk/discover_hastings/prices.shtml
Inside the cave you are herded in when a 'show' is ready, these start fairly frequently, but I should imagine it's a bit of a pain when there's a bit of a queue, I don't know how many people they let in at once. We were there almost alone, and apart from a school group that were just leaving we had the place to ourselves.
Inside you are greeted by a video of 'Hairy Jack' a smuggler with a rather dodgy accent who tells you a little about the caves. The presentation is on a couple of screens, and he gives you hints on what to look out for when you're exploring the caves.
After that you're pretty much left to explore for yourselves. There is a large area here that is like a museum, with artefacts and exhibits, along with a few arcade style games designed for this attraction, and some interactive items like pulling on ropes to see just how much a pulley system helped smugglers haul contraband up the cliffs.
I was disappointed to see that some of the exhibits appeared to be broken or in disrepair.
After this museum area you follow the caves round their natural tunnels, at intervals there are little scenes set up with animatronic figures or unmoving ones with a soundtrack that plays the scene or a commentary on what they are doing (diluting the neat spirits or paying bribes to the customs officers for example) I felt some of this exhibits looked tired or in need of a lick of paint, some of them looked chipped or had cobwebs.
At various intervals, Hairy Jack makes a return to give a little commentary on what life was like as a smuggler, or to tell one of the ghost stories the smugglers made up to keep prying eyes away. Some of this I felt was a bit scary and some more sensitive children might not cope with it too well.
I did feel some of the information was a bit thin; they could have comfortably gone into more detail without getting boring.
Halfway round there is a good video presentation which includes extracts of Rudyard Kipling's 'smuggler's song' and sets the tone for how people would have viewed the smugglers in the area, or hidden the activities from the authorities and why. Then there is more walking around the caves and more models, before you come up in the gift shop.
Some interesting things to see in the caves are the pictures taken during WW2 when the caves were used as a town bomb shelter, with over 600 beds. Also there is a large carven image in the rock in what was dubbed 'the chapel', the bust is of a figure, but unlike any other kind of carving seen in England, no one knows who carved it or when or why. It's quite eerie.
There is also an entire wall of sound clips you can play for yourself of modern day ghost stories of things people have seen or experienced in the caves in recent years. This is optional, and you can only listen one person at a time, so if you have a sensitive person with you, they won't accidentally hear something they might not want to.
The gift shop is fairly comprehensive and sells a lot of the usual touristy stuff, plenty to spend pocket change on, but very little that's actually related to smuggling. I was hoping for something I could use in class, but only managed a nice calligraphy poster of Kipling's poem.
All in all, this is a nice way to spend a couple of hours, but I would recommend looking elsewhere if you want a detailed account of smuggling in the area. As a fun and rather spooky attraction it does quite well if you're not expecting too much. I think the prices are quite steep, but you can get combined tickets for other attractions in the town, and I think it might be nice to pair this visit with a trip round the aquarium which is within easy walking distance of the caves and opens again after an extensive refurbishment in Easter 2008.
This attraction allows visitors to tour through the caves, with interactive activities, life-sized wax models and videos.