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Watch the wall my darling, while the Gentlemen ride by
Smugglers Adventure (Hastings)
Member Name: nevikrose
Smugglers Adventure (Hastings)
Advantages: Good, spooky attraction, which is a bit different and doesnt take up the whole day
Disadvantages: a little tired, needs some TLC, and the prices are too steep
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_hasting s/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.
Summary: I would take my class here probably, but I'm not sure I would return to it as one of my favourites
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