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A good day out, but not for the very young
Smugglers Adventure (Hastings)
Member Name: thehonesttruth
Smugglers Adventure (Hastings)
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 .
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