The Black Arches

January 30 2021 – Hastings.

The first month of 2021 has come to its natural conclusion, though it seemed like an extension of the last month of 2020, which in itself felt like an extension of November, which felt like…, well you know what I mean. The only real difference between the days of the last three months was how short the day was and whether it was or wasn’t raining. The days have very much blurred into one big long dreary period of not doing much at all.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago Gareth Rees, a local author, tweeted a picture of some small caves on the East Hill in Hastings, so I asked him a question regarding the location of the Black Arches, which are also on East Hill. I had read about the Black Arches in one of his books and have had a couple of attempts at finding them, neither successful. I wrote about one of those attempts here.

Gareth replied with some very good instructions and as the Arches are best found in winter when the scrub on the hillside is well down I decided to attempt to find them today. It was cold and windy with a very fine freezing drizzle, a perfect day for some local exploration.

With eyesight much better than mine the Black Arches can apparently be seen from West Hill, their location near the top of East Hill means they look like a church built into the cliff face. This photo has been taken off the internet and shows the ‘church’ quite clearly, on a sunny day when the council cleared scrub from the hillside, obviously some time ago. They do look very much like church doors.

There are virtually no references regarding the Black Arches on the internet and the single item I found links to a deleted page on a local news website. All there is is a small reference to note that the Black Arches were a deliberate prank, probably created by a local hoaxer, John Coussens’, in the 18th century to fool people into thinking there was a church on the opposing hill. It seems like a lot of work for a prank, maybe he, or someone was robbing those that made the journey over the valley?

I have been intrigued by local mysteries and was hoping today was going to be the day I found the scene of one of them.

Eleanor and I set off late morning under a thick grey sky and into the face of a windblown icy cold drizzle. Eleanor wasn’t joining me on the walk and I left her at the bulk foods shop in St Leonards as I carried on to Hastings, I had a book to collect from one of the local independent book shops and some fresh cod to get for dinner tomorrow. The fish shop is very close to the bottom of the steps up East Hill.

As this was a photo mission I had packed the big camera, which in hindsight was wise as it is weather sealed and while it wasn’t properly raining the air was very wet and I was pretty thoroughly soaked by the time I got home.

East Hill has a few memorial benches, the instructions from Gareth had me look for a path after the final bench, this one is by the side of the steps on the way up (or down) the hill. I was intrigued enough by the ‘9 TOES’ reference to take a photo.

There are hardly any people about, on a non-rainy winter day the Hastings seafront will still be busy, particularly in these Covid times when people are allowed to travel for exercise. I am sure some take the travel to extremes and drive the fifty miles from London down to the coast. On my way up the hill and on the top I didn’t see anybody.

I stopped at the top of the stairs to take a photo over the roofs of the old town and towards the houses that crowd the West Hill slope.

I also took a few photos from the top of East Hill, it looked like there was only one lone person on West Hill as well, I wonder if they had a camera and took a photo of me? I love the look of the old town and came very close to buying a flat there, though suspect it would be quite noisy at night. Unlike my flat which is dead quiet, or it is now that we have moved back into the big bedroom.

As per instructions, just passed the last bench on the hill, there was a small path heading down the cliff edge, so far so good.

I came across the back of a large rock and got quite excited thinking I had found what I was looking for, but no, when I made it around to the front it was just a large rock, with a mystery carving and Wolf in yellow spray paint.

I scrambled down a path through some brambles and dead fern, almost going over once on a slippery patch, tearing my leg through my trousers on a stubborn bit of bramble. Fortunately only raising a tiny scratch when I got home to inspect it. There was nothing there. Turning back I took another path and BOOM, there it was, the Black Arches. Found!

Yes, I know they are not very exciting. Still, it is quite amazing that anyone would go to the effort to carve those three arches into a rock face, then paint the inside black, just to fool the good people of Hastings. I appreciated his effort, less so the efforts of the graffiti folks.

I had a look for detail, trying to find the oldest legible carving, and the best I found was 1847. This face is very much straight into the prevailing wind so I imagine carvings get blunted quite quickly.

I was very happy to have finally found the Black Arches.

I walked back up to the top and then back down the steps towards Hastings, stopping to take a photo over the very quiet fishing beach. Not really a day for tourists.

Walking back through the old town I heard The Only Ones absolutely fabulous ‘Another girl, another planet’ blasting out of this pub, I stopped and listened for a moment, taking a quick photo before carrying on. 

There had been a bunch of photos pasted on this hoarding at the end of George St, but they have all come down apart from one, I had not had a chance to see the rest unfortunately. I should have taken the opportunity when we walked near here last weekend.  

I chose to extend the walk a little and head up and over West Hill again. I really like Croft Rd, one of my favourite streets in Hastings old town. I particularly like these gates and doors in the walls opening on to staircases that head up to the gardens of the houses above. I am guessing they are not regularly used anymore.  From West Hill, I walked back to the sea front and home, to warmth and dry clothes.  It was a small adventure, and very enjoyable.