The Shipwreck Museum in Hastings is the interpretive headquarters for the local maritime shore of over nine miles of inter-tidal coastline with a combination of outstanding heritage sites unique in Britain.
At low tide visitors are encouraged to explore the sites of two historic shipwrecks, the remains of a prehistoric forest, rocks from the Cretaceous ‘age of the dinosaurs’, and massive sea defences to stop coastal erosion caused by the rising sea level. And then there is the Cinque Port of Hastings with its quaint medieval buildings and streets behind its fishermen’s beach, the Stade, used for over a thousand years.
Bulverhythe, St Leonards
Bulverhythe and the wreck of the Amsterdam (1749) lie at the west end of Hastings where traces of past coastal landscapes can be seen between the tides – particularly at the low spring tides. The sandstone rock outcrops on the beach and in Little Galley Hill, just east of Glyne Gap, represent the sandy delta of a vast tropical river where dinosaurs such as the Iguanadon walked in Cretaceous times 138 million years ago. Around the wreck of the Amsterdam is peat formed from leaves and fallen trees that grew in an early Bronze Age forest landscape 4000 years ago when the sea level was much lower than today. The forest has been submerged by the rising sea level due to the melting of the ice caps of the world since the last Ice Age ended about 12,000 years ago.
The sea level has risen by about 90 metres (300ft) around south-east England since the last Ice Age, and at Bulverhythe it is only the coastal railway embankment that protects low-lying land and homes from flooding. Massive new sea defences have been built besides that embankment by the Environment Agency in response to a long natural process of coastal change. At the Shipwreck Museum you can find out why they are configured as they are.
Pett Level & The Fairlight cliffs, Eastern Hastings
To the east of Hastings at Pett Level, lies the wreck of the 17th century warship Anne, to be seen in the sands at extremelow spring tide – but only when the sands have moved from over the wreck. In this area is the best exposure of the submerged prehistoric forest that dates from about 1500 BC, about 500 years younger than the forest at Bulverhythe.
In the beach beyond the cliffs of Fairlight are extensive traces of the Cretaceous landscape from 138 million years ago, and if you are sharp-eyed you may see the footprints of dinosaurs. The Fairlight shore through to Hastings has been designated a Site of Special Interest on the basis that it is ‘probably the best area for future finds of Lower Cretaceous reptiles outside the Isle of Wight’.