Pulling back the door of the tent that morning, I caught my breath. This was England, right, not the Amalfi coast? It was Mayday 2009 and we’d guerrilla camped, unwisely, under cover of darkness at Fairlight Cliffs, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty five miles from Hastings. We were here on our bicycles for the annual Jack in the Green festival in the town – a folkie pagan knees-up where the town goes all Wicker Man and paints everything and everyone green.
Pitching up at night is kind of exciting while utterly tiresome, but once we’d got settled we had an incredible galaxy of stars to gaze upon as we fell asleep. I knew the sea was close, but I wasn’t expecting the azure sky and sweeping panorama from Dungeness in the east to the rugged coastline in the west butting up against Hastings' East Cliff. And whenever we return here, I’m reminded of that wonderful moment.
And there’s something else: it ain’t called Fairlight for nothing. Luminous and raw, this is daylight that floods your vision, blurring the boundaries between Neptune’s misty fantasy kingdom with its white horses and sea trolls, and the fossil-rich rocks, beaches and cliffs of our own boring reality. Never mind your own children, Fairlight speaks to the kid in all of us. It's real-life escapism.
Part of Hastings Country park (500 acres of cliff walks and preserved woodland), Fairlight has ample parking for those that remember their small change (£2 for the day). There’s a tea room with five tight bays opposite so if you get there early enough you can bag free parking there instead. Head east along the coast to Fairlight Glen – look out for the naturist beach, Covehurst Bay, where nudity is preferred, but not compulsory. Or just hang around the rolling fields and scrubland near the car park. It’s a great spot for kite-flying, picnicking and, natch, dog walking, with rabbit warrens aplenty and at the moment, plenty of spring blooms.
Belted Galloway cattle are sometimes onsite keep the invasive plants at bay so the daffodils and crocuses have room in the soil to flourish, so keep your dogs on a lead.
The Coastguard Tea Rooms makes a nice pit stop for tea and a slice of something naughty. Lunch isn’t cheap (£7 for a jacket spud with beans and cheese), so if you’re doing a family trip, pack your own sarnies. But there’s a good selection of cakes and they sell local crafty stuff, such as lovely wool, knits for children, artisan chocolate and other gifts.