Thursday 25 August 2016

A surprise by the sea

Last week I enjoyed a summer holiday of sorts, staycationing around the south east. It was an alternately relaxing and exhausting experience, showing me how many great places and activities there are a short journey from my home – and reminding me why it's as important to make the effort to explore this country.

A particular highlight of the week, and one that took me by surprise, was Hastings. I've heard a lot about this seaside town but as comments have ranged from good to terrible it wasn't somewhere I'd made much of an effort to visit. Indeed, as we left the railway station and walked through the town centre it wasn't hard to see why there had been so much criticism. Yes it's a practical shopping area, but it's hardly a destination high street.

Then we followed the seafront to the Old Town and all the praise made sense. Fishing huts and sea and quirky shops of all kinds, including a cliff top look out point so quiet it almost felt like we were the only two humans left in the world. Hastings is a place I've now fallen in love with and can't wait to return to.

Of course, the fact there are three bookshops almost on the same street as each other also helps.

We were walking along the bright and boisterous George Street to take a look outside the Boulevard Bookshop and Thai Cafe*, which I knew to be a few doors down from the Albion Bookshop*, when I spotted an unobtrusive A-board by the side of the road. More accurately, I spotted the word bookshop within the text of the sign, which was all that was needed to have me running off down a wide alley/small pedestrian street to find out more.

My unknown destination appeared half a minute later as I turned left to see an unassuming shop front that didn't look particularly far removed from a remodelled private garage. Please don't let the odd location or simple shop front of Hare & Hawthorn Bindery & Bookshop put you off.

A small bookshop space awaits, but it's light and airy and beautifully filled. Half the room is dedicated to bookshop, the other half to work space, which I assume is where the bindery part comes in. The room itself is a work of art and although stock is limited, every single item counts.

From a Billy bookcase of expertly-selected fiction to another for children, with a wall of art books in between, everything catches the eye and the mind. Throw in (at the time of our visit) a display dedicated to Tove Jansson, another for Persephone, non-fiction treats and a table topped with beautiful stationery and Hare & Hawthorn is a true delight.

For our visit The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell was the buy of the day, but I could happily have gone home with around 95 per cent of the bookshop had money and bag space allowed.

Nothing about Hastings was as I'd expected – especially this beautiful bookshop find – but everything about our visit made me fall in love with the town and become determined to return as often as possible. Which is exactly what I suggest you do if you find yourself at a loose end during this long weekend.

Hare & Hawthorn Bindery & Bookshop
31a West Street,
Hastings, East Sussex,
TN34 3AN
Tel: 01424 429909

*I decided to prioritise one bookshop this time to ensure I had another reason to return very soon.

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