Coastal Culture Trail

Sussex Modern Stories  |  5 minutes read

There’s something special about the 18 mile stretch of Sussex coastline that connects the towns of Eastbourne, Bexhill, and Hastings.

Artists, makers, and creators have long been drawn here by the light and the landscapes, forging creative communities along the shore. It’s possible to explore them all in a day or two, by bike or by foot, taking the Coastal Culture Trail between three award-winning galleries: Towner Eastbourne, De La Warr Pavilion, and Hastings Contemporary

Towner Eastbourne

Start your journey in Eastbourne, where the Towner gallery rises from the townscape like a modernist rainbow, thanks to Lothar Götz’s iconic 2019 mural, Dance Diaganol. And if you’re looking for a pot of gold you’ve found it – this award-winning gallery houses plenty of artistic treasures in its collection as well as an impressive calendar of events and high profile exhibitions. This year, Towner Eastbourne turns 100 (although the current building dates from 2009). The gallery is hosting the Turner Prize as part of its centenary year – the first time the prize has ever come to Sussex. 

Fuel up on brunch with rooftop views at the gallery’s airy new Light Cafe, before setting off on your way to De La Warr Pavilion. From Eastbourne, you can catch a direct train to Bexhill on Sea – or for the full coastal adventure hop on a bike (take your own, or pick up an App-Bike from the stands at Fisherman’s Green) and cycle along the seaside, skirting around the beautiful Pevensey Bay and Norman’s Bay. The cycle takes around an hour, and you can stop at the mid-century modern Relais Cooden Beach to recharge along the way.  

Towner Eastbourne: Lothar Gotz Dance Diagonal. Photo: Jim Stephenson

De La Warr Pavilion 

Bexhill-on-Sea is the one Sussex town which successfully embraced a Modernist vision of life by the coast. In the 1930s this town with its genteel facades and seemingly conventional English demeanour made a bold experiment in social culture and design when commissioning a brand new, architecturally innovative public pavilion on the seafront. Ever since, the light and airy De La Warr Pavilion has been an emblem for creative exploration and entertainment. This remarkable Modernist building connects Sussex with Europe. It was designed by émigré architects fleeing oppressive regimes, and its aims were unashamedly democratic – open to everyone.  That spirit continues to this day through the Pavilion’s vibrant international, national and local arts programme. Visit an exhibition, make time for reflection, join in the exhilaration of a live gig or festival, or just sit on the Pavilion’s café balcony and watch the light change over the distant outline of Beachy Head while you plan the next step of your trail. 

Alongside De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-sea is also home to other key cultural destinations, such as Flatland Projects & Beeching Road Studios and Bexhill Museum. During Turner prize 2023 in Eastbourne, follow the Eastbound from Eastbourne Instagram takeover of the Coastal Culture Trail to discover what’s on in Bexhill’s creative cultural scene.

De La Warr Pavilion. Photo: Daniel Alford

Hastings Contemporary 

Your next and final stop is Hastings Contemporary, which is an enjoyable 25 minute seafront cycle, or a leisurely two hour walk along the coast from Bexhill-on-Sea. Along the way you’ll see the peaceful Glynde Beach (a locals’ favourite), and pass through the vibrant seaside town of St Leonards: stop here at colourful beach cafe Goatledge for the best seafood-streetfood. Short on time? The two towns are connected by a 10 minute direct train service.

Perched at the edge of the sea amongst the weatherboarded fishnet huts of Hastings Old Town, Hastings Contemporary champions modern and contemporary art with an ambitious programme of temporary exhibitions, showcasing work by important Modern British artists, internationally celebrated and emerging practitioners. Once you’ve taken in an exhibition or two, it’s worth staying to explore the old town, the pier and the castle – and if you’re lucky you might catch the annual seafood and wine festival (September) or the town’s famous Jack in the Green festivities (May). 

Stay along the way

Relais Cooden Beach Hotel

Bexhill beachfront hotel with mid-century design, restaurant and beach club. Read more.

Port Hotel

Cool, calm and contemporary boutique hotel with restaurant and bar on Eastbourne’s seafront. Read more

To plan your route along the Coastal Culture Trail, head to coastalculturetrail.com. You can also follow the Coastal Culture Trail on Instagram, where Bexhill’s ‘Eastbound from Eastbourne’ takeover is currently spotlighting the wealth of cultural happenings in Bexhill during the Turner Prize in Eastbourne. 

The story of British Modernism in four Sussex homes
Eastbourne Alive: Celebrating the Turner Prize 2023

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