Contributor Review – Simon Knott
Local Expert. Visited 2023
After many years, the beach at Fairlight still retains its reputation as a hidden secret in East Sussex. There are several other unclassified nudist beaches nearby, but Fairlight Glen Beach is the best-known and for a good reason. It is regularly referenced as one of the best nude beaches in the UK.
It attracts a crowd of mostly younger, alternative couples and singles and some older local visitors but rarely families. Some like to stay over on the beach, bringing small tents and cooking over an open fire. However, most visitors are day-trippers, although there is a good selection of local B&Bs and pubs for longer stays. Most visitors to the beach enjoy being naked, but there is no obligation whether sunbathing, swimming, or walking. There’s only one rule – relax and enjoy yourself.
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Attracting a friendly bohemian crowd, Fairlight Beach is somewhere you feel miles away from busy digital lives. Exercise on guided walks through the woodland and alongside streams as a backdrop to the coast or along the beach with chalk cliffs and rock pools by the surf.
The beach is naturally busier during the summer, but access tends to act as a filter, so overcrowding is rarely a problem. If it is busier when you visit, walking farther from the main beach is easy to find a quieter spot.
Approach the beach down an easy path over a short section of low cliffs. The path is cut into the chalk, and there are rope handles to make the descent easier. The busiest part of the beach is laid out in front of you as you approach it from the path. It’s mostly a pebble beach with a few sections of sand.
Turning left (east) toward Rye, the beach stretches out into the distance for one and a half miles (2 km). It’s very scenic, with large outcrops of rock on the beach, a backdrop of chalk cliffs and numerous rock pools when the tide is out. The beginning of this section is gay/mixed, generally quiet, and visitors gradually thin out the farther you walk. If you are looking for solitude, the walk to the farthest point of the beach takes in some great views, and you are unlikely to meet many other visitors.
Turning right from the main beach (west) toward Hastings, the coast is more rugged and rocky. Walking along the rocky seabed beneath the cliffs is more accessible either by hopping from rock to rock or following the shoreline at low tide. However, remember that this isn’t the most accessible route because winter storms can cause cliff erosion which may limit access.
If a longer walk appeals after the beach, you can combine the return walk to the car park with a hike around Hastings Country Park. Four self-guided walks were created after the park was formed in 1974, which make a relaxing finish to a day on the beach. They take in some of the best views, including the English Channel, sandstone cliffs, and glens with streams, gorse, and woodland. It’s best to take a hard copy of any walk as cell phone coverage is limited.
If you’re looking for breakfast, brunch, or lunch with a sea view, try out the Coastguard Cafe, Fairlight, with reasonably priced, home-cooked English dishes and cakes and numerous rave reviews. For something more substantial, The Three Oaks Pub is set back from Fairlight in the Sussex countryside. Enjoy the varied menu with Lamb Tagine, Steak and Cheddar Pie or a Sweet Potato with Chick Pea and Spinach Curry. If it’s a day when only pizza will do, head to the eastern end of nearby Hastings for Monellis Sourdough Gourmet Pizza. The sourdough starter used in the pizza crust dates back through the generations to 1923, and you can be sure of a crispy exterior, soft, chewy centre, and plenty of flavors. Dine in or take away. If you’re looking for reasonably priced, simple accommodation close to Fairlight Beach, the Fairlight Lodge Hotel should fit the bill. The hotel is a historic building in its own grounds surrounded by woodland.
The range of people visiting Fairlight Beach couldn’t be more varied. Middle-aged singles and couples often stay near the beach’s central section, using the patches of sand. Older local singles stay here too, where regulars usually collect to chat. Turning left on the main beach, the terrain is more rocky and surrounded by pebbles. The large boulders provide plenty of shade from the sun and the wind if there is a breeze. A gay/mixed crowd frequent this part of the beach. Farther along the beach, the boulders tail off to leave large expanses of pebble beach in the distance.
For first-timers, the boulders on the beach can provide some defense if you are still building your confidence in going naked. The reality is, however, that no one is that bothered by what other people are doing – this goes for any part of the beach at Fairlight. You can chat if you want to, but equally, you can keep yourself to yourself. Many people swim on hotter days, but depending on the tide, you may have to walk across rock pools and stone to access the water. The sea along this coast section is rarely rough, so the waves are small. There are no strong currents, but it’s best to take the usual precautions when swimming in the sea. This is a remote beach with no lifeguards.
The car park at Hastings Country Park offers some spectacular, long-reaching views to the north over the High Weald. This vast open countryside and agricultural land is dotted with numerous small villages and towns.
The nearby towns of Hastings and Rye are both worth a visit. Hastings is a quintessential English seaside town, where the beaches (clothed) attract thousands yearly. The old town in Hastings is worth visiting for the antique and bric-a-brac shops and the old buildings. Farther to the east, Hastings still has a working fleet of small fishing boats that operate from the beach.
Farther east, the town of Rye sits on the western edge of the Royal Military Canal. This was dug in the 18th century by hand against Napoleon’s perceived threat of invasion. There are plenty of walks in the area and alongside the canal. Rye has numerous art shops, cafes, pubs, and restaurants, where you can spend a day wandering the lanes and take in some of the history dating back to the 13th century when it was known as a pirate port. A short distance north, you will find the tiny village of Peasmarsh, where Paul McCartney has sometimes lived in a converted windmill for many years.
Easiest By Car - Hastings Country Park, Fairlight Glen, Hastings TN35 5DT. The car park is pay and display, parking with cash the RingGo app. Payable between 8 AM – 4 PM. The grassed area is picnic-friendly, with some BBQ facilities and toilets. Don’t arrive too late in the day, as the parking can get busy.
Train - There are numerous trains daily from London Bridge, London, to Hastings. The journey takes one hour and 35 minutes.
Bus - The 101 bus service leaves Hastings Train Station (stop F). It is just a weekday service and takes 20 minutes to Fairlight. Ask the driver for the closest stop to Hastings Country Park on Fairlight Road.
Taxi - a taxi from Hastings Train Station to Hastings Country Park takes about 20 minutes and costs £12 each way.
Walking to the beach - From Hastings Country Park, cross the road and walk down the paved lane opposite. Keep straight on as it winds between occasional houses and farm buildings for about 10 minutes. Take the signposted path to the right, which leads you to a wooded glen, with the path following downhill alongside a small stream. (often dry in summer). Keep heading downhill, following the signposted route to the beach, which takes 10 to 15 minutes.