Many months ago when we were still in the Christmas 2020 lockdown I took a chance and booked a bargain long weekend break with Hoseasons to stay at Combe Haven Holiday Park near Hastings. The park appears to be Haven so was slightly confused but definitely booked with Hoseasons!
The deal had a low £25 deposit and a comprehensive covid guarantee and for once in our generally unlucky lives my gamble paid off and we ended up spending the first weekend of the school holidays having a wonderful time in a beautiful, spacious and spotlessly clean 3-bedroom caravan at around the half the usual price.
Now we are not organised fun kinda people. We don't generally do package holidays and I have to confess normally a holiday park of this kind would not be our first choice. But recalling how much fun we unexpectedly had when I was an ambassador for Butlins a few years ago, we decided to give it a chance.
Holiday Park Activities
Before our holiday we were invited to book tables in the two venues, and any activities including swimming. I was given a date and time when booking the swimming opened and managed to get us all in for a swim in the indoor pool early on Saturday morning.
Unfortunately we were only allocated 8 swimming slots for our party of 6 so could only book one session online. As we entered the pool reception we discovered you could apparently book additional sessions there but in fact there was no availability, probably because they were allowing limited numbers into the pool to keep it covid-secure.
You also had to choose indoors or outdoor swimming and the fabulous slide pictured on the website ( and above) wasn't open at all during our stay which was a little disappointing. However we found the pool clean and well managed with plenty of life guards who were actually paying attention.
They put music on at about 10am - my autistic son wasn't too bothered but I did see another little boy clamp his hands over his ears as the music was probably too much on top of the normal pool happy squealing noises. Maybe book an early slot and check that the music will be off if you prefer a quieter swim.
I hadn't realised you can book activities a lot further in advance and by the time I looked a week before our holiday pretty much everything was booked up. We weren't too worried as like I mentioned, we aren't that much into the organised fun although some of the activities like the climbing wall and pottery painting did look fun if you were happy to pay extra.
We were asked to download an app to make checking in faster and smoother (app download optional) and it really was easy. We had been allocated a check in time slot and given details of where our caravan was situated on the park.
Our key was in the info pack handed to us in a kind of drive-thru check in and then it was a case of following the directions given by our greeter to our caravan.
We stayed at number 11 in the Poplars zone and were delighted to see it was an end caravan so we didn't feel too overlooked, especially as the park is quite hilly so our caravan was higher than the caravan below giving us more of an open outlook rather than the rows of tightly packed caravans I was dreading.
After dumping our luggage we headed into Hastings, setting the pier as our destination on the sat nav thinking that might be the main focal point of the seafront.
In fact although the pier is nice, albeit not in the traditional style, it's not really in the "main" part of town. However it has decent toilets, a nice BBQ restaurant, ethnic street food stands, an ice-cream shop selling locally made ice-cream, and a huge bier garden. There are also a couple of kids amusements including hook a duck and a roundabout or two.
While my husband took the younger children back to the caravan I went in search of fish and chips with two of my older children to take back for supper. My 22 year old had found a chip shop online which sold deep fried Mars bars and he was desperate to try one.
As we walked past crumbling, dingy and faded buildings and closed down shops I felt quite sad that Hastings was not what I had envisaged, especially given it's place in British history.
East Cliff Railway & Hastings Old Town
The next day we headed to the East Hill cliff railway (the west cliff one was closed). It's the UK's steepest funicular railway and the short journey gave us a fabulous view. We stopped at the top for some photos then headed back down. My son was using his wheelchair- it gives him a safe space to retreat to if he gets overwhelmed- and the staff were immensely helpful with access.
After our ride we wandered around the old town- it transpires that this part of town is the Hastings I expected - scenic, fascinating and with a wonderful vibe.
Hasting's old town has cute shops and bars and ancient pubs. Winding narrow streets give the feel of how this fishing port may have been for hundreds of years with tall black fishing net sheds in The Stade and fishing boats which are winched up onto the beach instead of sailing into harbour.
There are a couple of museums with free entry giving an insight into the maritime history and at the top of the cliff a huge country park with amazing views across the town and ocean.
The long beach is mainly pebbly with patches of sand when the tide is further out. There are often lifeguards on duty and safety flags are displayed. The beach can drop away suddenly when the tide is high so be careful to pay attention to local advice on when and where it's safe to swim.
1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey & Battlefield
The next day we had booked tickets to see the scene of the famous 1066 Battle of Hastings which is actually in a town called Battle, a few miles inland. The historic Abbey and battleground are managed by English Heritage and although you can just pay an entrance fee I think it's worthwhile buying membership which gives you access to loads of interesting destinations as well as contributing to the upkeep of some of our most precious heritage sites.
We bought a year-long family (2 adults) membership using Tesco club card vouchers. Usual cost £111 which gives access to two adults and up to 12 children! There's also a family membership for one adult and up to six children as well as individual, joint and lifetime memberships. You can pay for all bar the lifetime membership by monthly direct debit or an annual subscription.
You can call if, like us, you need additional people as carers. A lovely assistant at English Heritage emailed me a letter allowing for up to two free carers to accompany our autistic son. We took one of my adult sons to push the wheelchair and generally look out for our youngest child which meant the older children didn't miss out on my attention or have to miss out on anything if he couldn't cope with the part or all of the visit. We have learned to plan for this from previous disastrous holidays and day trips!
I had seen a terrible weather forecast so decided we probably wouldn't be long at the Abbey so booked Sunday lunch allowing about an hour and a half at Battle. This turned out to be a mistake as there was so much to see. We could have probably spent an hour alone in the lovely shop where my son bought a beautiful replica sword. And to top it off the weather was mostly lovely with only a couple of sharp showers and none of the threatened thunder and lightening.
We were particularly wowed by the battleground where, thanks to some cleverly placed sculptures and a scene setting video in the visitor centre, we really felt some understanding of how the battle played out and the magnitude of the day and how the soldiers may have felt. Grazing sheep seemed not at all bothered by tourists wandering around "their" fields.
There is a wheelchair/buggy friendly route to see most of the site but the actual battlefield area is not really wheel friendly. A three wheel buggy would probably be OK but it is quite hilly. We did get our wheelchair on the field but my son is quite lightweight.
At the time of writing you still had to book tickets to visit.