Let's celebrate the beginning of summer as it should be done - at the seaside. On this dramatic cliff top walk we will be passing Cuckermere Haven, the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head as the South Downs meets the sea. It will end with Eastobourne promenade and pier.
This classic cliff-top walk – one of the finest coastal walks in England – affords stunning (and very famous) views of the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters, and the renowned Beachy Head. There is quite a lot of climbing and descending on the walk – indeed, apart from the section around Cuckmere Haven and along the Eastbourne seafront, almost none of the route is flat – but somehow in the grandeur of the scenery the effort is not noticed.
The walk also offers numerous opportunities for a dip in the sea: which is best will depend on the tide. Seaford and Eastbourne beaches can be swum at any state of the tide. At Cuckmere Haven and Birling Gap, however, there are awkward underwater rocks that are well covered at high water and exposed when the tide is out, but covered by shallow sea for a period in between; nonetheless, if you catch these beaches at the right time, they make a wonderfully scenic place for a dip.
Time: We will be taking 09:23 train from Clapham Junction to Seaford via Lewes. Please make sure to be there early to be able to get group saver tickets. I will wait for everyone next to the ticket offices at the main entrance until 9:15. At 9:15 we will make our way to the platform. We will have to change at Lewes (arrive 10:22, leave 10:28) and we will arrive in Seaford at 10:46.
Meeting point: I will be waiting for you at the main entrance - the one with Sainsbury's by the ticket offices. Look out for a black balloon with the group's logo! :)
Length:22.3km (13.8 miles), seven hours walking time. For the whole outing including travel and meals, allow 12 hours.
Toughness: 9 out of 10
Price: £22 including the guided hike and return train tickets.
By taking part in this meetup you agree to the following disclaimer: I acknowledge that hiking and mountaineering are activities with a danger of personal injury or death. My decision to voluntarily participate in these activities is an informed decision and I am aware of and shall accept such risks. I agree to be responsible for my own actions and involvement in these activities.
Martello Tower in Seaford is the most westerly of a chain of 103 such fortresses (the other end of the chain being in Aldeburgh, Suffolk) built to protect the South East coast of England against invasion in the early part of the Napoleonic Wars. It contains a museum of local history, open 11am to 1pm and 2.30pm to 4.30pm on Sundays and bank holidays year round, and on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons in summer.
The Seven Sisters is the name for the undulating cliffs between Cuckmere Have and Birling Gap. They are thought to have been formed by glacier meltwater at the end of the last Ice Age: the meltwater carved steep sided valleys, which were then truncated by sea erosion into the cliffs we see today.
The original Seven Sisters are the Pleiades, a group of seven stars which Greek mythology portrayed as sisters. There are in fact now only six Pleiades, one having exploded in antiquity, and from the approach to Cuckmere Haven there seem to be only six humps on the Seven Sisters too (the rise on which Belle Tout lighthouse stands, beyond the brown smudge of Birling Gap visible at this point does not count, as this is not part of the Seven Sisters).
But there are in fact seven: one is hidden from view from this angle. Or are there eight? Careful attention to the walk text will reveal that between Cuckmere Haven and Birling Gap, you pass over eight hills in all – Haven Brow, Short Brow, Rough Brow, Brass Point, Flagstaff Point, Flat Hill, Baily’s Hill and Went Hill. So which one is not a real sister?
Belle Tout is a former lighthouse that first entered service in 1828, over 130 years after the need for one was first suggested. It had 30 oil lamps, requiring two gallons of oil per hour. A problem with the lighthouse’s location soon became apparent, however – when the weather was bad, the clifftop tended to be shrouded in mist, so the light could not be seen. The cliff also blocked the view of the light from ships sailing too close to the shore.
As a result, a new lighthouse was built – the one that still stands at the base of Beachy Head to this day. It opened in 1902, and Belle Tout went out of commission. It was a tea room for a while, accidentally damaged by Canadian artillery during World War II, and later restored by the local council.
By the 1990s Belle Tout was a private house and in danger of falling into the sea due to cliff erosion, and so in March 1999 in a feat of engineering that captured national media attention, it was moved back 17 metres away from the cliff using hydraulic jacks. It was then bought by a preservation trust and in March 2010 started a new life as a luxury bed and breakfast, with the lattern room turned into a lounge with 360 degree views.
In 2002, a large piece of Beachy Head also fell into the sea, and the debris from this is still visible. The houses and hotel at Birling Gap are also likely to fall into the sea soon: erosion here is as fast as a metre a year, and pictures in the Exceat Visitors Centre show dramatically just how quickly the cliffs have retreated here over recent decades
Around 12:30 we will stop at Golden Galleon [masked], www.vintageinn.co.uk/thegoldengalleonseaford). Situated by Exceat bridge, 6.2km (3.9 miles) into the walk, this pub is very popular, but efficient at serving food from its wide menu. In summer, it has plenty of outside tables. It serves food all afternoon.
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