Wednesday, June 23, 1999

Walk 8 -- Cuckmere Haven, via the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, to Eastbourne

Ages: Colin was 57 years and 46 days. Rosemary was 54 years and 188 days.
Weather: Very sunny and hot, but with a refreshing breeze. Visibility exceptionally clear. Beautiful!
Location: From Cuckmere Haven to Eastbourne Pier.
Distance: 10 miles.
Total distance: 67½ miles.
Terrain: Some grassy river bank, some shingle beach, some hard promenade, but mostly grassy chalk clifftops which were very ‘up and down’!
Tide: Out, coming in.
Rivers to cross: None.
Ferries: None.
Piers: None.
Kissing gates: Nos. 8 & 9 at Cuckmere Haven and no. 10 at Birling Gap.
Pubs: ‘The Terminus’ in Eastbourne where we found Harvey’s Armada was not to our taste. (We suspected they had not washed the glasses out properly!)
‘English Heritage’ properties: None.
Ferris wheels: None.
Diversions: No. 3 at the mouth of Cuckmere Haven to prevent erosion.
How we got there and back: We drove to Exceat Bridge where we parked in the ‘Seven Sisters Country Park’ car park.
At the end we caught the bus from central Eastbourne to Exceat Bridge, then drove home.

We started our walk on the eastern bank of the Cuckmere river in beautiful sunshine. Colin was bemoaning the fact that I wouldn’t let him start with a ‘quick ‘arf’ of cider at the ‘Golden Fleece’ on the opposite bank, but we were late enough already (it was midday) due to faffing about this morning, and anyway we didn’t actually pass it. I was rejoicing in the fact that we had escaped unscathed from the school parties which had besieged the toilets at the Country Park car park, then we caught up with one group, noticed another hotly pursuing us from behind and happened upon two more lots on the beach! I amended my thoughts to:—“I’m glad I’m not in charge of any of these school parties!”
We didn’t linger on the beach, mainly due to the noise all the various groups were making, but made our way along to the eastern cliffs. I didn’t find walking on the shingle easy with my stick and my weak leg so I was glad to get to the other side. There we found a diversion which was a bit annoying, but we could see why they had done it. The chalk hillside had been stripped bare of grass by people climbing up and sliding down, so it was fenced off with barbed wire and we had to walk about a quarter of a mile inland before we could get through a gate. However, the slope up from there was much gentler so in the long run it was all to the good.
We climbed the first of the ‘Seven Sisters’ which was almost the highest, and it was a stiff climb up from sea level. As we ascended, the noise from the schoolchildren became less apparent and we could hear the sea more. Just past the top, where we could neither see nor hear the youngsters (I have done a lot of supply teaching in recent weeks so I am ultra-sensitive at the moment) we found a spot with a beautiful view and a lovely cooling breeze to settle down and eat our sandwiches. This is the life—we pitied those poor souls who have to go to work on days such as these!We marvelled at the speed with which other walkers passed us and scaled the humps of the next six ‘Seven Sisters’ (there are actually eight) while we lazily watched. But then it was our turn, and it wasn’t so daunting after all. None of the hills seemed to be as high as the first had been and we didn’t have to go down to sea level between each one. We watched a helicopter fly by at a lower altitude than us! On top of the fifth hill there was a stone beacon and on the sixth there was a sarsen stone and a nice seat on which I sat to admire the view while Colin read the plaque under the stone. He wondered at the word ‘munificent’ (which this computer knows means ‘bountiful’ although it doesn’t know the word ‘sarsen’ and keeps marking it as a wrong spelling!) Between the hills we crossed Short Bottom, Limekiln Bottom, Rough Bottom(!) Flagstaff Bottom, Flathill Bottom and Michel Dean (presumably they had run out of Bottoms by then!) before descending into Birling Gap. There we stopped to refresh ourselves at a cafĂ© and lethargically watched a coach disgorge itself of jabbering foreigners who all rushed down on to the beach to photograph each other.
We looked at the row of cottages which are falling into the sea. They were in the news recently because the elderly woman who is unfortunate enough to own no.2—the nearest one to the cliff edge since no.1 was demolished years ago—didn’t want to pay out the thousands of pounds they were demanding to flatten it (she doesn’t live there) before it falls over by itself. It didn’t look very critical, and now there is a planning order up to put rocks in the sea to ‘Save Birling Gap’ so presumably they have come to a compromise.
We started to climb towards the Belle Tout lighthouse. This is disused and has been a private residence for years. It too has been in the news recently because it was teetering on the cliff edge and there has been a lot of erosion. A few months ago the owners had the whole building moved back about eighty feet or so on rollers! When we got up there we found that this must have been much more complicated than it sounds because the ground slopes sharply downwards back from the cliff. They had to build a stand for it to rest on in order to keep it at the same height, so now their residence has an extra suite of rooms underneath. It resembles a building site at the moment, but I expect it will be nice when it is finished off properly. When we went round the other side we were met by the same group of foreigners who were noisily making their way up from their coach. Their shouting was worse than the schoolchildren we had left behind at Cuckmere Haven! We got stuck in the middle of them, and I asked Colin, “Are we still in England?" We could not recognise their language, so when we passed their coach at the bottom of the hill Colin looked for a country sign and saw LV. We can only presume that is Latvia, can’t think of anything else.Then came the long haul up to Beachy Head. I said we would stop when we were above the red and white lighthouse (which is at the bottom of the cliff) but every time we looked at it, it seemed to be further away! I think we were getting rather tired by then. We saw the rockfall which had caused such a furore back in the winter with gloomy warnings of global warming and all that claptrap (haven’t they heard of erosion? how do they think the cliffs got there in the first place?)—that is the third reason why this area has been in the news in recent months. There was a lot of chalk in the sea but it wasn’t easy to see it without falling over the cliff! Eventually we found a breezy knoll on which to sit and eat the remainder of our sandwiches.
Up to that point we had both enjoyed today’s walk very much, and agreed that it had been the best yet. We were very tired and it would have been perfect if that had been the end of our walk. The trouble was I had it in my mind that once we were at the top of Beachy Head it would just be a quick skip down to Eastbourne, but the pier is at least another three miles. Eastbourne looked glorious in the evening sun, and we could see beyond all the way to Hastings and the sandy cliffs beyond that. It was so clear that we were convinced we could see the shadowy outline of the Isle of Wight to the west from there. Colin kept looking for ‘the Royal Sovereign’, a helicopter pad which is out in the Channel. He was convinced that he had spied it several times, but then the shape he had seen would move and he realised that it was a ship! We had seen lots of birds (jackdaws, skylarks and even a hawk) and butterflies (meadow brown, painted lady and two different blue ones) on our walk. Now all we wanted was HOME!
From this viewpoint the South Downs Way (which we had been following all day) led round in an arc descending slowly and gently towards Eastbourne, but the nearest safe path to the coast (which we have to follow according to Rule 1) led almost vertically down a grass slope to a path along a lower cliff way below.
I didn’t think I could get down there because I still find going downhill difficult, but Colin said I could do it by leaning on his shoulder. So, with my left hand on his right shoulder and my right hand on my stick, we inched our way down. I made it but it was hard on my left knee which is still weak. It was beautiful walking along in the evening sun, but I wasn’t enjoying it anymore because I was so tired.
After about half a mile we had to go up a little bit which was annoying, then we crossed the end of a mown grassy bowl which had a cricket pitch in the middle. What a beautiful location for it! Then we came to a tarmacked track which led out to a road at the edge of Eastbourne, the beginning (or end, depending on which way you look at it) of the South Downs Way. We began to walk down a road past a school which was full of noisy foreign teenagers, what a row! I felt very tempted to slump on a bench and demand Colin phone for a taxi, I was that done in! But I carried on, and we descended a slope which led us eventually on to the prom.
It was really nice down there, no noisy road next to us but instead a bank of pleasant gardens which deadened the noise from above. But it was still over a mile to the pier. We kept getting passed by youngsters on roller blades and felt like asking them for a lift. We never actually got to the pier; when we got to a kind of open-air theatre place we turned inland towards our pub and the station. Despite the fact that I had had no real trouble from either my broken leg or my arthritic toe, I felt I couldn’t walk another unnecessary step.

That ended Walk no. 8, we shall pick up Walk no. 9 next time at the theatre about 100 yards west of Eastbourne Pier. We tried to slake our thirst at ‘The Terminus’ in central Eastbourne, but the beer was horrible despite the pub being in ‘the Good Beer Guide’ so we caught a bus back to Exceat Bridge and Colin drove home.

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