diamond geezer

 Monday, February 05, 2007

Seaside postcard 2: Beachy Head
Beachy HeadBeachy Head boasts the highest chalk cliffs on the British coastline, which at 162 metres are half as tall again as St Paul's Cathedral. As one of the world's most popular suicide destinations, it's all just a bit too convenient. It's possible to walk right up to the edge, in places at least, and gawp straight down onto the jagged white rocks below. The tiny red- and white-banded lighthouse offshore gives a clue to just how high up you're standing [photo], and how much damage you could do to yourself if you slipped. It's a challenging walk to reach here from Eastbourne, over the eastern tip of the South Downs, with a lengthy ascent which ought to deter potential desperados from any hasty action. But there are still more than 20 suicides in this remote spot every year, for which I blame the close proximity of a winding clifftop road. And the bus stop.

There ought to be plenty of distractions on top of Beachy Head to divert the self-destructive mind. There's a Brewer's Fayre pub, for a start, plus a Countryside Centre (and gift shop) nextdoor. If these don't steady the nerves there's also a specially installed telephone box with its very own hotline to the Samaritans (something I've only ever seen before on the westbound platforms at Mile End station). Should you reach the grassy expanse on the edge of the headland you might still be challenged by one of the Beachy Head Frontline Chaplaincy Team - a group of volunteer Christians in luminous jackets (emblazoned 'Chaplain') who patrol the area seeking lost souls to becalm. If they don't stop you, maybe the floral tributes and small wooden crosses affixed to the cliff edge will make you think again about those you're about to leave behind [photo]. Alas, this intricate chain of precautionary measures doesn't always work.

But, despite the number of deaths at this unfortunate spot, nobody's ever considered erecting a sturdy safety barrier or barricading off the whole area. If these clifftops were suddenly out of bounds, potential jumpers would simply wander a few hundred yards in either direction and hurl themselves over the edge there instead. The natural beauty of this spot survives, untainted by any nannying risk analysis or Health and Safety regulations. Check the prevailing wind conditions and stand as close to the precipice as you dare, remembering that the entire fragile cliff face could quite easily tumble down into the sea at any time anyway. Play safe and the view from Beachy Head isn't deadly, it's fantastically exhilarating. Your risk, you choose.

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