diamond geezer

 Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I don't know what you did over the weekend, but I took a train down to Eastbourne and went for a 10 mile walk along the coast. Because I'd never been before. Because the weather was blue-skied and perfect. And because it was a grand day out.

Seaside postcard 4: Seven Sisters
It's 25 years since I last went on a proper geography field trip, so I thought it was about time for another. And the unspoilt undulating coastline to the west of Beachy Head was an absolute delight, as I and a handful of brave winter ramblers discovered at the weekend.

Seven SistersThe Seven Sisters are a three mile stretch of chalky cliffs, visible from the English Channel as a rollercoaster of white. Western access is at Birling Gap, a small National Trust owned hamlet whose fishing cottages are disappearing slowly, gradually, into the sea. Most visitors seem perfectly happy to explore no further than 100 yards from the car park, either popping into the cafe for a cup of tea or scrambling down the rickety iron steps onto the pebbly beach. It's a perfect fossil-collecting spot, so I'm told, although I arrived at high tide so I didn't risk a cliff-foot stroll. And it's a naturist beach too, apparently, although February probably isn't the best time to see evidence of this.

I headed slightly inland instead, to scale the first of seven consecutive grassy peaks. There were several steep-ish ascents along the way, although those walking in the opposite direction seemed to have the harder job. To the north was very ordinary windswept downland, while to the south this suddenly, abruptly, vanished into thin air along a rippling fault line [photo]. A thin layer of grass and topsoil disguised the unstable geological truth beneath my feet, tempting me to walk closer to the chalk-supported edge than might have been wholly sensible. A biplane flew past several times, soaring across the sea but below clifftop level. I strode onward over each successive brow, disguising each panting pause for breath by standing to admire the evolving view.

the meandering CuckmereI'm sure I'd counted eight peaks, not the pre-requisite seven, when I finally reached the end of the chain. Here the cliffs dropped back down to sea level, affording magnificent views down across the Cuckmere valley to Seaford Head. Scores of visitors were scuttling along the mile-long riverside path from the car park to the sea, enjoying a conveniently zero-contour afternoon out. But they were missing out on the valley's finest feature - a snaking series of textbook-perfect meanders - properly visible only from above [photo]. Throw in a smattering of oxbow lakes and you have, surely, a geography teacher's wet dream. But maybe not for much longer. Existing channel patterns are under threat from Environment Agency proposals to abandon the flood defences at the mouth of the river, creating a future landscape of saltmarsh and mudflats. So if you fancy a field trip to the East Sussex coast, come soon. Around here you never know quite how long the scenery is going to last.

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