I do this everycoupleofyears, and traditionally when I get home I'm so knackered all I do is show you a few photos. The danger is they're always the same photos, except with the tinypeople in different places.
To add a dash of novelty this year I decided to follow the South Downs Way, which is very nearly my normal route from Exceat to Eastbourne but not quite. At the Eastbourne end it diverts down a narrow chalk path clinging to the almost-top of the escarpment, along which I had to edge past a couple of blackberry harvesters, and at the Exceat end it provides an even better view of my absolutefavouritemeander which is a geography textbook sprung to life (except it's been cut off from the River Cuckmere's main flow and no longer erodes).
I also broke off mid-journey to sprawl out on the beach at Birling Gap. This is the only place along a five mile stretch of cliff where you can get down to the beach, courtesy of a steel staircase that no longer hugs the coast, so has been co-opted by the National Trust as a gift shop/visitor centre/cafe/car park combo. It was also enormously popular yesterday, both above and below, despite the beach essentially being a bed of chunky pebbles beneath a potential rockfall. Children paddled, boards floated, picnics guzzled, bloated bellies lay back and sunned themselves, and because there's no phone signal down here people made their own entertainment for once.
It's a properly strenuous hike, mainly thanks to the endless riseandfall of the chalk, and quite the bank holiday destination. The clifftop is like a ramblers motorway, busy enough that nobody ever feels the need to nod and say hello, but wide enough that it never gets congested. It attracts allsorts and all ages, from Chinese students to grandparents with walking poles and from babes in papooses to gangs of office friends. My strong suspicion was that the vast majority of those out hiking had a degree, or are still paying one off. Reaching Eastbourneseafront at the end of the walk comes as a bit of a culture shock.
I timed myself on this year's walk because I thought it would be interesting to know how long each section took.
» Exceat → Top of first Seven Sister: 30 minutes _/
» Top of first Seven Sister → Birling Gap: 1 hour \/\/\/\/\/\/\/\
» Birling Gap → Belle Tout Lighthouse: 15 minutes /
» Belle Tout Lighthouse → Beachy Head: 45 minutes \/\/
» Beachy Head → Edge of Eastbourne: 30 minutes \
» Edge of Eastbourne → Eastbourne Pier: 30 minutes _
That's about four hours in total, plus breaks. Starting at Seaford, which I only do sometimes, would have added an extra hour and a half. My iPhone tells me I walked 22000 steps and climbed the equivalent of 100 floors (although this total includes walking up the escalator at Victoria station and climbing to the top deck of the 12A bus, so don't take it as gospel). I got the nagging feeling it would have been better to have walked in the opposite direction, that's east to west, because you get to admire the view of the Seven Sisters for a lot longer. I should have put more suncream on my arms. I loved every second. [12 photos]
If you've never been, and you're fit and able, do yourself a favour and enjoy the finest walk in southern England.