diamond geezer

 Friday, September 10, 2021

Every two years I walk the best walk in southeast England, which is across the top of Beachy Head and over the Seven Sisters. This year I slipped down to Sussex on the last day of high summer and revelled in the sheer chalky gloriousness of it all.

To keep things varied this time I chose to walk from east to west, and undertook the entire 15 mile trek from Eastbourne to Seaford rather than terminating early at Cuckmere Haven. It took six knackering hours, including a heck of a lot of up and down, but the sheer exhilaration of striding along the cliffs suspended between sun and sea drove me on and it was just utterly splendid.

Along the way I somehow managed to take 300 photos, because the sky was blue and the light was just right and because it's precisely the sort of landscape you'd want to preserve memories of forever. Lining up my camera I was often struck by how familiar the framed image seemed, because it turned out I'd been drawn to exactly the same spot several times previously and snapped something identical. But each time the light and tide and wildlife were different, and the tiny people scattered across the landscape in fresh locations, and basically the Seven Sisters walk never gets old. [15 photos]

There is however a danger that my posts about the walk could become dull, or at least repetitive, and also that if I haven't persuaded you to try this walk after seven previous attempts I never will. So for 2021's reportage I'm going to concentrate on cataloguing the steep ascents that make this such an exhilarating walk. They're not as bad as the ascents in the opposite direction, because the underlying chalk geology gifts sharper climbs to those walking west to east, but maybe that's a separate post for another year.

Steep Ascent 1: Holywell (15 storeys in 3 minutes)
Play your cards right and you can walk to the very edge of Eastbourne without losing breath. But at The Kiosk (Breakfast, Toasties, Ice Cream) the contours suddenly shoot up and here comes the full-on chalk downland and best keep climbing until you're way above the rooftops. My iPhone informs me I climbed the equivalent of a 15 storey building, although this may not be entirely reliable and who's to say where on the slope I should have stopped counting anyway. Looking back the town of Eastbourne stretched out beneath me, and the horizon was a blue blur with a single yacht in it, and that first hill might have been the worst of it.

The bad thing about focusing on steep climbs is having to miss out the bits inbetween, which in this case was 40 minutes of considerably gentler up and down. On the approach to Beachy Head I was surprised and wholly unnerved by a platoon of 30 armed soldiers emerging from behind the gorse and walking in single file towards the trig point. At the southernmost clifftop I joined the usual (small) crowd peering (cautiously) over the edge and trying to spot the tiny lighthouse. The ice cream van in the pub car park promised a burst of Mid Sussex Super Cream. The adjacent farmland rippled green. And the remainder of the walk spread off into the distance like a limestone rollercoaster.

Steep Ascent 2: Shooters Bottom (4 storeys in 1 minute)
If all you choose to do is walk from Eastbourne to Birling Gap, this is the first of only two awkward dips. It's broad and grassy like a ramblers' motorway, and definitely a harder challenge in the opposite direction. As the man encouraging his partner upwards towards Beachy Head said, "the first bit's steep, but the rest is normal steep".
Steep Ascent 3: Belle Tout (7 storeys in 4 minutes)
This is the hump with the former lighthouse on, the one that's now a guest house. On every previous visit I've walked straight through their grounds but this time it was gated shut, perhaps because the ice cream counter was closed, but more likely because a huge chunk of cliff collapsed last month taking the top of the old path with it.

At Birling Gap I stopped to unwrap my Ginsters pasty rather than frequent the National Trust tearoom. I sat on a rock and looked down across dozens of cars parked along both approach roads, and a sliver of pebbly beach, and shrieking paddleboarders, and the remains of a row of coastguard cottages, and the unwise Rocky Horror tattoo on the back of the mum smoking a fag on the next hump down, and the freshly-revealed white of the Seven Sisters where I'd be heading next.

Steep Ascent 4: Bailey's Hill (8 storeys in 6 minutes)
This is actually the second of the Seven Sisters, because in this direction Went Hill is a gentle doddle. I think it's also the second highest, but relative summits are hard to judge along this stretch. Offshore activity included a biplane flypast, the odd wispy cirrus and a bobbing motorboat.
Steep Ascent 5: Flagstaff (6 storeys in 5 minutes)
This is the hump with the memorial bench at the summit, where I confess I did pause for a much-needed gulp of water. Where the chalk protrudes you can often see the start of a crack that'll eventually tumble it over the edge, which very much helps to explain the powdery white residue lapping against the shoreline far below.
Steep Ascent 6: Brass Point (10 storeys in 6 minutes)
A gate in the sheep fence marks the point where the National Trust's jurisdiction ends. On Wednesday the butterflies easily outnumbered the humans because that's the joy of midweek rambling, and it was life-affirming to be stood almost alone on a downland peak amid the fluttering.

Steep Ascent 7: Rough Brow (6 storeys in 4 minutes)
While climbing this one my ears clogged up for a few minutes, probably due to repeated changes in pressure. For those walking the other way this is the longest, steepest ascent of the lot, but it was fine going down.
Steep Ascent 8: Short Brow (9 storeys in 4 minutes)
This always looks like the last climb, but only when you reach the top do you spot the final Sister hiding beyond. On the climb I saw stacked haybales and waved to sheep and heard a skylark, because this is as much farmland as it is seaside.
Steep Ascent 9: Haven Brow (7 storeys in 4 minutes)
This ascent's not quite so steep if you take the furrowed inland path but I hugged the coastline to the final summit where the iconic Cuckmere estuary stretched out below. It's normally busier up here, indeed that's the smallest congregation of coach tourists I've ever seen at the top.

If someone ever added a footbridge here you could be across the mouth of the Cuckmere in minutes, but instead continuing along the coast requires an hour's detour inland to where the bus stop, pub and first bridge are. Never mind, this brackish hike is the perfect contrast to the last hour's elevation, and what's more there are no slight slopes to climb whatsoever.

Steep Ascent 10: Coastguard's Cottages (3 storeys in 2 minutes)
It's an exaggeration to describe this as a steep ascent, but after so long without (and 12 miles into the walk) it might make you a little breathless. Mainly it's an excuse for me to show you this clich├ęd but magnificent view past some cottage chimneystacks towards a wall of chalk. This, especially when perfectly illuminated mid-afternoon, is why the Seaford extension's worth it.
Steep Ascent 11: Seaford Head (8 storeys in 10 minutes)
The final ascent follows a long furrowed grassy slope back up to clifftop heights (which Seaford Town Council seem rather keener to fence off). Walking in this direction it's important to keep turning round to admire the Seven Sisters before they gradually disappear behind a field of sheep and a golf course. And then on the final descent into Seaford you can smirk at the poor sods climbing the other way because, as usual, the west-to-east-ers have it worst.

Before returning to sea level I sat on a bench overlooking the promenade at Seaford and watched the townsfolk revelling on the beach, and Brighton somewhere in the far distance, and dark clouds rolling in above the sea marking the dividing line between summer and autumn. What I had hoped to do to round off my visit was grab some proper fish and chips but the queues were out of the door at both of the town's best takeaways and I had a train to catch, and half an hour after I left the rain arrived, and later an electric storm, and my word I'm looking forward to coming back and knackering myself out again in 2023.

» 2007 report and photos
» 2009 set of 30 photos
» 2011 photos
» 2013 photos
» 2015 photos
» 2017 photos
» 2019 report and photos
» 2021 photos (15 of them)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards