Seaford To Eastbourne Walk
by Robert Veitch
With summer 2018 seemingly one of endless blue skies, it felt like a walk of grandiose proportions was required for August. We teamed Robert Veitch up with Seven Sisters fan, Beth Gumbrell, and sent them on a day long coastal epic.
We departed Lewes Station beneath layers of thin cloud punctuated by polka dots of bright blue. Detraining at Bishoptone station, walk down the steps at the end of the platform, turning left on to Marine Parade.
The long left hand curve straightens as it passes the former Buckle Inn and the imposing spectacle of Seaford Head fills the horizon. Wander along the promenade for 1½ miles, past Salts Recreation Ground and the Martello Tower, all the way to Splash Point.
The Shoal is a meandering, community bench under-looking Seaford Head. Memorial plaques in the shape of sprats, sardines, herrings and mackerel adorn the furniture. Time to pause and absorb the surroundings.
There’s no escaping the truth, the only way is up and the loose path swiftly evolves into downland grass.
After passing the golf course the path levels off at the 86m (271ft), summit. On the left is Seaford Head Air Navigation Beacon.
It’s a pleasant stroll, with wonderful views of the journey ahead and the route already travelled. Beyond the ‘Buckle Church Burrowers’ sign the path enters a shallow valley on the run down to Hope Gap. On the day we visited, the area was inundated with people. After enquiring we discovered they were making a film, called Hope Gap.
Beyond Hope Gap, the path arcs left around the headland, culminating in our county’s postcard to the globe. The view across Coastguard Cottages to the Seven Sisters and the distant Belle Tout is one of the finest panoramas in the UK; epic, cinematic, timeless and very English. There’s a bench by the path, and it’s worth resting the legs for a moment, to absorb the grandeur.
Beyond the cottages, the path gives way to the shingle beach. Some tank traps from WWII remain in position. There’s no sensible way across the river so turn left and head inland. The path runs alongside The Cut, a navigation channel dug in 1846 to reduce flooding across Cuckmere Haven.
Around 25 minutes later a gate opens into a car park, leading to the A259. Cross the road, the bridge, then back across the road and through another gate. The path sits atop the levee and it’s just over a mile back to the beach. Our walk was punctuated with glances to the heavens as a Spitfire practiced aerial manoeuvres.
Turning left as the sea appears over the shingle berm, walk amongst sea kale towards the base of Haven Brow. A white staircase rises through the chalk, steep steps that rapidly gain altitude. “A little slippery in places, even in the dry,” remarked Beth as she made her way up. Breathe deep and keep going as far as the stile, then beyond, to the summit of Haven Brow. According to Beth, “it’s as hard as it looks, but well worth it.” At 77m (253ft) it’s the highest of the sisters.
The rollercoaster that follows is manna from heaven all the way. Haven Brow leads to Short Bottom, Short Brow, Limekiln Bottom, Rough Brow, Rough Bottom and Brass Point – names that fall off the page like characters in a Victorian novella.
Climbs become easier as the body adjusts to the continual gradient change. “Don’t lose momentum on the ups, take smaller steps,” Beth advised. Brass Point leads to Gap Bottom, then Flagstaff Point, the Sarsen Stone and Flagstaff Bottom. Then comes the intruder, Flat Hill, the eighth sister is emerging as the landscape retreats at about 70cm a year. Flathill Bottom leads to Baily’s Hill, then Michel Dean and Went Hill Brow.
Beyond Malcolm’s Gate, it’s downhill, past the houses to the car park at Birling Gap. In 1878 there were a dozen cottages here, several metres from the cliff edge. Today four remain. With 60% of the walk completed we stopped for tea and cake in the café.
The ascent of Belle Tout begins by the red telephone box. It’s ¾ mile to the former lighthouse, built in 1832. Moved 17m (56ft) back from the precipice in 1999, it seems precariously close once again. “That edge is freaking me out,” exclaimed Beth, sensibly keeping well away from it.
It’s downhill from Belle Tout, before the 1½ mile ascent of Beachy Head begins. The appearance of alpine bends indicates the summit of 162m (531ft) is close. Beyond the octagonal memorial is the trig point and south of that is The Compass Rose. From the Rose, walk towards the sea, downhill to the RAF Bomber Command Memorial.
The path veers left and downhill beside the memorial. Steep at first, “we could have abseiled down this,” claimed Beth. The gradient eases, veering left as the cliff edge approaches. The route strikes a line between summer flowers. After Whitebread Hole playing field, turn right on to the tarmac of Foyle Way, flanked by overgrown, black railings.
Arriving at the suburban fringe of Eastbourne, turn right onto the red brick of Dukes Drive. After 350m bear right by the brown sign, following Holywell Drive down to the Promenade. From here it’s a mile to the Wish Tower, past thatched shelters and multitudes of benches. After that, the bandstand is halfway to the pier and a whimsical, fairy tale journeys end.
Hop up the steps to Grand Parade, turn left and walk 150m, past the Carpet Gardens. Cross the road at the pelican crossing and stroll along Terminus Road. Continue along Terminus Road in differing forms for half a mile, until the Victorian clock tower of Eastbourne station is close enough to tell the time. Boarding the 16:38 from platform 1, we arrived back in Lewes, elated, a whisker after 5pm.
“I love walking the Seven Sisters, it’s so scenic, so special,” reflected Beth. “Completing it this way is a great way to climb eleven hills in a day, and be rewarded with a palpable sense of achievement.”
Distance: 15 miles
Walk Time: Allow the best part of a day
Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL25
Refreshments: Available in Seaford, Cuckmere, Birling Gap, Beachy Head and Eastbourne
Trains: 2 per hour from Lewes to Seaford, 4 per hour from Eastbourne to Lewes
Parking: Pay parking at Lewes Station
Robert took over from our regular walker Les Campbell after he sustained an injury from an accident. Les is still recovering and we are unsure when he will be back walking, we will update our readers when we have any further news. Robert has tested the route personally, making sure it is suitable for walking. However, even he cannot guarantee the effects of the weather, or roadworks, or any other factors outside of his control. If you would like to send your feedback about a local walk, please email firstname.lastname@example.org