A wild cliff walk: Beachy Head

In London, Walk by Claire

My friend Naomi celebrates her birthdays with an adventure. This year it was along some of Britain’s crazy tall, rolling white cliffs. This ten mile walk up and down them, along the coast line is beautiful and amazing even if you’re intensely hungover, as we were. It’s about 90 minutes out of London and is a ‘proper day out’ type affair.

Naomi was a professional freestyle skier a couple of years ago (competing in some slightly mind-blowing shows) and these days she’s a graphic designer in East London, with a wall art project around exploring your world and positive thinking. Combine this love affair with flying through the air powered by her legs and a steep incline, and a love affair with the outdoors, and this is why we headed off to celebrate her birthday with a walk around the UK hill. If anyone’s excitement for the outdoors is going to convince you that jumping on a not particularly glamorous train to miscellaneous parts of the UK for a ten mile walk on minimal sleep, hers will.

This year we went on a proper stomp around the brilliant green empty bits of the UK, with the kind of good chats that happen when you’ve been walking for an hour. This year she suggested an amazing walk along the Sussex coast, with the Seven Sisters cliffs and Beachy Head. We were spoilt.

The Adventure

Seaford is a small place that boasts a sandwich kiosk and a pebbly beach (You can get there fairly easy from London via Brighton.) It’s right next to huge white cliffs. To start with, a golf course accompanies you up them, but once that’s behind you it feels like wild empty England.

Halfway there’s a river that England has refused a bridge over. It detours inland by a convenient pub, before you double-back on the other side. Whilst this is 3 miles into the journey – “That’s 30% complete” we told ourselves, as a quick lunch pitstop turned into a long afternoon beer business – the next seven miles are the mind blowing ones and tiring, as such. It’s good it’s this way round because the first three are like a small teaser where you remember what it’s like to walk up a hill.

Seven Sisters
Seven Sisters

The hills look like the land’s been cracked open: this blinding white against the ultra green grass. It’s perhaps not quite Dover white but the cracking hills make up for it with their totally preposterous ups-and-downs. It’s the sort of place you’d bring your American friends to show them that, whilst they have their admittedly wicked mountains, this is what England does well.

Halfway along is Beachy Head, the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain (‘rising to 162 metres (531 ft) above sea level’). Having said this, looking in front of you it does look remarkably like all the other coming hills are much taller. Perhaps it’s your tired eyes, who knows.

Do not lie on the cliffs with your face hanging over the edge. But looking down, they are stunning. From the side they’re obviously ridiculously tall. From the top, they’re beautiful and any sense of proportion is completely lost. The way they the white scatters out into purple, light green, grey, and finally out to the sea which started the day blindingly blue and eventually morphed into a wonderful, miserable black.

And then finally – in what almost feels like moorland – comes Eastbourne. Time is right, and the sun will be setting behind you, which makes the bracken and shadow of the pier look all the more strange in the same view.

Seven Sisters

The route

There is a lot of detail about the route which you can google if you like but you are basically walking along the headland for a while. The gist is as in the map below, but following much closer to the headland on footpath instead of road:

Take a train to Seaford – we went from London to Brighton (1 hour) and Brighton to Seaford (25 minutes).

When there, find the coast. We did this in a meandering way through Seaford village. Go East and trot up the hills. Pass the golf course. Marvel at the view of Seven Sisters. Think ‘aha, yes, I’m going to walk up these, gosh they’re very up-and-down.’

Hit the water you can’t cross and turn left, inland. Stroll along until you see a bridge. Stop at the pub – or don’t. Then cross the bridge and come back the other side. The paths seems to split but both seem to work. You’ll be back at the sea. Again, head east – you’re literally just going around the coast with this route.

Pass the infamous Beachy Head, famous for all the wrong reasons. Follow the hills along to Eastbourne. When there, there’s meant to be a good fish shop and a pier. We ignored both of these.

Then hop on the train home – either direct to London or via Brighton if that’s what you fancy.

Seven Sisters

I, in the yellow jumper, fell over shortly after this photo.

ClaireA wild cliff walk: Beachy Head