It’s taken me 24 hours but I think I’ve just about dried off from our South Downs adventure. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had a new year’s trip to the coast planned and it was at 8:15 on Saturday morning that we set off in the car. We were a party of 3 and were heading to Alfriston which is a gem of a village situated on the South Downs Way. The original plan had been to go to Newhaven and walk along but I didn’t fancy the promenade hike alongside Seaford so the plan was changed.
We were walking by about 10ish and spent 20 minutes or so trying to work out how many layers we needed as we walked alongside Cuckmere River. It was extremely muddy under foot and we were sliding about trying to stay upright. After about a mile we left the river and headed east through the tiny hamlet of Litlington. It was here I started to remember the walk as we headed up a short but steep incline and up on to the South Downs.
Much to our relief the path headed in to the woods. It had started raining and was beginning to get a bit unpleasant. A couple more up and downs as we went through the even smaller hamlet of West Dean before heading up a lot of steps through a corridor of trees to a wall. We poked our head over the wall and were met with some or post apocalyptic nightmare.
From here on out the weather got pretty intense. The wind and rain was constant and we got very wet and very cold. Very quickly! The route heads down towards Cuckmere Haven where land meets sea. It was raging. the waves were massive and spray was being thrown everywhere. Of course our route was directly in to the wind. So as we began hiking up the first of the Seven Sisters we had our hoods across our faces trying desperately to not fall over.
It was up and down for the next few miles. On a good day this would be a pleasant hike across some of the most stunning coastal scenery in the British Isles. However, on this day it was all about trying to keep moral high so that we could get to the Birling Gap. Somewhere we knew there would be a cup of tea and somewhere we could get out of the way of the weather.
After what seemed like at least 9 sisters we reached the Birling Gap. Unfortunately the National Trust had decided that heating was not necessary so their cafe was pretty cold and unwelcoming. However, a nice cup of tea was had and we ate some of our lunch. After a while we decided we were never going to get fully dry and headed back out in to the breach.
It turned out to be much nicer weather. The rain had stopped but the wind had continued. This meant that our wet clothes would get dry as we walked. With full bellies, we were all in better spirits as we headed up past Belle Tout, the lighthouse come hotel on the top of another hill. There were a lot of people by this point. The car park at the Birling Gap is the perfect place to access Beachy Head. The cars ruin the majesty but it does mean more people can visit the area I guess.
From here it is a slow upward trudge until we finally reached the highest chalk sea cliff in England. The views were uninspiring due to the cloud but at least it wasn’t dark this time! We took a few photos and checked out the various wartime memorials and the sobering garden of crosses which shows the number or suicides that occur here. As we headed on our way we saw 2 members of the Samaritans taking their daily stroll which left us feeling quite solemn as we began the downhill plod.
We took a sharp right down a steep and slippery path to reach the lower cliff level rather than the usual and more obvious South Downs Way. The route passed what has to be one of the barrenest rugby pitches of all time. It definitely looked like a wild place to kick a ball. After this, as Eastbourne comes in to view, we reached sea level and began the mile long stroll along the promenade. The waves were still ferocious and it was a nice way to reflect on the day’s events as darkness fell.
We got a taxi from Eastbourne centre back to the car at Alfriston where we had a splendid dinner at Ye Olde Smugglers Inn. It was such a friendly and welcoming pub with an open fire and some tasty ale. They even gave us a free mince pie as we left. The perfect end to a great day’s hiking.