Hiking the beautiful southern coast of England

Hiking the beautiful southern coast of England

#52hikechallenge2018 Week 5

Ten days ago, my husband, Brian, and I boarded a plane and enjoyed a whirlwind 6 day trip in London.  As much as I loved walking the streets of the United Kingdom’s capital, after 4 days I was longing for a trail, hills, blue skies and solitude.  On day 5 we took the District Line from South Kensington to Victoria Station and then boarded a south-bound train to Seaford.  It was an easy trip to the coast and I wished that we had such a sophisticated system in the US.  After a 90 minute ride, we changed trains in Lewes and settled in for the final 20 minutes of the trip.  We arrived in the small town of Seaford, walking through the 1 room train station with the other 6 passengers.  The only ticket agent served as our information specialist, sharing a hand drawn map of the town and the way to our starting destination.

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After using the train station’s only restroom facility (we borrowed a key from the ticket agent), we followed the map instructions to the town library, and boarded a bus bound for the Seven Sisters County Park in Exceat.  We sat in the front row of the upper deck of the bus for the 8 minute ride, enjoying views of the town of Seaford and then the country road.

Our bus deposited us at a cluster of lovely buildings: the Visitor’s Center, the Saltmarsh Cafe and the Farmhouse.  We popped into the cafe and purchased 2 steaming cups of tea which helped to keep our hands warm for the first 10 minutes of our trek.  I wished that I had more time to spend in that region of England.  I would have “hired a room” at the Farmhouse and stayed an extra day.

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The Saltmarsh Cafe

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We walked along a paved route toward the coast, the Cuckmere River rushing on our right, rolling hills speckled with sheep on our left, and the shimmering water of the English Channel straight ahead.  The beach was rocky and sparkly in the bright sunlight.  The chalky cliffs jutted out of the ground, bold, white and impressive.

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We quickly learned that there are many options for walking along the cliffs.  We opted to walk up the steeper section of the first down, but there were other more gradual options.  The path was a wide expanse of golf-course-like grass.  It was soft and pleasant and not the type of terrain that I am used to walking.  We hiked up and down the rolling hills, greatly enjoying the views of the water and the cliffs ahead.

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At the 4 mile mark we came to Birling Gap, a cafe, shop and visitor’s center overlooking the channel.  We stopped to browse the wall map, use the “toilets” (bathrooms) and enjoy a snack from our backpack.  For a Tuesday in January, there were a lot of people enjoying food at the outside tables.  Most tables and benches were filled with folks soaking in the sun and chilly coastal breezes.

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Birling Gap
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Belle Tout Lighthouse

We continued hiking east, passing 2 lighthouses, 1 of which was converted to the Belle Tout Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast and the other located on the coast below the cliffs.  At Beach Heady, 6.5 miles from the start of our trek and the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, the path divided, with one option to travel along the coast and the other to remain on higher ground.  At the recommendation of 2 locals we were walking with, we stayed on the upper path, passing the Beachy Head Pub that is known for its great pints.  We paused, considering a stop in for some refreshments, but decided we had better keep moving toward Eastbourne, as we didn’t know what to expect on the remainder of the trail.  The grassy path wound along the roadway and we decided to veer off to the right to head through a woodsy area toward the town, eventually connecting with the South Downs Way (trail).  We could see neighborhoods and a variety of buildings from above and the city looked quaint and inviting.  We entered the town by way of Paradise Road and fell in step with a gentleman hustling toward the downtown area.  He provided us with great directions and we walked another mile and a half to find the train station.

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Eastbourne Town Hall

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Eastbourne is lovely!  We passed a small college, Brighton University, Edwardian style townhouses, old churches, the Victorian style Town Hall and many shops and restaurants.   We popped into the London & County Pub for a drink and a couple of small plates to hold us over for the train ride back to London.  I enjoyed a rather delicious quinoa and green salad with a berry vinaigrette dressing.  Brian opted for more standard English pub food: chicken and chips.

We picked up another cup of hot tea in the train station, boarded the 6:21 pm train and arrived in London by 8:10 pm.

I really liked hiking the 10 miles from Seaford to Eastbourne, seeing two different seaside villages and the cliffs in between.  It was a gentle trek and I had expected a bigger change in elevation.  If I was to hike this area again, I would hike from the Seven Sisters County Park to Beachy Head and then back past the county park visitor’s center and into Seaford.  This would increase the number of hills and and add on the 4 miles from the Seaford train station to the county park.

Other great walking options:

  • Begin at the Seven Sisters County Park, walk to Birling Gap and back, for a total of 8 miles.
  • Begin at Beachy Head, walk to Birling Gap and back, for a total of 5 miles.
  • Begin at Beachy Head, walk to the beach at Cuckmere River and back, for a total of 11 miles.

If hiking during the winter months, check the bus schedules to make sure there are stops at Seven Sisters Park, Birling Gap and Beauty Head.  The bus schedule is modified during the off season.  In the winter, there are more bus opportunities on Sundays, but still some options during the week.  The train to Seaford and from Eastbourne ran every hour with the last departure close to 11 pm.  We originally intended to visit the south on Sunday, but after checking the train schedule, we learned that “engineering” was taking place on that train line.  We tried to find a bus instead, but all trips were booked already.  So just like with the bus, check the train schedule to ensure that trains are on schedule.

Directions to Seaford

AllTrails map

PDF version of the map

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