Only a few minutes ride from the seaside resort of Eastbourne, lie some of the most spectacular and undeveloped stretches of sea coast in the south-east of England. On a sunny day the rollercoaster of chalky white cliffs and golden-green pastures seem peaceful like a piece of heaven. However on a stormy day, the nature’s elements are all disturbed and the place recalls some gloomy atmosphere of the Wuthering Heights, although geographically unrelated.
The coast stretch between Eastbourne and Seaford is of a rare beauty, with high cliffs, generous beaches, blue sea, green bushes and few scattered farms.
Although I only ventured between Beachy Head (few minutes ride from Eastbourne) and Birling Gap beach I was impressed by the scenic views and grassy slopes, perfect places for walking, riding, sunbathing, surfing and paragliding.
There are a few notable landmarks such as two lighthouses, one down the beach and one on top of a cliff, a traditional English inn, the Beachy Head Hotel (despite its name, it’s just a pub and doesn’t provide accommodation) – I totally recommend it for food though (http://www.vintageinn.co.uk/thebeachyheadeastbourne/), a beautiful farm estate in the middle of nowhere – Hodcombe Farm, a National Trust tourist development and beach and a string of small sleepy villages and farms.
Beachy Head (above) is only a few miles away from Eastbourne and it is is the highest point on the Sussex coast. The cliff plummets 201 meters to the sea, with a lighthouse on the shore far below, in operation from 1902. On a rainy day the views are all foggy and dark and the place is deemed to be an infamous suicide spot (no wonder why), believed to be the third most common suicide spot in the country.
On a sunny day the view are very different and many people venture up and down the cliffs (on a clear day you can see Isle of Wight to the west and Dungeness to the east), however the cliff edge is very unstable due to the chalky soil, prone to landslides.
Going up and down the cliffs it’s certainly a nice walk, but sometimes can be extremely windy, so be prepared with an extra layer, even in summer. Besides weather here can be quite unpredictable, so better to be prepared.
Probably one of the most famous landmarks of the coast and the town of Eastbourne itself (due to the proximity) is the top cliff Belle Tout Lighthouse, “the lighthouse that moved”. It was operational between 1834 to 1902 when it closed because its light was not visible in fog and mist due to its hight position and the other lighthouse was built to solve the problem. The lighthouse has an interesting story, after decommission it served as a tea-shop, private residence, it was bombed during WWII and rebuilt in the 50s by the local council, owned and filmed by the BBC, moved 17m away from the eroding cliff in 1999, renovated again and in 2008 it was sold again and became a Bed & Breakfast (for more details you can visit their website http://www.belletout.co.uk/).
The 850-ton construction had to be moved away from the cliff, using a hydraulic system. This was due to the constant cliff erosion (you can see in the picture above how close the erosion got to the pathway) and it is quite likely it might need to be moved again in the future. The lighthouse is also famous for BBC mini-series The Life and Loves of a She-Devil from the 1986 and for the 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights.
Another few miles west from Belle Tout there is the Birling Gap beach and National Trust tourist development (with a nice souvenir shop, where you might find some good and not too expensive beach, picnic and hill walking goods) and food bar. There is a staircase to the actual beach but if you are planning to bathe don’t forget to buy some rubber shoes of flip-flops as the sharp surfaces feel a bit rough underfoot.
Also if you go early during the first half of the day, you might just see the white bed sea, just before the high tide and also get some pieces of white chalk, fallen from the rock above (see the white rocks in the picture above).