Day 016: Eastbourne to Exceat

Distance: 8.14 miles

Ascent: 3058 feet

Weather: Sunny, Fairly Strong Winds

Accommodation: Saltmarsh Farmhouse, Exceat (kindly complimentary)


Due to the fact that I was about 10 miles ahead of schedule by reaching Eastbourne for my rest day, today was planned to be a short one to get back on schedule as I have a few accommodation offers planned around the schedule for this week and next.

After a truly relaxing time with the Davis family, and a lovely breakfast, I was off and for the first time on this walk I was joined by someone for the whole days walk (they have chosen to remain anonymous so no name or photos in this diary.)

After only 10 minutes we hit the edge of the South Downs, and hit an area of countryside that I know and love. The sun was out and at this stage we were fairly protected from the wind. We were soon onto the fairly steep climb up to Beachy Head and with the recent rains the ascent was fairly slippery, and I only just managed to retain my flawless record of not falling over yet.

Beachy Head is a stunning place and is in fact the highest chalk sea cliff in the UK. We were fortunate to be going through on a weekday so that it was not completely overrun with tourists. There was a second world war memorial (which I think is fairly new) to the UK RAF Bomber Command who’s flight route meant that Beachy Head was the last place they would see in the UK on their way to Germany.

Unfortunately, amongst the beauty of Beachy Head there hangs a noticeable tinge of tragedy, with many benches dedicated to those who have jumped, the occasional cross pushed into the ground and with multiple Samaritan signs on the road approaching it. Unfortunately, Beachy Head is one of the most notorious suicide spots in the world. A lot of kudos must go to the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team who do regular patrols of the cliffs, respond to call outs 24 hours a day and are trained in these tough situations. Without them the situation would be even worse.

From Beachy Head we continued along the coast, though the wind was now much stronger than forecast. It was not as strong as in previous days on the walk, but still made it look like we were drunk walking at times as we were staggering side to side. I will be glad to see the back of these winds at some point! We soon reached Belle Tout lighthouse which has not functioned as a lighthouse since 1902, and since then has had many different uses and is currently a B&B. The most remarkable thing about this lighthouse was that in 1999 it was physically moved 17m back from the cliff, to protect it from falling into the sea.

Just over the ridge from Belle Tout we hit Birling Gap, an area that is slowly being eroded away with the little row of cottages now missing a couple of their neighbouring cottages who have fallen into the sea. On a day like today with the waves battering the base of the cliffs the rate of erosion comes as no surprise. We stopped here for a little respite from the wind and had a cup of tea in the cafe

The walk then headed across the Seven Sisters, a series of steep peaks and troughs between Birling Gap and Cuckmere, though I never seem to be able to count the supposed 7 peaks from which it gets its name. This area is absolutely stunning, and with the blue skies and crashing waves it was really a joy to walk. The wind and steepness did make this part fairly tough though.

The Seven Sisters ends at the Cuckmere Valley and our day ended with a gentle stroll up the meandering Cuckmere passed hundreds of sheep, and a couple of sheep even had bells on though we couldn’t work out why these few had bells on.

Saltmarsh in Exceat had kindly offered me a complimentary room for the night, which was even more fortunate as there is a big storm forecast for tonight. The Saltmarsh has been really nicely refurbished, with a great little café that creates beautiful, fresh, interesting dishes which you wouldn’t expect to find in a location like this. My room is lovely, and I would recommend this place for anyone wanting a bit of luxury before they head out and explore the Seven Sisters.

So today felt more like a gentle afternoon stroll as it was less than 9 miles, though within that distance there was over 3000 feet of ascent showing how steep certain parts of the day were. A really enjoyable scenic walk in the sun, and thank you to my walking partner for the day.

NB - Unfortunately on probably the most scenic day of the walk yet, my camera decided to reject the memory card so wouldn't work. Therefore all photos are from my phone, hopefully I will get the main camera up and running again this evening.

charles compton