Walk 22 Peacehaven to Exceat Bridge

Walk 22
Saturday April 22nd 2006
Peacehaven to Exceat Bridge
East Sussex

A new year and a new year’s walking. Jen is now living in Cambridge, working in London and coming home just for the odd weekend so we have to grab our walking days when we can and this weekend seemed ideal.

We set off early, catching our friend, the 6.57 train from North Camp, changing at Gatwick Airport and Lewes and reaching Newhaven Town station at 10 past 9. This was a new branch line for us and one of those quaint lines that seem to have remained unchanged for ever. Outside the station we picked up a bus to Peacehaven and finally arrived at the point where Peacehaven village ends and the grassy cliff above Newhaven begin.

We duly climbed the cliff along a good path, obviously well used by dog-walkers and well equipped with benches. We stopped on one to enjoy the wonderful views at the top as, apparently, had Auntie Gladys, to whom the bench was dedicated. We knew that somewhere on the cliff top was Newhaven Fort and we had set aside some time to visit it.

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It did not materialise as quickly as we had expected so we just followed the cliff path round the headland enjoying the views ahead towards Seaford as we walked. The path was easy and we walked through heathland very like the paths here in Surrey. The cliff sloped upwards quite steeply towards the sea and we passed a caravan park which was tucked into the slope. Presumably this protected it from the weather but they had no view of the sea at all which struck us as rather odd. At the highest point was a coastguard lookout tower with a new housing development called Newhaven Heights again tucked in behind.

Between the lookout tower and the houses we picked up a gravel path which led downhill to the car park and entrance to the fort. On the way down we found the way in to the coastguard station so scrambled up to see the view and wave to the officer on duty inside. At the bottom of the hill, we paid our entrance fee to the fort and went in just as a group of scouts were finishing their run through for their St George’s Day parade on Sunday. The fort had only just opened for the day and we enjoyed a cup of tea in the Searchlight café, which is decorated in World War 2 style, complete with film star posters, gingham tablecloths and Vera Lynn on the speakers.

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We had a look around the fort, but there was really too much to see in the time we had available. The exhibitions were excellent and interactive and the whole place was very atmospheric. We could have spent all day there, and rather reluctantly we set off again, complete with sandwiches specially made for us by the lovely ladies in the café.

The path led downhill and alongside the river Ouse to the swing bridge, close to Newhaven Town station. This is very much a working river and all the way along the bank were quays with fishing gear and the usual assortment of boat chandlers, workshops and boat builders’ yards. At the same time, some of the older buildings have been converted into luxury waterside homes and we sat on a bench beside the river in the new West Quay development and ate our delicious sandwiches.

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After we had crossed the bridge and the level crossing, we had some complicated directions to follow. They took us down the road on the other side of the railway, through an industrial estate which included the Parker Pen factory and onto a footpath beside the railway line. We passed Newhaven Harbour Station and the ferry terminal from which boats sail to Dieppe twice a day. Soon we crossed the railway again and followed a very narrow path on the other side, which would have been totally overgrown and very tricky later in the year.

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At the end of the path we came across some rather intriguing derelict buildings which we discovered, thanks to the fascinating signboards, to be the remains of an abandoned village. The village had been based around a tide mill, and was called, strangely, Tide Mills. The mill had closed when the course of the river Ouse changed around the turn of the century and the people had gradually moved on to find other employment in the area. By World War Two there were only a handful of residents left and they were moved out and the buildings demolished to prevent them being used as cover by an invading army. Apparently Newhaven was the place Hitler had planned to invade and take over before moving on to London. (It might have taken him a while; the lady in the fort gift shop told us that it takes two hours to get to London!) Anyway we explored the foundations of the buildings, which included a seaside hospital for disabled boys, a railway station and a seaplane slipway, before heading towards Seaford, a mile or two away.

Seaford was an odd place, no doubt excellent in its way, but it is really the first settlement we have come across that had no seaside amenities. The seafront was just housing, with no shops, cafes or attractions of any kind.  Eventually we found a park, which had a cricket match in progress. Here there was a refreshment kiosk, so we stopped for a rest and a drink. It very much felt like a community that was ignoring the sea, one that has no interest in it and certainly not one to want visitors to come and spend money.

Seaford is the end of the branch line from Lewes and we had to decide whether to stop there or continue on over Seaford Head and down to Cuckmere Haven. It was only two o’clock, the weather was lovely (we were just in jumpers) and we both felt fine, so we decided to continue.

At the end of Seaford prom, the cliff rises very steeply to a headland and we started to climb. We took it slowly and, stopping frequently to admire the view, we finally reached the top. It was worth the effort as the air was beautiful, we could see for miles and we felt a huge sense of achievement.

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This was only slightly dulled by the presence right on the top of a car park accessed by a road which winds half way up the gentle inland side of the headland. This easy route to the top accounted for the number of people about and the good path, which was soft and well-worn making it easy to continue eastwards across the high ground. Slowly, we began to descend and, all of a sudden, The Seven Sisters cliffs appeared in all their glory over the headland. The sun was shining on the sea and the white chalk of the cliffs and they looked magnificent. It was one of those iconic moments when you see for real a view that is so familiar from patriotic television programmes, calendars and biscuit tins. After admiring them for a few minutes, we remembered that we will be climbing them next time, but even that thought did not take the edge off the sight.

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We followed the grassy path downwards and finally ended up at the bottom beside the River Cuckmere. The guide book says that it is the most unspoilt river mouth in the south of England and it certainly looks that way. There is nothing there, just a beautiful river quietly entering the sea between two high cliffs.

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The final part of the journey was along a footpath beside the river. The first crossing is a couple of miles inland over a bridge carrying our old friend the A259. It was a good path, but we were tiring and were glad to reach the road and the bus stop.

We came home by bus back into Seaford, train to Lewes, and then another to Gatwick where we stopped for a meal (Frankie and Bennies – very tasty). From Gatwick we caught another train to Redhill then the final lap back to North Camp where Glyn met us at 5 to 9.

It had been a wonderful day with so much contrasting walking, from high cliffs, industrial sites, river and railway crossings to abandoned villages, military history and remote estuaries. It was lovely to be walking by the sea again.

Peacehaven Heights 09.32
Exceat Bridge 17.03
7 hours 28 minutes
10.05 miles
Running Total 147.8 miles

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