Walk 23 Exceat Bridge to Birling Gap

Walk 23
Saturday May 13th  2006
Exceat Bridge to Birling Gap
East Sussex

We set off at the crack of dawn again on the 6.57 train from North Camp, changing at Gatwick and Lewes and arriving at Seaford at 9.15. During our breakfast stop at Gatwick, I managed to spill a hot cup of coffee over my hand and it was uncomfortable for the rest of the day.

On the way from Seaford station to the bus stop in the main street we passed a Tourist Information Centre, so went in to buy postcards before catching a bus back to Exceat Bridge and the start of today’s walk. We discovered a rather impressive National Trust visitor centre, which had just opened for the day, so we made use of the loo, then crossed the main road to pick up a concrete path alongside the river Cuckmere, heading back towards the sea. The estuary of the River Cuckmere is beautiful and very famous and we enjoyed the meander along the path above the river’s own meanders.

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After a mile or so we turned off and began to climb the first of the Seven Sisters. It was a long slow climb to the top but the views backwards to the Cuckmere Valley and Seaford Head were tremendous.

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It was quite foggy, and although it lifted partially later on, there was a lingering haze about all day. The Seven Sisters are a series of peaks and troughs, the remains of dried up river valleys forming high chalk cliffs.

The first peak is called Haven Brow and is the highest. We had joined the South Downs Way by now so the route was well signposted. We descended into the first of the ancient river valleys, then climbed up to Short Brow, which was slightly lower. The next sister is high again and called Rough Brow then it was down to Rough Bottom and up again to Brass Point.

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We had decided to take the day fairly slowly, savouring the glorious views and not exerting ourselves too much over the difficult terrain and we developed a system of climbing for thirty steps, then stopping and looking back for a few minutes. This helped with the ascents as some were very steep. We are not really built for climbing and we like to take our time and enjoy the views.

Flat Hill is the fifth sister and that, as its name suggests, is not quite so steep. The penultimate one is called Bailey’s Hill and on the way down from this one we found a quiet spot to have a picnic lunch.

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After a leisurely meal, we made it to the summit of the seventh sister, Went Brow. We could easily see Beachy Head from there although the fog had come down again. The descent from the top into Birling Gap was very pleasant and, suddenly, we were back in civilization again.

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Birling Gap is just that, a gap in the cliffs. In the gap is a large car park, a hotel, half a dozen houses and a bus stop. The houses and hotel are slowly being encroached by the sea and it is only a matter of time before they disappear. Several years ago, the National Trust which owns the village made the decision to allow nature to take its course and not to do any more to keep the cliffs stable.

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We bought a hot drink in the hotel and used the loo. It seemed rather run down, but then I suppose there is no point in investing in redecoration or new carpets if you are likely to vanish over the cliff in the next few years. We bought an ice cream and climbed down a rather rickety set of wooden steps to sit on the beach for half an hour. On the beach is a life saving boat, operated by the locals, which is apparently kept busy rescuing people who try to walk around the foot of the cliffs and dogs that run over the edge and into the sea.

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We debated continuing, but the next stage of the walk involves beginning the assault on Beachy Head immediately and we had done enough climbing for one day. Also, Jen had spent the previous day in Oxford in interview clothes and shoes and was tiring. Beachy Head is best tackled with fresh legs, so rather reluctantly we turned for home. We had a lovely ride upstairs at the front of a double decker bus back into Seaford, then returned via Lewes and Gatwick to North Camp where Glyn picked us up.

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3.65 miles
Running Total 151.5 miles