Greetings, and hello again from London. I am writing at the end of a lovely week-long half-term holiday, the Thursday of which I decided to head out and explore again, and am now writing up my blog entry for another lovely local day trip from London.
This time I headed southwards, to the south coast, to a lovely little seaside town called Eastbourne, and some nearby star attractions: Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, both located in the south-eastern corner of the expansive South Downs National Park. It was a highly enjoyable day, and I must admit I saw what I believe to be one of England’s most spectacular natural wonders. While England, to my mind, is an adorable country, of rolling hills, cute landscapes and quaint villages, I believe there are not too many jaw-dropping, spectacularly beautiful sights here. On Thursday, I would say I saw one of them though – the achingly beautiful and dazzling white chalk cliffs of England’s south-east coast.
After having just bought a railcard, for a third off rail travel in the south-east of England, I purchased a discounted off-peak day return ticket from East Croydon to Eastbourne, for just
The Seven Sisters
South Downs National Park
less than £20. Once again, reminiscent of my trip last summer to Chichester, I pretty much had a whole carriage of the train to myself for the journey, and once again while passing Gatwick Airport’s long-stay car park, I was greeted with a forlorn sight of vast emptiness. I put to the back of my mind these sad reminders of the current situation, and determined to enjoy my travelling day ahead.
Around an hour later, we pulled in to Eastbourne Station, and the weather was notably cooler than in London, sunny, but with a very fresh breeze from the south-west. Clad only in shorts and t-shirt, I did find myself to be a little chilly during parts of the day, but judging from my tomato-coloured face at the end of the day, I had certainly still caught the sun! My first stop was a bus stop right outside the train station, to wait for the half-hourly bus listed as the “ESS” on Google maps. This ESS would take me to the distant Beachy Head coastline for the first part of my trip. The bus stop’s live screen, however, only showed your usual buses assigned numbers, and the unusually-named “ESS”
bus was nowhere to be found. I asked a friendly local if she knew anything about the “ESS” – she was most friendly until that point, telling me about her lovely recent trip to the hospital and her current journey home, but looked at me as if I was mad when I asked her about this, and couldn’t board the next bus quick enough to get away! I was beginning to doubt the existence of such a strangely-named bus.
Fortunately though, not long after, the ESS bus did arrive, and it turned out to be an open-top, sightseeing bus which did a loop around the sights of Eastbourne and around – yay! ESS stands for “Eastbourne Sightseeing”, and I excitedly grabbed a seat at the back on the top deck, having bought a day-tripper pass, and eagerly became a tourist for the day. To start with, it was just me and a friendly-looking couple towards the front, but when the bus pulled in to the Eastbourne Pier bus stop, it soon filled up with local tourists and happy families. There was a very jovial atmosphere on board, and it was lovely to see so many people smiling and enjoying
themselves given these recent times.
The bus set off along its route westwards across Eastbourne’s sea front, and then slowly climbed up into the adjacent beginnings of the South Downs National Park. It is here where the famous South Downs Way begins, winding its way 100 miles through the park north-westwards and ending in the city of Winchester. During the day, I spotted a number of backpack-clad hikers who presumably were doing this route. One of England’s 10 national parks, the South Downs is also the country’s newest, created as recently as 2010, and is mostly made up of high, rolling hills and sheep-filled meadows, sitting on top of a huge layer of chalkstone. As this chalkstone reaches the sea on England’s south-east coast, it gives rise to the country’s famed white cliffs, of which the White Cliffs of Dover are probably the most famous. My destination for the day was another famous area of white cliffs.
After rising high above the town of Eastbourne, I got off the bus at my first stop for the day – the amazing Beachy Head! After enjoying a small exhibition at “The Beachy Head Story” mini-museum, and taking note of a
Gatwick Airport Long-Stay Car Park
Still empty, nearly a year after I last passed
nearby building home to the “Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team”, I headed southwards across the open grassland and towards the amazing cliffline itself.
Beachy Head lies at the southern tip of an area of chalkstone jutting out into the English Channel, and the brilliant white cliffs rise to a mighty height of 162 metres, pretty much vertically out of the sea shore below. Very little of the cliff’s edge is fenced off, and where there is fencing, it is footling, and can easily be walked over. I did wonder as to how close one can get to the edge, and found my answer in that you can simply get to the edge itself, and those with a head for heights can casually peek over and look down over 150 metres to the sea below. It was spectacular, and my jaw dropped on a number of occasions.
Very sadly though, Beachy Head in the UK is actually synonymous with suicide, and in 2010 it was recorded as being the third most common place in the world for the self-taking of lives, after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Japan’s Aokigahara Woods. Around 20 people jump or drive their
Empty Train Carriage
A nice bit of peace and quiet
cars off the cliffs every year. This felt very sad, and I cannot begin to imagine both the despair someone must experience to wish to go through with such a thing, and the devastation it must cause to loved ones. The nearby and afore-mentioned Beach Head Chaplaincy Team is actually on call 24/7, and workers at the local Beachy Head Pub and taxi drivers are trained to be able to spot potential jumpers, and to notify the Team if they do. I recall some very sad stories from this place in the news over the years.
Aside from this sad side to the Beachy Head story, the cliffs are really quite spectacular, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I only noted after my visit that in fact 80 people or so die here each year, “only” a quarter of them are suicides. The other numbers are apparently made up of murders and accidents. It didn’t occur to me at the time, perhaps foolishly, that the area is under constant erosion from the sea, and tourists have been known to fall whilst looking over the edge or having their photos taken there.
Anyhow, I shall move on from
this rather morbid subject, and continue to express how amazing and beautiful these cliffs were. My plan for the day was to walk two miles westwards from Beachy Head, and its photogenic lighthouse, along the spectacular coast, past the Belle Tout lighthouse on the next promontory over, and on to the similarly spectacular Seven Sisters cliffs at Birling Gap, from where I would pick up the ESS bus back again to Eastbourne. The walk was exhilarating, and thoroughly enjoyable, both due to its dramatic vistas of white cliffs, sea and rolling South Downs National Park to the north, as well as the bracing wind and sunny weather. The walk got busy at the Belle Tout lighthouse, apparently Britain’s most famous inhabited lighthouse due to its appearance in film and television, including the James Bond film “The Living Daylights”. The lighthouse was built at this notorious shipwrecking place at the end of the 17th
century, and in 1999 it was remarkably moved 17 metres inland to protect itself from the ever-eroding cliff face edge. Today it operates as a (rather expensive) Bed and Breakfast.
After the Belle Tout lighthouse, my walk headed further westwards, and downhill, towards the famous Birling
Gap, a small village so-called as it sits at a low-point in the cliff face with access via a metal staircase to the beach below. It was popular during my visit with day-trippers and families, heading down to the beach for a bit of sun and rock-pooling. Looming in the distance to the west stood the majestic Seven Sisters part of this amazing coastline, a series of seven extremely photogenic cliff heads, ranging from between 50m and 80m above the seashore below. When the White Cliffs of Dover are supposedly shown in films such as “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” and “Atonement”, it is actually these Seven Sisters cliffs that are used. Because of the iconic nature of the White Cliffs of Dover, they are preserved and protected from erosion, and thus the white brilliance of the chalk has faded over the years, and is covered over in parts by green vegetation. At the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head however, the cliffs are left to erode naturally, and thus with each section of chalk falling into the sea below, a new, gleaming layer of whiteness is revealed behind. The cliffs were certainly amazing in their brilliance and gleaming splendour.
The Eastbourne Sightseeing Bus
Before the crowds arrived at the pier stop
After a short while at the Birling Gap, I boarded the next ESS bus to return back to Eastbourne via a loop through the hills and fields of the South Downs National Park to the north, on the top deck once more, surrounded by similarly giddy and excited tourists. Once back in town, I decided to stay on board, and do the whole loop again, to see my walk again from the comfort of a bus, and also because I wanted to get the most out of my ticket. The whole loop lasts an hour or so, and I very much enjoyed seeing the whole thing again from the comfort, yet great breeziness, of the open-top bus once more.
An hour-and-a-half of sitting on a plastic bus seat later, I got off with a rather sore behind at Eastbourne Pier. I had a couple of hours to spend in Eastbourne before I planned to catch the train again back to East Croydon, and very much enjoyed exploring this calm, seaside town. Unlike its counterpart, cosmopolitan and very busy Brighton 20 miles to the west, Eastbourne is very much a mature and refined lady of the British coastal resort scene.
The Eastbourne Sightseeing Bus
After the crowds arrived at the pier stop
It is home to a large retired population, and is not filled with amusement parks or slot machines. Eastbourne has a population of around 100,000 people, and although it dates back to Roman times, it really took off as a town and a seaside resort in Victorian times, when the local Duke of Devonshire laid out a plan to build an entirely new town, a resort built “for gentlemen by gentlemen”, in 1859.
The town still retains its lordly air, and has a pier, a bandstand, a classy big wheel, a pebbly beach and a lovely prom for strolling, populated with small, foodie-based market stalls. I whiled away a good hour or so walking around, and enjoying the refined beach scene of Eastbourne. I also happened upon a “Harry Ramsden’s”, England’s upmarket fish and chip shop chain, specialising in hearty English traditional fare such as, well, fish ‘n’ chips, along with fish cakes, jumbo sausages and mushy peas. Here I had a takeaway portion of chips, which I was careful to eat on the streets in a covered doorway, as the seagulls around there are notoriously brave at flying into and stealing food out of walkers' hands. After a
pleasant walk along Eastbourne’s shopping streets, and its more modern mall “The Beacon”, I caught my busier return train back to East Croydon again just after 5.30pm.
Arriving home, I contemplated what a wonderful day trip I had just had, exploring a very nearby, yet previously unknown to me, corner of the country which was spectacularly beautiful and laden with geographical and historical interest.
I am currently planning a four-week trip this summer, and given the current situation, I thought it wise to remain in Great Britain. Whilst local, I would still like to explore somewhere a bit more exotic and different to England, with its own history, culture and language to delve into. Thus, I have come up with the plan to spend four weeks travelling around Scotland, and hope to be writing about this trip on the go as I travel. So, until the next time, hopefully Scotland, hopefully this summer, I shall bid farewell for now.
Thanks for reading, and all the best 😊
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