“London is a splendid place to live in for those who can get out of it.”
— Lord Balfour of Burleigh, 1944
If you look just an hour or two farther afield from London, you’ll find an abundance of activities that’ll make you love London even more… easy access to all these activities and these places and you get to live in London!? THE DREAM!
The Seven Sisters is one such place. For quite sometime I had been meaning to get out of London for the day, to take a train south, and to complete the famous Seven Sisters walk. For one reason or another (weather, weather, weather and a weekend calendar that fills up without trying!) it’s been a long time coming. It was so worth the wait!
‘The Seven Sisters’ is the name given to the magnificent series of white chalk cliffs that line the coast of the Sussex South Downs, directly south of London. With grass as pristine as the green of a golf course and endless sea views, this is a walk that must be on your to-do list (your REAL to-do list, not just your ‘it’s a nice idea’ to-do list). Trains run 2-4 times per hour (depending on the day) from London (Victoria) to Lewes where you will have to change to get to Seaford. I suggest purchasing a return ticket from London to Lewes, a single from Lewes to Seaford, and a single from Eastbourne back to Lewes (to complete your round trip).
Enough with logistics!
The walk begins from Seaford, a small seaside town with a long esplanade and pebbly beach. After walking the length of the esplanade, past colourful beach huts and a popular ice-cream shack, you’ll steadily begin to climb the grassy mounds that make up the cliffs or ‘sisters’ as they’re called. The next 22km are a steady rise and fall of soft green grass, rural views rolling out toward the left, and an endless blue ocean stretching to the right. There is no way of getting lost as you simply need to follow your nose and the well trodden path before you. The occasional section is cordoned off for safety, but for the most part the cliffs are left bare and beautiful – be careful not to get too close!
Just over a quarter of the way a river slices through the cliffs to meet the sea – to cross it you’ll have to divert inland to cross the bridge (alternatively at low tide you may be able to wade across!). It’s just a little detour, up the river to The Cuckmere Inn where you can rehydrate if need be! Birling Gap marks the halfway point where a cafe and gift shop cater to walkers and bus-takers alike. Due to car/bus access at this point, things do get a little busier from here on in. Couples with picnics dot the hills after Birling Gap, as do selfie-stick-clad tourbus takers. I suggest moving past this point as swiftly as possible.
Not wanting to get caught up with too many sightseers we briefly braved the crowds to purchase an ice-cream tub from the shop and trekked on, stopping someway away to bask in the sunshine and devour our ice creams. Perhaps we were delusional from walking but these ice-creams really were some of the best we’d ever tasted! Locally made and delicious ‘Caroline’s Dairy’ ice creams from West Sussex. I’m talking honey and ginger, lemon meringue, toffee and honeycomb.
A serious highlight.
Walk on, soak up the sunshine and revel in the views… if you’re like me, you’ll find it hard to believe you are only an hour or so from the bustle of London. Occasionally we stopped to pick blackberries, whenever an abundant bush presented itself. Otherwise we walked, feeling lucky to have a sunny, summery day and a light breeze at our backs. Sail boats bobbed on the horizon with a summery soundtrack of squawking seagulls, the song of cicadas and distant laughter of fellow walkers.
After a big climb and you’ll reach Beachy Head and the Belle Toute Lighthouse. Built in 1832 this lighthouse once served as a navigational aid, however today it serves as a bed and breakfast and popular film location. You’ll next reach the Beachy Head Lighthouse, a red and white striped tower out at sea. If this isn’t the picture perfect lighthouse you remember from children’s books, then I’m not sure what is!
From here the walk steeply winds down into Eastbourne. After a long day of walking, this last section through Eastbourne feels like it takes forever…. Find a cute pub, rest your weary legs, sip a refreshing pint. Bask in that warm glowing feeling of ‘I’m totally exhausted but wow that was an epic day’.
- Pack plenty of snacks and water. Nothing is worse than having to keep hanger at bay while conquering cliffs.
- Pack enough clothes for the time of year/weather forecast.
- From what I’ve read and heard the walk is better done from west to east (Seaford-Eastbourne) as the hills are gentler and views more impressive from this angle. However if it were a windy day, I would consider walking downwind – whichever way that is, for a nicer experience. Pack snacks and water.