On top of Seven Sisters

Seven Sisters, East Sussex. View from the coastguards' cottages.Before anyone gets carried away with gratuitous salacity, the Seven Sisters are chalk cliffs on the south east coast of England.  Do not confuse them with another Seven Sisters, an area of London in N15, near Tottenham.  Exciting and attractive though the latter undoubtedly is, today – today we’re striding out across the cliffs, perforce taking in great gulps of sea air and looking across the English Channel to France a mere 60 or 70 miles away.  Wonderful!

Seven Sisters, beach at Cuckmere Haven, East Sussex Cuckmere Haven, beach view to SeafordThe hills that make up the Seven Sisters, each with its own name, sit between the towns of Eastbourne and Seaford or, more specifically, between the River Cuckmere and the Birling Gap.  They are within the South Downs National Park, the South Downs being a range of rolling hills formed at around the same time as the Alps, which stretch across Hampshire and Sussex.  The huge chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters are one of the iconic images of England and, because they are whiter than the White Cliffs of Dover, are often confused with them by people who don’t know, or used as substitutes by people who do.  Alas, there are no bluebirds and, even more alas; they are eroding relatively quickly – thus doubtless contributing in their own special way to the overcrowding on this small island of ours.  Chalk is a comparatively pure, and therefore soft, type of limestone.  It was formed from the mud made of microscopic skeletons of marine organisms called coccolithophores 60-100 million years ago, a fact that I have always found to be mind-boggling; but thank heaven for spell check, eh?

Pillboxes on the south coast of England, Cuckmere, East SussexCuckmere Haven, wildfowl, swan, East SussexIf you get up close and personal with the cliffs, you’ll see that, like most things, they are not as pure as they look and are run through with flint – traditionally used to face buildings in the vicinity and, of course, as tools by some of our older relatives a few years back.

Salt water lagoon behind the beach at Cuckmere HavenThere are numerous public footpaths in the area and you can approach the Sisters from either direction, though I have always tended to approach from the east, starting at the Seven Sisters Country Park on the A259 where there are toilets and reasonably good parking.  From there, head south along an easy, wide, path following the gentle flowing Cuckmere down to the sea.  After wet weather, the path can be pretty muddy.  You’ll be faced with a choice of heading down to the beach or up on the cliffs, but find time to do both.  Just behind the shingle beach is a salt water lagoon, used by waders and various other wildfowl.  The beach is most dramatic on a wild winter’s day, when the waves crash onto the shore, sucking the stones out to sea with a rushing and crunching sound.  Unfortunately, it can also be a dirty beach, scattered with debris deposited far out to sea and washed up on this part of the coast.  But it’s still worth a visit and gazing up at those towering cliffs.

Looking west from Seven Sisters - the beach and Seaford HeadThe path up onto the Sisters makes most people breathe more heavily.  En route, you’ll pass various World War 2 pillboxes, remnants of Britain’s formidable defences in more troubled times (in 1940, it was thought that Hitler’s armies would invade near here).  And don’t start counting the rabbits – you don’t have enough fingers.  The problem with this type of walking, of course, is its similarity to a rollercoaster; you drag yourself up one incline, are lulled into normal lung behaviour on the way down the other side, and are then faced with a series of chest heaving repeats. But think of all the good it’s doing you; and the views are very pleasant.

Seven Sisters, unstable chalk cliffsThe area is a popular place – used by serious walkers (the South Downs Way goes through here to Beachy Head), birdwatchers (forlornly looking for bluebirds?), canoeists, cyclists (why would do you that?!) and families just out for a stroll and a picnic.  You do need to be careful though.  I’m not one of those who insists on wearing PPE (hi-vis vests etc) when going shopping or watching TV (unless children are present), but the last time we went to Seven Sisters I was appalled at how casually many people regard basic safety, going perilously close to the edge.  Perhaps they’re not very bright.  One couple was even sitting dangling their legs over.  You can also see how unstable some of the chalk is from one of the photographs.  So, be sensible and if you have a dog, be careful where you throw the stick…

People too close to the cliff edge at Seven SistersSeven Sisters, cliffs, East SussexIf you want the classic view of Seven Sisters with the coastguards’ cottages in the foreground (the view at the start of this article, which you may also have seen as a wallpaper or background on some Windows software), you’ll need to go to the western side of the River Cuckmere and take the shot from near the cottages on Seaford Head.  This either involves a separate walk from the Country Park car park on the west side of the Cuckmere, or a drive through downtown Seaford and a shorter walk – instructions and more information can be found on the Seven Sisters Country Park website.

Seven Sisters. View east - Beachy Head in the distance.

 

19 thoughts on “On top of Seven Sisters

  1. peopledonteatenoughfudge

    Beautiful photos Mike, we really are so fortunate to live in such a stunning country. I felt a bit sick seeing those people so close to the edge, heights aren’t my thing anyway but they are just being plain stupid. People die every year taking those kinds of risks and put others in danger too by doing it. No photo opportunity is worth that.

  2. milliethom

    A fabulous area with a wonderful walk (scary drops, though!) and beautifully described. Your photos are really stunning – the south coast chalk scenery is breath-taking. The same chalk deposits outcrop along the east coast further north, around Flamborough Head, and I’m more familiar with that area. The most I’ve seen of the south coast chalk is around Dover Castle.
    We must try to get ourselves ‘down south’ in the near future.

  3. furrygnome

    Mike, you have such a way with words – “some of our older relatives a few years back” for example. It’s always enjoyable to read your posts, regardless of that post’s topic. This one was new to me, and looks pretty scenic.

  4. lowcarbdiabeticJan

    So lovely to see your photo’s, what gorgeous countryside.
    I must admit I got very squeamish seeing those two sitting so near the edge. I have not got a good head for heights so would never go too near the edge.
    The Cuckmore sounds a very nice river too.

    All the best Jan

  5. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – this part of the world is amazing … I see the chalk cliff on the eastern fringe of Beachy Head every day now – as I live on Eastbourne front with a high view … it is fascinating and I have some information I need to write up – but my photos will not be as brilliant as yours … and you’re kindly bring visitors to our neck of the woods …

    The Coast Guard cottages and the National Trust tea-rooms and museum at Birling Gap are rapidly (very rapidly) likely to be brushed with the stormy waters … it’s interesting to see how quickly they think it will happen (but probably much sooner). There are chalk lines in the museum .. and videos showing the decline and fall of the shore line … which is speeding its decline.

    Cheers Hilary

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Hi Hilary – yes I thought about you when doing the post – it’s lovely round there. I need to get to Beachy Head and Birling Gap next time we’re round that way – so many places to see…

      1. hilarymb

        Hi Mike – the Birling Gap ‘museum’ part of the National Trust is well worth seeing – I can’t see it being there much longer, or more likely us being allowed in it … so hope you can get down sooner rather than later …

        Cheers Hilary

  6. Lesley

    It underlines the UK’s previous connection to Europe and that England can grow some good grapes for a sparkling wine as well as the Champagne area.
    My grandparents lived in Tottenham and you prompted me to investigate the other Seven Sisters that I’d walked through many times.

  7. Kay G.

    Great post! You have written of a place that i know very well! It is a wonderful spot for great walks! You are so right about how people will go very close to the edge of the cliffs, I also have seen people sitting and dangling their legs over the side. Scary!
    My in-laws witnessed a dog running up the hill and then, going over the cliff. I don’t have to tell you how upsetting that was for them!

  8. Fun60

    You have more luck than i do. Twice I have tried and twice have encountered mist and fog. I’ll just have to breathe in your fabulous photos instead.

  9. thelday

    Beautiful photos. It’s the first time I see Chalk Cliffs.
    I wouldn’t advise anyone to take small children there unless they had a strong leash on them.
    Thanks for sharing this lovely part of your country. A must visit.

  10. Jenny Woolf

    What fabulous pictures, Mike! And what a wonderful place. It has gone on my list of places to go for a walk next summer. I must admit I felt slightly sick – really -when I saw the two sitting on the edge, and the following picture which showed just what a risk they were taking. Somehow the sight of it UNcracked seemed even more alarming – it was clearly such a long way down.

    We do have some absolutely wonderful coastal scenery in this country.

    Unfortunately horrible Google Plus won’t allow me to leave this comment unless I supply a completely nonsensical website of their devising, as well as an email which I never ever check. You know where I am, of course but it is such an imposition!

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Hi Jenny – concerned if you are having a problem leaving a comment and have emailed you about this. This site is nothing to do with Google. It should not be mandatory to leave a website address when commenting – though it’s useful if you do – but you shouldn’t have to repeat the information once your first comment has been approved. All the best, Mike.

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