White Cliffs

Seven Sis­ters, Sus­sex

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents - Seven Sis­ters, East Sus­sex

The sea’s aroma sits strong in the air at the National Trust ham­let of Bir­ling Gap. From the top of the steps above the beach and its shelf of shim­mer­ing rock­pools, the views of the Seven Sis­ters and Seaford Head are ex­cel­lent. Many con­sider these enor­mous chalk cliffs to be even more pic­turesque than the cel­e­brated White Cliffs of Dover up the coast.

Leav­ing Bir­ling Gap be­hind, a splen­did walk­ing route fol­lows the South Downs Way along the ver­dant cliff tops. The chalk grass­lands here teem with spring flow­ers, such as milk­wort and round-headed ram­pion, the county flower of Sus­sex. The dis­tinc­tive pink-pur­ple petals and woolly leaves of tree mallow are hard to miss grow­ing from the nu­tri­ent-en­riched soil, while early Brim­stone but­ter­flies can be spot­ted in­ves­ti­gat­ing the yel­low flow­er­ing heads of herba­ceous cowslips.


From the top of the first sis­ter, look be­hind you for a view of Bir­ling Gap and the Belle Tout Light­house which, in 1999, due to ex­ten­sive cliff ero­sion, was moved 17 me­tres in­land. Con­tinue along the South Downs chalk grass­lands, cropped by graz­ing sheep, keep­ing an eye out for fulmars and kit­ti­wakes nest­ing on the cliffs. At low tide, if the light is right, you may be able to see the re­mains of Coonatto, a Bar­quen­tine clip­per wrecked off the coast in 1876.


At Haven Brow, the sev­enth sis­ter on the route, head in­land from Cuck­mere Haven, ru­moured to be a for­mer smug­glers’ land­ing site. The area is strewed with wildlife-rich wa­ter­ing holes – oxbow lakes and lush wa­ter mead­ows sit be­side the River Cuck­mere, which snakes through the wide flood plain to the English Chan­nel. Nearby, a net­work of saline la­goons at­tract lit­tle egrets, oys­ter­catch­ers and flocks of wigeon.

The val­ley is of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, too, with a num­ber of Sec­ond World War pill­boxes and anti-tank de­fences, known as dragon’s teeth, scat­tered across the coast­line.


Trav­ellers can catch a bus back to Bir­ling Gap from the A259. Be­fore you leave, take ad­van­tage of the tea­rooms at the Ex­ceat Coun­try­side Cen­tre or the nearby Cuck­mere Inn, just over the river – the per­fect end­ing to a sum­mer’s day walk.

Abi­gail Hamil­ton Thomp­son lives in Hert­ford­shire and loves walk­ing and geo­caching.

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