I’m usually at my happiest with the sea in sight. Not surprisingly, I really love coastal walks, and sometimes I prefer to hike alone. I don’t know a better way to clear my head and escape the daily grind. Hiking the Seven Sisters trail has provided such an opportunity. The path follows along the coast throughout the hike, so it’s impossible to lose the way. It felt refreshing not having to worry about directions and simply walking up and down the hills in a straight line. Perfect for daydreaming in motion. An additional bonus is that the area is largely unspoilt by large-scale developments (apart from a golf course). One can even imagine being on a film set…
I arrived at Seaford train station and headed straight for the shingle beach. It was only a short walk away. The best thing about starting the hike in Seaford (rather than the other way round), is that you reach the first hill almost immediately. There are no busy roads or boring flat stretches of land. What you get instead are ivory white chalk cliffs, the occasional lighthouse and the English Channel to your right. And a fantastic workout!
Why Seven Sisters?
According to Atlas Obscura, “the cliffs are known as the ‘Seven Sisters’ due to the seven distinct hilltops that comprise the silhouette of the cliffs.” The eighth hill is being gradually created by the erosion of the sea. It’s also thanks to erosion that the cliffs have retained their distinctive pale witness. The sea is slowly reclaiming the chalk and washing the rock clean. For this reason, no vegetation can accumulate and muddle the colour. The undulating hills are part of the South Downs National Park that includes the South Downs Way – the only national trail located wholly within a national park.
Starting the trail at Cuckmere Haven
At the start of the walk at Cuckmere Haven, it is necessary to navigate the Cuckmere River. As the tide was low when I arrived, my feet stayed nice and dry. During high tide, it is advisable to follow the river inland and then cross over a small bridge. I managed to avoid high tide and joined the steady stream of hikers on the beach. Due to its popularity, the Seven Sisters walk is always busy – even during the pandemic summer of 2020. I started walking up the first steep hill whilst keeping my distance. If you are competitive, you might try to overtake your fellow hikers for an extra dose of fitness. Or find your own pace and enjoy the views while ticking off hill after hill.
Reaching the Birling Gap
This was probably the busiest part of the hike and the perfect stop to get a coffee or something to eat. There was a queue at the little café, so I bought a vanilla cone from an ice-cream van instead and continued along the way. If Eastbourne is not your final destination, and you fancy a shorter hike, you can equally catch a bus from there.
I was feeling great after the ice-cream, and continued my way past the Belle Tout lighthouse, long decommissioned but now doubling as a bed & breakfast and a filming location. I have a soft spot for lighthouses and wouldn’t mind staying at one at some point. One for the bucket list. Another favourite is the South Foreland lighthouse.
Before my hiking the Seven Sisters adventure is over, I am rewarded with another lighthouse at a famous beauty spot, the Beachy Head. This one has striking red and white-stripes and stands in the sea. The spectacular views slowly give way to a more calm and pretty path bordered with wildflowers, as I start descending to Eastbourne. Since I pretty much trail blazed over the hills, I decided to reward myself with some cold beer at the appropriately named The Beachy Head Pub.
The last leg of the walk to the city centre and the railway station runs along the coast, which makes for a pleasant finish. This was my first and definitely not the last time of hiking the Seven Sisters.
Total length: 8 miles (13 km)
Difficulty: Easy for those who don’t mind hills.
Advice: The ice-cream van at the Birling Gap didn’t take cards. Have some spare coins ready.
Refreshments: The Beachy Head just outside of Eastbourne (when arriving from Seaford). I wasn’t hungry and only after a cold beer, but the food looked great.