Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sussex Coast Walk Day 10 Newhaven - Exceat Bridge

Old Course of the Ouse
An unexpected treat!  Thanks to generous Mum and Dad looking after the kids, I was able to take advantage of some fantastic early November weather and get out for an afternoon walk from their house in Newhaven the shortish distance along Tide Mills Beach and over Seaford Head to Cuckmere Haven and on to Exceat.  I had long thought that I would break up this section of path from here to Eastbourne for no other reason than I wanted to take a longer look at the Seven Sisters and Eastbourne itself.  I felt that the whole day would be too long to really do it justice.  Not only did I have no kids to worry about but it was an extremely rare opportunity to have a companion – my wife! 
Newhaven Lighthouse

We headed down the very sorry town centre that is now Newhaven, a million miles from the busy town I remembered as a boy.  Once at Newhaven Town Station, we turned right into Railway Approach and headed down East Side, once a thriving part of town but now most derelict, with large numbers of vacant industrial units and the semi dereliction of the Parker Pen factory, once one of the biggest employers in Newhaven.  As we wandered along the road a strange sight befell us when we passed three cadets, presumably from a navy or army cadet force (but not wearing uniform), walking down the street practising their drumming rhythm.  We assumed that it was ahead of tomorrow’s Remembrance Day Parade, but it was a slightly strange sight nonetheless.
Tide Mills

At the end of the road we reached an old concrete footbridge that crossed the Newhaven – Seaford railway line.  This bridge looks like it may need to be replaced soon, since underneath is some fairly substantial bracing keeping it up.  On the other side we were met with the unfortunate and somewhat sad looking original course of the River Ouse which used to reach the sea about a mile further east but has now been stranded following the canal cut of the ‘new haven’ in the 1500s.  Now that the breakwater is in place the spit which used to cover the mouth of the river has been starved of shingle.  There is only a remnant of river still between Newhaven and Tide Mills and looks to be in a fairly sorry state.
Tide Mills

We headed for the beach, crossing what were once substantial railway sidings that still had large numbers of trucks parked on them when I was a boy.  There are few traces of this kind of beach railway now, but if you look carefully the lie of the land suggests that only the tracks have been removed as the outline of the land needed is still there.  This part of the beach is possibly less visited than on the west side of Newhaven, but the view across to the breakwater and Castle Hill opposite are among the best along this part of the coast.
The Buckle

What follows from here to Seaford is very different from how it once would have looked.  For a start the village of Tide Mills, roughly halfway between the two towns has been abandoned and remains derelict.  Only a few half standing walls and foundations remain of this small village built around the focal point of a small tidal mill that ground flour (hence the name).  There was even once a railway station here, although it closed in 1942.  One of the platforms is still extant, a short distance down the track to the popular car parking area at the back of the beach.  The buildings of Tide Mills finally met their end during World War II when they were blown up by locally stationed troops, worried that they might be useful to the enemy in any invasion attempt.
Seaford Martello Tower

What is also obvious here is the appearance of railway tracks along the back of the beach.  These are a continuation of the railway sidings coming from Newhaven and I think this railway was once used to bring over supplies to build sea defences at Seaford, but strangely there is little information about to support this (can anyone shed any light?).  The filled in railway tracks do make for a more convenient path along here than the shingle that’s for sure.
Seaford Head

Eventually we reached Seaford, close by to where the more recent incarnation of Bishopstone station is (it was built in 1938 in a modest art deco style befitting the time, and precipitated the demise of the ‘Tide Mills’ station).  The walk along the promenade is very pleasant in Seaford and rather different from when I was a child.  Back then the effects of shingle starvation caused by the breakwater in Newhaven had resulted in Seaford beach being seriously shingle depleted.  This is now rectified by bringing in shingle from elsewhere to keep the beach topped up.  A couple of large monsters sit on the beach ready for action!  Opposite this bit of the beach is the striking building called ‘The Buckle’.  For many years this was a very popular pub, which brought a lot of life to this end of Seaford Beach but is now a private residence.

Erin and I headed into Seaford for a spot of lunch at this point.  Seaford has the air of a town that had something bigger in mind but never quite achievedit.  The centre of town is quite pleasant, especially around the church but the seafront is a strange hotch potch of different building styles.  Maybe it needed someone of the ilk of the Duke of Devonshire (as Eastbourne had) to develop the town further?  Still the café opposite Morrisons did us proud for lunch and judging by some of the other fare being consumed by other customers, a repeat visit may be in order!
Seaford View

Tummies full we headed back to the seafront and passed by the old Martello Tower, built for yet another possible invasion (this time by Napoleon).  However, it was built too late to be of any meaningful use and now serves as a local history museum.  It’s lucky it has such a benign use as the cannon which graces the top would surely have no deterrent factor for any would-be invader!
Looking Towards Brighton

Even at this late stage in the year the beach huts between here and Seaford Head were being used by many people enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.  The beach was thronged with what looked like geography students all standing around with measuring sticks and clipboards.  It made for an unusually busy scene for a November afternoon.
Seven Sisters

After admiring the beach and view back along the seafront we headed up Seaford Head.  It has been awhile since I’ve been this way and I was very surprised to see how close the remains of the old house at the foot had got to the edge of the cliffs.  The path used to pass up the right hand side of the old brick walls, but now although the old place is complete you can only pass by on the left now.
Hope Gap

The climb to the top of Seaford Head is quite steep, easily the hardest climb along the Sussex Coast so far encountered but oh so worth it on such a fabulous day!  The air was so crystal clear that we could see clear to the Isle of Wight, Selsey Bill and all points in between.  The cliff line along from Brighton to Newhaven walked on the previous outing was particularly clear.  On the landward side of the path golfers were out in force to play the epic looking 18th hole of Seaford Head Golf Course (well epic looking to me as a non-golfer…).  The tee is at the top of the Head, and the hole is at the bottom!  Hitting the tee shot on a non-windy day must be enormous fun, but on a windy day would I’m sure, be enough to tempt missing the hole entirely!  Alongside the golf course are the remains of little gun turrets constructed as war defences and almost completely hidden from view nowadays.
Seven Sisters

The walk along the top of the cliffs to Cuckmere Haven was an absolute joy.  The skyline is dominated by the Seven Sisters ahead, which were positively gleaming today.  This is probably the best loved and most well known view of the Sussex Coast and on a day like this it’s easy to set aside the clichés and enjoy it as one of the great views of anywhere in this country.  We descended into Hope Gap, but any possibility of walking along the wave cut platform into Cuckmere Haven were well and truly out of the question today as there was a very high tide.  We instead wandered the short distance over the hill to the coastguard cottages that appear in most views of the Seven Sisters.  This handful of houses must surely have one of the best views of any property in Britain, but at the expense of a very uncertain future as the sea continues to erode the gardens.  It is conceivable that in my lifetime they may disappear entirely.
Coastguard Cottages

At low tide it is possible to ford the Cuckmere River to continue the walk along the coast (and indeed I have done it a few times).  However, we had a date with the bus, even if it had been low tide.  After a few more admiring glances at Haven Brow ahead of us, we headed inland towards Exceat Bridge which remains the lowest bridging point of the river almost two miles upstream.  The path along the edge of the river valley is a delight (and very well used!) and the valley of the Cuckmere River remains as unspoilt as I remember as a small child when I would have day trips down to the beach at Cuckmere Haven.
Cuckmere Haven

The Golden Galleon makes for a very good refreshment stop if you are this way, but for us the bus stop outside was our last destination.  Despite the fairly remote feel of the valley there is a very regular bus service here as it sits between the major towns of Brighton and Eastbourne, meaning that buses can come as often as every 10 minutes and there is a 7 day service.  It is an excellent place for linear walkers!
Cuckmere Valley


  1. Some stunning pictures over Seaford Head and of Seven Sisters there! I've just written up a walk for Coast Magazine on Seven Sisters and you're right, on a day like the one you had it does seem like one of the 'great views' of the UK coastline.

    Your description of Seaford as having had something bigger in mind but not quite achieving it amused me - that's very true!!

  2. Thanks Jonny! We were very blessed with the weather that's for sure. When I saw how it was going to be that morning there was only one place I wanted to be - up on the cliffs!

  3. Beautiful photographs, it looks like you had a great walk with the lovely weather. I hope to go for another walk along the Sussex coast next year and I really hope the weather holds up for me too.

    East Sussex Locksmiths

  4. Thanks - most kind. I'm just waiting for the right opportunity to complete the walk - just the last bit from Hastings to Camber to complete! Hope you get as much enjoyment out of your walk as I did!