Friday, 13 February 2015

Cuckmere Haven From Seaford

Martello Tower
There is nothing like a good blowy walk to freshen things up after Christmas and we struck lucky only a couple of days after the festivities when the weather provided just such an opportunity.  On canvassing the tribe they all seemed to want a seaside walk and so we picked walk 6 from vol 52 of the Pathfinder series ‘More Sussex’ walks.  I had a feeling that this walk would be largely dry and free of mud, an important consideration during the winter months.

Leaving Seaford
Being the Christmas holidays it was pretty quiet when we arrived at Seaford and we were able to park close by the Martello tower without any great problem.  This old building has had something of a facelift in recent years and now houses a local museum.  It is actually the westernmost of all the Martello towers built to help protect the south east coast of England from the threat of invasion during the Napoleonic wars (one of many threats that came to nought over many hundreds of years).  The day was quite bright and sunny but a brisk wind brought the temperatures down considerably.  It would definitely be a day to blow the cobwebs away as we headed towards Cuckmere Haven.

First Glimpse of the Sisters
Our first obstacle was to tackle the rather better than it looked hill of Seaford Head.  It always a little daunting to be faced with a hill at the start of any walk but in truth this one isn’t as bad as it looks.  Our biggest problem climbing it was actually the rather slippery mud, which made the climb like walking on a conveyor belt at times.  Add in the wind and we weren’t going to take any chances with getting close to the edge.  The cliffs here have been pretty crumbly in recent years and lots of material has fallen into the sea.  The path as a result seems to be getting ever closer to the golfers of Seaford Head golf course.

Hope Gap
At the top of the climb we stopped and briefly turned to look at the view.  Despite the season and the rather rough looking weather there was plenty of activity on the sea.  Conditions were clear enough for us to see all the way along the coast to Worthing and beyond, with Highdown Hill looking particularly prominent on the horizon.  The view along the coast from here is one of my favourite in all of Sussex, but the wind kept me from enjoying it for too long.  My eager girls were excited about moving onwards to the beach at Cuckmere Haven and so I had to catch up a bit.

Cuckmere Haven
The walk along the top of the cliffs from Seaford Head to Cuckmere Have is largely unremarkable except for two things:  The view towards the iconic Seven Sisters cliffs becomes better and better as you head eastwards and the profile of the cliffs is ever changing.  Features that I remember from walking these cliffs for 40+ years have disappeared in many cases and in others are endangered by the march of erosion.  Earthworks associated with an Iron Age hillfort on Seaford Head have largely disappeared while the valley of Hope Bottom now looks very much more truncated than the one I remember from years ago.  I imagine at least 20-30 metres of cliff have been lost since then.

Seven Sisters
Heading down to the beach at Hope Gap was sadly a no no today as the tide was in and there would have been no wave cut platform to see particularly.  We climbed up and away to reach the Coastguard Cottages shortly after.  A view of the cottages with the Seven Sisters behind is surely one of the most famous views in all of the UK and probably the most famous in all of Sussex.  The truth is though that this view might not last much longer.  I am astonished that the cottages have managed to hold out as long as they have against the relentless march of the sea.  The sea wall protecting them has been breached a number of times and sooner or later surely the battle will be lost?

View to Windover Hill
We dropped down past the cottages and made our way to the shingle beach.  Cuckmere Haven is the only river mouth in Sussex that hasn’t been developed in some way and I have very fond memories of coming here for picnics as a child.  Most of the time I came from the bus on Exceat bridge rather than via the clifftop route and that gave us extra beachcombing time.

Ferry Leaving
 It wasn’t really picnic weather today but the girls didn’t seem to mind.  The roar of the waves, salty spray all around us and pebbles to chuck in the water proved to be excitement enough.  We lingered around on the beach for quite awhile, enjoying the best of the sunshine which accompanied us at just the right time.
Cuckmere Valley
Eventually the sun went in and the cold started penetrating through our coats and so we decided to head back towards Seaford.  The return route was rather easier than the outward one.  This took us along a more inland route heading up the cinder path towards Chyngton Barn, another favourite spot to park.  Our views were now largely restricted to northwards and the unmistakeable landmarks of Windover Hill and Friston Forest could be seen in the distance.  The path also has lovely views of the Cuckmere Valley, although the meander loops for which the valley is famous are not quite so visible from this angle.

Martello Tower
From Chyngton Barn (which was rather busier than Seaford) our route took us round the edge of the golf course back into town and to the Martello tower once again.  They were a few hardy golfers out although nothing like as many as usual, which was lucky for us.  As we headed in towards town we caught sight of the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry leaving for its afternoon sailing to France.  Looking at the choppy and very cold sea conditions I was rather thankful that it wasn’t me on that vessel!

Seaford View
We were most relieved to get out of the wind once again when we reached Seaford.  After a while it really penetrated into us and made for a less than enjoyable return journey.  That said this was the perfect tonic to a few days at home – a trip down memory lane in one of my favourite parts of Sussex, some much needed exercise and even some winter sun.  What more could anyone want?

Beach Huts


  1. Thanks for sharing Paul..... Brought back plenty of memories of past walks along that stretch of coastline.

  2. A wonderful walk this one, sounds perfect for the winter days. My favourite walk in East Sussex is Seaford to Eastbourne over the Seven Sisters. I think Cuckmere Haven is my favourite part of the walk though, beautiful, peaceful and unspoilt.