South Down Way

Day Eight - 13th April 2007: Alfriston to Eastbourne – 13 miles

Breakfast was adequate but not overly inspiring, we had had better at B&B’s. I was rather disappointed with what the village had to offer. It is definitely a picture postcard place without doubt but this appears to come at a price, expecting visitors to accept lack of options and high prices. Although we had visited many, many times (we even got engaged there) we had never stayed or eaten there before and had really been looking forward to it, expecting it to be a highlight of the trip. As a consequence we left with quite a negative view of the place. Even so, it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm and our spirits were high as we realised that we were about to complete our very first long distance walk.

The day, as promised was fine and sunny. We collected our final supplies of the trip from the general store and walked down to the river. We left Alfriston and followed the River Cuckmere for a while before moving away from it to the village of Litlington and from there through the edge of Friston Forest and ultimately West Dean.

Take it easy - and we did!

Life is good - and it was!

High & Over

We stopped at the pond and had something to eat before we commenced the steep climb to the top of the wooded hill. The trees gave way to big open skies and the famous view of the Cuckmere meanders. We descended down to Exceat and partook of an ice cream as the weather was rather warm.

West Dean

West Dean steps

Seven Sisters Country Park and the Cuckmere meanders

From Exceat the SDW takes a silly loop up and over a hill before bringing you back down to the path you could have taken along the valley floor. No doubt they had their reasons but I’m blowed if I can see it. We now had quite a long and fairly steep pull up onto the first of the Seven Sisters. The views back along the valley, across the estuary and along the cliffs are stunning.

Cuckmere Haven

The roller coaster ride now began in earnest. My heel had been fine all day and we somehow felt miraculously fit as we chased each ascent and descent. We had used this switchback of a route for training whenever we had a walking holiday planned, but now at the end of a week’s walk we almost jogged over the Sisters, it was almost as if they weren’t there. There was a great feeling as we walked along. There was a nice breeze blowing but never too cold, and as we looked at the sea the sunlight danced merrily on the waves far below, how idyllic.

Seven Sisters - in front

Seven Sisters - behind

We decided to stop just before Birling Gap for a bite to eat and a bit of a rest. We had agreed to meet Rachel’s parents at Birling Gap but we were early having made good time from Alfriston so we could afford to soak up some rays before meeting up with them.

Although still early, we ambled down the hill and in the distance we could just make out their car. We got to the car park and made use of the toilets before walking over to the area where they were parked. They had taken the opportunity to have a picnic lunch and were busily packing everything away. We took off our packs once again and chatted with them for quite a while. They thought that we were looking pretty healthy and fit which was reassuring but the weather had been incredibly good all week hence the sun tan. Rachel’s dad had wanted to walk with us for the last couple of miles to the end so we left her mum and the three of us set off up the next hill.

Birling Gap

Beachy Head lighthouse

Belle Tout

Rachel’s mum was going to take the car and drive to the end where she would pick us up. It was good to have some company even if it was only for an hour or so and soon we saw Rachel’s mum drive by on the twisting road to Eastbourne. We soon made it to Beachy Head and so now everything was downhill. We ignored the draw of the pub and the ice cream vans and zig zagged around the tourists. The official route takes you around the cliffs and then along a narrow overgrown path before opening out onto downland again. Knowing the area, it seemed a bit of a weird way as there is a far more direct route on open access land but we assumed that it was utilising official footpaths. We could clearly see the urbanisation of Eastbourne in the distance and as we approached the final descent and crested the brow, it steepened significantly and we could clearly see the end. It was like the Promised Land opening up before us.

Eastbourne and the end is in sight

We could pick out Rachel’s mum, camcorder in hand as we descended to the plaque where our little adventure came to its end. The finish is right next to a café which was full of customers. One or two looked on rather bemused that a couple of travel weary walkers with large back packs had just arrived and being filmed to boot! We had our photos taken and then it was off to find the car.

Rachel's mum filming

Made it!

I have to say it did seem a bit of an anti-climax. The days walking had been good and straightforward enough but once we got to the end we just got in the car and drove off. There was no celebration, no drink, not even an ice cream. I think that is the problem with finishing where it does. Yes, there is a café but it is not really suitable for celebrations so you need to walk into the town centre, a good couple of miles away. In my opinion, far better to erect some sort of plaque on top of Beachy Head, it being a natural end point, plus it has the additional benefit that you can at least go into the pub, celebrate and have something to eat. Buses leave from outside and can take you straight into town and your onward journey - perfect.

Rachel’s parents live in Hailsham, about 8 miles north of Eastbourne, but they had very kindly agreed to take us all the way home rather than us catch the train. We arrived home about an hour later and thought back over the week it had taken us to walk the South Downs Way. We revisited our highlights and our ‘lowlights’ and bored everyone else senseless with our enthusiasm. But after some fish and chips it was time to say goodbye to Rachel’s mum and dad. Rather reluctantly, we had to get back to normality which was going to be difficult. We had thoroughly enjoyed the experience but it would be 4 years before we could plan the next one – The Coast to Coast.


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