Beachy Head: A Well Kept Secret
Everyone knows about the ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ but have you heard about the White Cliffs of Beachy Head? No? I’m not surprised, it’s kind of a local secret and that’s what makes them so good.
Beachy Head features drops and views to rival Dover’s and best of all they’re much more accessible. Naturally they’re one of the best places to visit in East Sussex. In other words, Beachy Head may just be the most impressive chalk cliffs in England.
Before you visit Beachy Head, you’ll need a plan in place. It’s worth noting that the cliffs can be accessed from multiple points. They can even be walked from point to point. This guide will give you an idea of what you can see at each location and help you plan the perfect visit.
Visit Beachy Head
Firstly, Seven Sisters Beachy Head is located in East Sussex, a lush green county to the south of London. Home to the South Downs it is a location well known amongst hikers. Surprisingly its less well known to overseas visitors and day trippers.
Eastbourne is the closest town to Beachy Head. Southern Rail runs trains from London Victoria. The journey is around 1 hour. Next you will need to catch a bus or a taxi to the cliffs. The busses run on the hour and depart across the road from Eastbourne station. You can walk, however it takes around 1 hour. The walk is steep in parts and involves walking alongside the road as well as through parkland.
If you are travelling by car, take the motorway via Brighton. On the positive side, you will be able to cover much more of the cliffs with a car. Beachy Head is the easiest point to reach via public transport. It is important to note that a car or taxi will be required to explore further than this unless you are prepared to walk or experience long wait times.
With this in mind, plan your journey ahead to ensure the maximum time on the cliffs. The weather can be wild by the coast, so it is essential to dress appropriately. Additionally you should allow plenty of daylight to explore as the cliffs are not lit at night. Subsequently if you’re not familiar with the area, they are dangerous to explore in the dark.
Where to see the Chalk Cliffs
Plan your trip in advance to see the cliffs of Beachy Head in their best light. The chalk cliff coastline runs for around 13km. They can be explored in parts in a day, or you can choose to really enjoy a location or two and come back and visit another time.
The 4 key areas of Beachy Head
The cliffs are split up into four distinct areas.
- Beachy Head, which is closest to the township of Eastbourne and easiest to access via public transport.
- Birling Gap, has a fantastic look out and staircase down to Birling Gap beach. It is a favourite spot for a BBQ in the summer months as well.
- The Seven Sisters Coastal Park where you can enjoy a wonderful meandering river with cliff views either side and finally…
- Cuckmere Haven Beach, which is located on the border of Seaford and provides spectacular views back towards the Seven Sisters Country Park all the way to Beachy Head.
All have their own beauty and merit. Make the time to see them all if possible.
Beachy Head rises an impressive 162 metres from sea level. Remarkably it is highest chalk sea cliff in Britain. Certainly one of the most impressive things to do in East Sussex if not Britain’s south coast. Futhermore, it is a great vantage point to view the Seven Sisters. On a clear day you can almost see all of the way to Cuckmere Haven.
Flanked by green rolling hills and featuring impressive drops to the ocean below, the views from the peak of the chalk cliff will not fail to impress. Most areas are unfenced. Take care as the cliff face is fragile and can cave away easily. Stay a safe 1.5 metres from the edge This is not the destination for cliff edge selfie shots!
Bell Tout Lighthouse
Once a notorious spot for fishermen, Beachy Head is also home to the Belle Tout Lighthouse. This decommissioned light house that is now one of the areas most unique accommodation options. It is also home to the iconic red and white striped Beachy Head Lighthouse which is situated on the shore below. On very low tide days the light house can be accessed by foot.
Beachy Head Pub
The Beachy Head Pub is renowned in the area. They serve delicious pub style meals. If you sit towards the back of the pub you can enjoy the view of the rolling hills stretching out for miles. The Beachy Head area is agricultural in nature with acres of paddocks and flocks of sheep. During the warmer months you can enjoy your meal or a pint in the outdoor seating area. The area is known for being windy so even on a warmer day you may like to pack a windproof jacket to stave off the chill. The wind makes the area popular with paragliders who utilise the thermals. They are fantastic to watch.
Birling Gap is a favourite with the locals. Most beaches in East Sussex are pebble, but at Birling Gap, when the tide is low, expanses of sand are exposed. Now it isn’t an expanse in Australian terms, but for the locals it is a favourite spot to build sandcastles. During the summer months the beach becomes busy with people enjoying a barbeque on the beach. There are no fire restrictions and everyone is welcome. If you have the time pack a barbeque or picnic and partake in this local tradition!
Addtionally on very low tide days Birling Gap becomes a pathway to Beachy Head light house. The lighthouse is usually ocean bound, however several times a year the tide is low enough for it to be reached by foot. Local groups organise expeditions. The walk takes several hours to complete and is usually conducted of an evening.
Walk along the beach
Unlike Beachy Head, Birling Gap has a staircase leading down to the beach so you can explore the cliffs from all angles. The Birling Gap Beach features rockpools too which is unique for the area. At low tide they’re easy to explore. Moreover if you’re game to negotiate the seaweed covered rocks, you can wander out to the waves and go for a splash. Beware the rocks are quite slippery, so a good pair of shoes is required.
With your back towards Beachy Head and your head focussed down the coast, you are greeted with spectacular views of the Seven Sisters. Catch the glow of the warm afternoon sun lighting up the chalk cliffs on an afternoon. The usual white chalk turns a golden umber.
The visitor's centre
Lastly, the visitors centre is a great place for a hot drink or even lunch. Geologists have made predictions on the erosion of the chalk cliffs based on historical rates. There are lines drawn on the shop floor showing where the cliffs will sit at future dates. Like many buildings before it, the visitors centre is sitting on borrowed land and in a few short years it will need to be relocated too.
Seven Sisters Country Park
Unlike Beachy Head and Birling Gap, the Seven Sisters Country Park is a valley in between peaks. The meandering Cuckmere River cuts its way through the valley and provides a scenic contrast to the surrounding hills. If you’re keen on a hike you can walk from Birling Gap to the Seven Sisters Country Park, however it is also an easy 5 minute drive.
It’s around a 10 minute stroll from the carpark to the coast. The pathway follows the river. It’s worth noting that there may be water on the path. A pair of sturdy shoes or welly boots (gum boots) are handy during the winter months. The main walking path leads straight to the beach, however the Seven Sisters Country Park spans 280 hectares, so if you’re willing to head off track you can literally get lost.
The beach at the Seven Sisters Country Park also features some sandy zones like the Birling Gap Beach. Being a valley, you can get right up close to the chalk cliffs at the low level, which allows you to explore the rock face without worrying about falling rocks from above. The chalk cliffs are extremely fragile, so its not uncommon for small or even larger chunks of rocks to fall. Always be wary of this whilst walking near the cliffs.
The most scenic route to take
This part of the coastline is particularly dramatic during stormy days where the waves crash up against the cliff face in full view from the valley floor. Rug up and enjoy! Unlike Beachy Head and Birling Gap, the cafe is located in the car park. We suggest grabbing a take away coffee and taking it on your stroll. In the summer months a soft serve van positions itself in the car park on weekends.
We suggest that you follow the river path towards the mouth of the river and then enjoy the beautiful views of the cliffs. On a clear day, you’ll be able to just make out the buildings at Birling Gap.
Towards the east, the cliffs taper down to the valley and if you’re feeling fit you may like to ascend the path and view the meander below. The park is part of a working farm, so you may spot some sheep grazing on the rolling hills. If you do bring a dog with you, remember to keep them on leash at all times.
If you are keen for a hike, or would like more information on the archaeological and geographical history of the site, the visitors centre across the road is the perfect place to pick a local’s brain on the area.
To the west of the valley where the Seven Sisters Country Park lies, the cliffs rise again to form Cuckmere Haven. Not quite so high as the Seven Sisters, Cuckmere Haven is the most special location because of its name. It truly is a haven! It is a little harder to find, so use this handy map to help you find your way. Cuckmere Haven Beach is favoured by the locals as many tourists don’t find their way this far from Beachy Head, so it is lovely and quiet.
The coastal walk
There’s two ways to explore Cuckmere Haven. To the west is a coastal walk. The path takes you along the chalk cliffs around 2 metres up from the sea below. It’s an undulating and easy walk and a nice way to see both the water and the cliffs as you walk. The landscape is green and lush all year round.
The beach walk
Option two is to head east along an inviting country road. This route heads back towards the Seven Sisters Country Park. You will come out on the opposing side of the Cuckmere River. The chalk cliffs will be visible before you see the beach. The cliffs cast an impressive figure soaring above the coast below. Cuckmere Haven is the perfect spot to view the coastline as a whole. You’ll truly appreciate just how big the chalk cliffs are here and the length of coastline they span.
Cuckmere Haven village
Blackberries grow wild here during Spring and are ripe for the picking. The Haven – a small village of a life saving cottage and a few other scattered cottages sits on the hill just before Cuckmere Haven Beach. Take some time to stop and read the plaques on the houses. Several were settled by no more than squatters rights, with their ownership later becoming legal. The combination of shacks and cottages with English gardens is certainly picture perfect and one can’t help but to dream of moving in.
The river mouth teamed with the lower lying chalk cliffs make Cuckmere Haven Beach quite spectacular on a rough day. You can get up close to the coastline and appreciate the power of the water and the impact that it is having on the porous chalk cliff coastline. There are no facilities at Cuckmere Haven Beach itself however Seahaven is a short drive away.
East Sussex Chalk Cliffs
When it comes to things to do in East Sussex, it is hard to go past the chalk cliffs. From Beachy Head to Cuckmere Haven Beach, there are so many unique and impressive spots to view this magnificent coastline from. Unlike Dover which is well fenced and often netted for erosion, you can enjoy unadulterated views of the cliffs at Seven Sisters Beachy Head and its surrounds, making for an impressive and unique experience.
Allowing the cliffs to erode naturally lets the chalk cliff’s natural beauty to shine through. Additionally, they are spectacle in all seasons (hold your hat if you brave them on a windy day!). Our favourite time of day is the afternoon as the sun gives the most beautiful glow. Furthermore, if you are feeling like you’ve been here before, or are having a little de ja vu, Beachy Head was one of the standard wallpapers on Windows 7, so you may have already been enjoying the view from the comfort of your own home.
Allow a full day to properly explore the area. They’re best enjoyed at a slow pace and with rest stops along the way. The views and the pubs in the area are magnificent. It’s worth noting that if you come by car it is free to park at Cuckmere Haven, however most other places have metered parking. Furthermore you’ll need a different parking ticket for each area as they’re run by different companies. Make sure to bring some change with you as well!