For this week’s blog, we thought we’d share a walk to Beachy Head Lighthouse, which has stood since 1902 to warn ships away from the 600ft white-chalk cliffs that sit just behind it. It’s such an icon of the South Coast of England, with its red-and-white painted walls and large lens at the top.
The cliffs at Beachy Head have featured in many movie scenes, and often stand in for the cliffs at Dover because they’re usually much whiter and more pristine. Notable appearances include Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Quadrophenia and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
It’s off the beaten path, and you will probably have the entire walk to yourself. It’s amazing to walk underneath the cliffs at Beachy Head, and therefore see them from a different vantage point. It’s also great to stand on the lighthouse itself, which is usually totally inaccessible and cut off by the sea. Depending on the time you make the walk, you could be treated to some amazing sunrises or sunsets – both will happen behind or in front of you. Also, you might catch a seal or two lounging on the rocks near the lighthouse itself.
The best part is when you reach the lighthouse and have the far-ranging views all the way down the Seven Sisters cliffs, with the huge Beachy Head cliff in front of you and views back down towards Eastbourne.
HOW DO WE GET THERE?
The safest and most direct route starts at the very beginning of the South Downs National Park, in Eastbourne. Literally at the foot of the first climb onto the Downs there is a small cafe – turn left here and follow the path along till you reach a set of man-made steps at ‘Cow Gap’, which take you directly onto the beach. Turn right on the beach and start walking!
To get there and back, you’ll need roughly 2-3 hours, allowing for time spent taking in the scenery. You also have to be very aware of the tide times to avoid being cut off, as there is no way off the walk other than the steps back at Cow Gap.
WHEN’S THE BEST TIME/SEASON TO DO IT?
The walk is doable all year round BUT you must pay attention to the tide times in Eastbourne. This walk cannot be attempted at high tide, as the lighthouse is completely surrounded by the sea and the water-level comes up to the bottom of the cliff – making it impossible to walk the route at high tide.
We started out an hour before the height of low tide, and we arrived at the lighthouse with half an hour to go. This meant we had plenty of time to explore the base of the tower and the beaches around it. Timing it like this means you can take your time walking safely back to Cow Gap and up the steps off the beach.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE TERRAIN?
It’s a fairly flat walk there and back, but you do need your balance as you’re walking over very slippery terrain. The boulders, the stones and the wet seaweed make the trek tricky in many parts. It’s definitely more tiring than you think it might be.
The walk is at sea level all the way apart from at the very start and again at the very end – where there is a small climb back to the start of the walk – so the elevation is pretty tame while giving you breathtaking scenery.
The route takes you over flat sandy sections to large boulders of chalk that have fallen from the cliffs to your right. Much of the walk is over wet, slippery stones and pebbles, as well as rock pools that have been exposed by the recent tide moving back. You’ll have to be careful with your footing for most of the walk, as you really don’t want to twist an ankle out there!
WHAT DO I NEED TO TAKE WITH ME?
Definitely take a backpack with basic supplies such as water, a sandwich and some snack food (or a full picnic if you have the time) to cover the time you’re out there, and also to boost your energy if it does end up taking you longer.
Take a mobile phone, although the signal is often minimal because the cliffs block it out. Also take some good, grippy boots with ankle support, as you can easily turn an ankle over on the slippery rocks.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE TO DO IN THE SURROUNDING AREA?
There are loads of great things to do in the National Park itself, including mountain biking and hill-walking activities. Further along the coast, and actually from Eastbourne itself, you can do a number of watersports, including standup paddleboarding (SUP), windsurfing and sailing.
You might have noticed that we kitted ourselves out in Haglofs clothing for the walk. Check out those pieces and more right here.