Hiking the Seven Sisters Coast

Head to the southern coast, along the English Channel and you will find the Seven Sisters coast line.

Whilst Dover is probably the most famous cliffs in England, in my opinion, the Seven Sisters are far more beautiful – with miles of stunning coastal views. Come rain or shine, or most recently high winds, it is my favourite coastal walk for training, with an undulating terrain that has the ability to tire the most seasoned of hikers.

Located in the South Downs national park, the full route is around 14 miles and has several start points depending on the distance you want to reach and the ability of your walking group. Whilst I have not completed the whole route in one trip, I have completed all sections of the path, with some sections completed many times.

You can opt to start in Eastbourne, heading west towards Beachy Head and Birling Gap. However, I find the route much more spectacular when walking east from Seaford, as the view is much more draw dropping looking onwards at the cliffs themselves.

In my most recent visit, I introduced a friend to the coastal path for the first time. The weather was somewhat testing – with high winds and rain – however we embraced the challenge and resistance this provided in the uphill sections.

Parking at Birling Gap (a National Trust site, so free parking for members), we took on the section from here, west, to Cuckmere Haven and back. With a number of 40-50m ascents and descents, the route provided a great test for my stamina. We battled the high winds until we reached the cliff edge that takes you down to the Cuckmere River. At this point we did do a U-turn back to Birling Gap.

However, if the weather had allowed us to continue comfortably we could have continued over the river (tide permitting), crossing Cuckmere Beach and upwards to the famous Coastguard Cottages and Hope Gap, before reaching the Seaford Head Nature Reserve.

On a summer’s day this beautiful coastline has an abundance of visitors, from family groups enjoying the beach at Cuckmere, early morning dog walkers and hikers, and even tourists hoping to capture the beauty in a picture or two. At low tide, you have the option to explore some of the pebbled beaches, even taking the man made staircase at Birling Gap for great view from below.

Throughout the route from Seaford through to Eastbourne, you will find a number of facilities, with tea huts, cafes and even the Cuckmere Inn offering a variety of refreshments to fuel the gruelling hike, so you are never too far away from a rest stop or two. Though, if you are an early riser, like me, or if you are walking in difficult weather, it is imperative to bring a small backpack with a selection of snacks and water. The National Trust cafe, for example, will close in high winds or if they deem the weather too treacherous. So do keep this in mind.

As with any coastal walk, there is the danger of erosion. On many a hike, I have seen others taking chances by getting too close to the edge of the cliffs for the sole purpose to get a better picture.

The chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters are kept white due to the constant effect of erosion. Crumbling at an average rate of 60cm per year makes them very volatile, meaning it is very important to stay away from the cliff edge.

Enjoy the view, but be sensible.

Have you hiked this coastline? I would love to know your favourite section? Beachy Head? Birling Gap? Cuckmere Haven? Comment below!

Fancy taking on the hike? Pick up a map here

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