When you think of white cliffs the first place that undoubtedly comes to mind is the White Cliffs of Dover. Forget those for a moment though. Seven Sisters Country Park in Sussex offers similar beautiful views, with a great hiking trail at the same time.
The Country Park
Situated in South Downs National Park in Sussex, Seven Sisters Country Park is one of those places that, when you see it, you just have to stop and take it all in. Dramatic white cliffs offset a relatively calm and flat beach below, easily viewed from the sudden grassy edge above. It proves the beauty of the South Coast of England, reminding those of us here who are landlocked that our country really does offer some wonderful natural scenery. The place looks like a painting, and it’s no surprise that the directors of Atonement (based on the book of the same name by Ian McEwan), chose it as one of the film locations.
Although they can be visited at many points, the Seven Sisters are best experienced as a hiking trail. The most common trail goes right from one end to the other – Seaford to Eastbourne, or the other way round. I had the chance to experience the trek as part of a fundraising activity where we headed towards Eastbourne, however I have trekked it from both sides. I would recommend you visit twice to do the same as the views are very different depending on which way you are facing.
This particular trek is 13.6 miles long, so it takes a while! For those that are into walking it’s a really great excursion though, and most appreciated in the spring and summer months for that dreamy combination of chalky white cliff and light blue sea underneath the sun. It’s important to note that barely any of the trek is flat. The sisters themselves are steep, and going down is daunting at first. Sensible footwear is a must, as is plenty of water and protection from the sun. It was 21 degrees celsius when we went, but I didn’t notice I was burning until too late.
As well as the cliffs, frozen in time, there are several other points of interest along the way. The visitor centre is the main port of call and a must-visit for information on the area. Free guides are available and there is also a gift shop, plus useful volunteers with everything you need to know. You’ll also come across two lighthouses on your trek. The main one is the Belle Tout, where you can eat and even stay overnight there if booked in advance. I was more preoccupied by the much smaller, red and white lighthouse on the beach… Easy to miss if you don’t like cliff edges, but beautiful to look at and a great photo opportunity.
What You Need To Know
If you go during summer then remember to take sun cream, sunglasses, and a hat, as there isn’t much shelter! As it’s windy it can be quite hard to notice just how burnt you’re getting. Something else to be wary of is the steep drop down onto the beach. The cliff edge is very sudden and there aren’t barriers at many points, so be very careful on the walk! We spent the majority of the hike in from the edge, where you can still admire the beautiful views, only going closer to look at specific viewpoints.
I mentioned earlier that the walk is best done in the spring and summer months for the views, but another reason is so you can have a refreshing cool-down at the beach. There are two good opportunities for this – Birling Gap, which is located near some houses and a great place to get ice cream, and Cuckmere Haven, a floodplain with a shingle beach suitable for a swim.
There are several areas where you can park along the route. Eastbourne is busy, but there seemed to be a fair amount of space at the visitor centre. There is also a car park at Cuckmere Haven, if you want to do the trail from the opposite direction. If you’re just going to sightsee then you’ll find parking areas at points of interest such as the Belle Tout.
If you’re interested in hiking and want a bit of a challenge then Seven Sisters Country Park is really worth checking out. It may be tough at points, but those gorgeous views will distract you long enough that you’ll be able to make it, whether you go for the full hike or jump in somewhere in the middle. Just book in a rest day afterwards for your legs!
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