The cliff-top walk from Birling Gap to Cuckmere Haven is one of the best clifftop walks in Britain. It is the walk along the white chalk cliffs of a section of the “Seven Sisters” (seven white cliffs linked together) on the south coast of England, just west of Eastbourne. The full route would be Eastbourne to Seaford.
There-and-back, two miles each way with some steep slopes.
These cliffs feature in some of the most photographed scenes that “represent England”.
The popular starting point is the National Trust car park (free to members) at the tiny hamlet of Birling Gap, just over a mile seaward of the village of East Dean. Avoid peak times as the car park and facilities can be overwhelmed.
There is a visitor centre here, a National Trust cafe, and well maintained toilets.
A short row of terraced cottages remains close to the cliff edge, but since we were last there another cottage has fallen into the sea as the result of erosion.
We walked along the clifftop with wonderful views of the sea, the countryside, the sky, and the clouds. The turf here is naturally short and comfortable to walk on and walkers are not confined by fences which constrain their journey. You can walk freely, more or less choosing your own path.
As an alternative to keeping to the coast all the way you can use the paths inland towards East Dean, for example, which allow you to make a triangular walk if the idea of a there-and-back walk does not appeal to you. After rain the steep slopes become slippery.
Risking the water’s edge route
If there is an outgoing tide, and only if there is an outgoing tide, it can be safe to walk along the water’s edge from Birling Gap to Cuckmere Haven, a distance of about 2 miles. It is important to check the tide tables which are on display at the head of the steps down to the beach at Birling Gap, or check here: https://www.tideschart.com/United-Kingdom/England/East-Sussex/Cuckmere-Haven-Beach/ The official recommendation is to allow three hours for this walk.
This walk should not be undertaken after heavy rains as these often precipitate rock falls which are an ever-present danger when walking under cliffs.
Nearby choices include The National Trust cafe Birling Gap, The Hikers’ Rest (next to the Tiger pub) in East Dean, or the ancient Tiger pub itself in East Dean, situated on the village green. We chose the last of these. This is a genuine old pub with a log fire in winter and low beams. They serve real ales and good pub food.
There is a cafe and pub at Exceat on the A 259.
Walkers’ Map – Ordnance Survey, Explorer Series, No 123, scale: two and a half inches to one mile.
National Trust Birling Gap website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/birling-gap-and-the-seven-sisters/
Extending the walk
1. One we have done was to start at Exceat which is close to the Cuckmere river and just off the A259 west of Eastbourne. There is a paying car park, toilets, a cafe and a visitor centre. From here you can walk west through Friston Forest to the village of East Dean then south to Birling Gap, then along the cliff top to Cuckmere Haven. Having descended to the floor of the valley head north along the surfaced path roughly parallel to the river to Exceat. Roughly nine miles.
2. An alternative is to head west from Birling Gap, cross the river Cuckmere and walk along cliff tops to Seaford Head above the small town of Seaford.
Possibility A: cross at Exceat Bridge ( 2 mile detour).
Possibility B: at low tide paddle across the mouth of the river with no detour. Conditions vary. You may be able to cross without getting your feet wet or the river may be fast flowing and deep and unsafe to cross. You have to make a judgement but you can find tide times in advance. Check here https://www.tideschart.com/United-Kingdom/England/East-Sussex/Cuckmere-Haven-Beach/
Beachy Head walks
Beachy Head itself is just a mile and a half out of Eastbourne and two miles along the cliff top from Birling Gap. You can walk from Eastbourne to Beachy Head, to Birling Gap, to Cuckmere Haven or to Seaford.
There are several car parks close to Beachy Head on the B2103. These are extremely busy at peak times.
David Roberts, 20 July 2020