Experience Travel

Sussex Heritage Coast: walking along with Bill Bryson

The sun sets on Sussex

The sun sets on Sussex  

A walk along the Sussex Heritage Coast offers views of endless land, rolling meadows and cottages to one side, and the limitless sea to the other

Travel writer Bill Bryson, one of my favourites, chose to depict the Seven Sisters (the Sussex Heritage Coast) on the cover of The Road to Little Dribbling, his second book on his travels across the United Kingdom. I had dreamt of the place right from the moment I set eyes on the book. When I went to London to do my Masters, I knew I had to take a walk along the Sussex Heritage Coast.

With some friends, I set off towards Seaford on an overcast March morning. The weather didn’t dampen our spirits; we sang and chatted merrily through the two-hour journey to the coast.

Having thoroughly read up on the place, I knew we had a long walk ahead. So, we had a hearty English breakfast at Sunny Side Cafe, Seaford. Then, we set course towards the Seven Sisters. I could barely contain my excitement as the white cliffs came nearer. The beach was endless and white, the water a dull bluish-grey, and the startlingly white cliffs rose in the distance. A cold breeze was blowing and some locals told us that we could see the coast of France in the distance on a clear day.

We finally began climbing the hills and there were signs asking us to keep away from the edge to prevent a gory tumble to the rocks below. Once we gained a bit of height, we had endless land, rolling meadows and cottages, to one side, and the limitless sea to the other. The top afforded us a view of Seaford and Brighton and its famous Ferris wheel in the distance. We trudged on, stopping occasionally to catch our breath and take in our surroundings. After quite a while, we arrived at the Cuckmere Valley, where the River Cuckmere flows towards the sea, dividing the Seven Sisters into two.


The crystal-clear water flowed swiftly, preventing us from crossing the river, though it was quite narrow. By now, the sun was peeping through the cloud-filled sky, projecting a spotlight on the sea as though waiting for the water to put on a performance. After satisfying ourselves with countless pictures, we walked inland in the hope of finding a way to reach the other side. The landscape was dotted with fluffy sheep. The only sound was our chatter. In rural England, the silence is often astonishing. We chanced upon a pub, strategically located by the bus stop, and were tempted to sit in and have a drink. But I was determined to reach Birling Gap and the Belle Tout lighthouse before it got dark and we continued.

Cuckmere Valley

Cuckmere Valley  

It was well into the afternoon. We took a bus to within a 1 1/4 mile distance of Birling Gap, and walked the rest of the way. On our walk, we came across the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, home to the largest collection of breeds of sheep in the world, I learnt. Further along the way, we saw a field with cows so well-kept that they almost looked shampooed and conditioned.

We finally reached Birling Gap. An old coastguard cottage was being restored (it is, however, in the danger of being destroyed as the cliff keeps receding). Next to it was a café (which I knew of, thanks to Bryson), where I ate a plate of scones, jam and clotted cream (when in Britain, do as the British). Down on the beach, a father was helping his son fly a kite. The setting was idyllic.

To the lighthouse

Belle Tout was a little further up a hill. A couple of our party chose to relax by the sea, while the rest of us went on. There is a special thrill in visiting places you have only read about. Belle Tout is an abandoned lighthouse now run as a bed-and-breakfast. Imagine waking up to the smell of eggs and coffee and the view of the vast sea! The tariff is exorbitant, but I am determined to put aside money and spend at least one night there someday.

Scones, jam and clotted cream at Birling Gap

Scones, jam and clotted cream at Birling Gap  

As we waited for a bus to take us back to Birling Gap, I looked around at the grey sky, the white cliffs and the little bit of sunlight reflecting off the green grass — it was a riot of colours! I could now rest. I had ticked the place I had dreamt of since before my England trip, off my list.

Breakfast platter?

    Since we had some time before the bus back to the train station, we stood on the pebbled beach and watched in silent awe as the deep orange sun disappeared over the horizon. Exhausted but happy, we made our way back to the hustle and bustle of London, so far removed from the calming coastal countryside.

    I had taken a walk along the Sussex Heritage Coast with Bill Bryson on my mind, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

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    Printable version | May 31, 2020 7:15:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/sussex-heritage-coast-walking-along-with-bill-bryson/article23902192.ece

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