Saturday, 5 November 2011

#133 - South Downs day 1: Eastbourne to Alfriston YHA

Weather reports all week had conspired against us, and it appeared that the only part of the UK to see heavy rain, and miss out on the sunshine, would be the South-East of England. So, no guessing where we were heading! My mate, Jim, and I drove down to Eastbourne for a couple of days walking along the South Downs Way. Fortunately, though, we got a reprieve, and we had no need for our waterproofs for the entire weekend.

Parking at Holywell, on the very edge of town, where the urban sprawl halts abruptly beneath the steep eastern edge of the downs, we set off about 10.15am and were ascending the national trail immediately. With no chance to warm into the walk, I was soon struggling to get my second wind.

First landmark, is the famous Beachy Head, favourite haunt of those with suicidal thoughts, but fortunately for the patrolling clergy we passed, no work to be done today.

We made pretty easy work of the undulating cliffs and we were soon descending to Birling Gap for a pot of tea in the cafe.

Walking out of the Gap, we climbed up onto a series of cliffs known as The Seven Sisters; a rollercoaster of a leg where the best of the erosion can be seen, with large cracks appearing along the edge, waiting to be claimed by the sea.

We were surprised by our pace, and compared to our visit a couple of years back, astonished how quickly we were completing it. Soon, we were off the coastline, at Cuckmere Haven, and heading inland along the banks of the Cuckmere River to the Information Centre at Exceat.

From here, we left the South Downs Way to explore the meandering riverbank to Litlington. In hindsight, not the best idea, on this stretch, it is a particularly uninteresting section, with a faint smell of sewerage. The only “highlight” was a closer view of the white horse chalk carving.

We were obviously going to arrive before Alfriston Youth Hostel would be ready to greet us, so the difficult decision was made to divert to the Plough and Harrow pub. For those interested in real ale, a new company for me; Dark Star and a light little number called Hophead. For more, got to the Dark Star Brewing website.

Even with the diversion, we were still too early to check in, so spent an hour snoozing in the hostel lounge.

Today had been a day where we had passed a higher number of odd characters than usual, and this fact was compounded by the idiot we were sharing a dorm with that night. It soon became clear he was disliked by the people who ran the hostel, and as he stood in the room, preaching to a couple of unsuspecting Pole and South African in the dorm about the evils of capitalism and how he had been at the protests in London, this spurred Jim and I to shower, change and be heading back to the pub an hour before we had booked our table for dinner!

Dinner was excellent, and a few more Hopheads were sunk, as we basked in the satisfaction of deciding to make the trip south for the weekend.

Later, our room mates, plus a Polish girl, arrived for dinner to finish off the remaining legs of the sacrificed lamb, having escaped the clutches of the revolutionary bore. But it didn’t take long for the idiot to track them down half an hour later to discuss the cause of the industrial revolution. Our cue to retreat for a quick drink back at the hostel before one of us said something...

  • Date: 05/11/11
  • Region: South Downs National Park
  • Status: Equals
  • Description: Eastbourne - Beachy Head - Birling Gap - Seven Sisters - Cuckmere Haven - Exceat - Litlington - Alfriston YHA - Overcast, dry, 5hrs, 16.5km
  • Type of Walk: Personal Walking