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Does one swallow make a summer?
Lizzie's little leg stretcher.......
Alfriston - Jevington - Beachy Head - Seven Sisters - Cuckmere - Alfriston
Distance - 18 Miles April 22nd 2006
The long drive down to Alfriston confirmed how convenient the Kent section of the North Downs Way is for us but we fancied a bit of a change and wanted to see how the two areas compared after having now completed both Long Distance Paths so we decided to revisit one of our favourite places in the South East, Alfriston and have a day on the South Downs doing our favourite long circular walk, Lizzie's little leg stretcher - Alfriston to Beachy Head then up and down the Seven Sisters to the Cuckmere before heading back along the river into Alfriston.
It is possible to shorten the route using new open access or the traditional footpaths that cross the downs or even split the distance over a weekend by staying in Eastbourne or Alfriston overnight, but on a warm sunny day there is nothing better than going all the way around.
We had met a family in the car park at Alfriston who had decided to go out for a short walk but had no map or any real idea where they were. It isn't a particularly dangerous place and there are quite a few waymarked paths but it is still annoying to come across people heading off without a map or even a guide book to help them - a complete contrast to the group of young girls we met later in the day who were doing their Duke of Edinburgh Award and able to follow a map and navigate themselves around, in the past a group doing their DoE even helped us onto the right path!
With the sun warming up the air and glorious blue skies we left the car and headed towards the first climb up Windover Hill, meeting the family from the car park walking down the road towards the track that they should have been following. Lizzie was striding off setting a good pace up the hill, all of the walking in the last few months along the North Downs have certainly improved her fitness levels. The Long Man of Wilmington is cut into the chalk at the side of the hill but unfortunately not visible on this particular walk, although if you want it is possible to take an alternative path to the Long Man and then back up to the top of the hill. What was visible however made us realise how much better the South Downs are for walking compared to the North Downs, great all round views, big skies, paragliders adding a touch of colour to the sky as they throw themselves off Bostal Hill in the distance, no roads (or sounds of motorways) and no dark forests obscuring the sky!!! From the top of Windover Hill there are a choice of paths. We chose to follow the South Downs Way into Jevington. The open downs briefly give way to woodland as you descend into the little hamlet, past the church and tea rooms before heading back up onto the escarpment.
The sea and white cliffs we were aiming for were glistening in the distance. After Jevington the path heads towards Eastbourne and although you have to cross the A259 the roads are not at all intrusive, in fact the only motorised vehicle likely to cause problems are the golf trolleys on Ringwood Golf Course. Judging by the number of golfers searching amongst scrub and bushes well away from the greens for their ball it may be wise to add a hard hat to our gear list in the future! The path then aims for the highest point on the route at Beachy Head which offers views stretching along the coast towards our next objective the chalk cliffs of Seven Sisters. Here a number of alternative routes are available, the more direct heads to the top of Beachy Head where there is a car park, pub and public toilets while the more scenic route follows the South Downs Way along a little track that contours the southern side of Beachy Head with wonderful sea views before heading up towards the top of the cliffs.
No bluebirds flying over the white cliffs but our first sight of swallows zooming about in the warm air turned our thoughts towards summer. From Beachy Head there are a couple of hills to bounce over before you finally head down towards Birling Gap from where the Seven Sisters stretch out towards Cuckmere Haven. Birling Gap has a pub, which we would only recommend if you were desperate, public toilets and a car park.
On days like this the cliffs glisten in the sun, brilliant white against the blue sea - it is almost like they have been whitewashed. The Seven Sisters is a bit of a misnomer really because there are nine hills to deal with, again if the going is too difficult or you want to get back to Alfriston quickly there are alternative paths through Friston forest. Today Lizzie was striding up them as though they weren't there. The downhill's still jarred the knees though. About half way along the Seven Sisters we came across a very large cow, just sitting on the path enjoying the view out to sea, it was obviously too warm for grazing and it had decided that there could be nothing better to do on a day like this than sit down, enjoy the scenery and watch the world pass by. We tended to agree!
If time is on your side and you still have the energy it is possible to avoid the path which folows the river for 3 miles by taking the South Downs Way path from the top of the last of the Seven Sisters down towards the South Downs Visitors Centre, then back uphill towards Litlington before heading back down to the river 1 mile away from Alfriston but with only an hour to go before Badgers Tea Shop was due to close we took the easy river route making light work of the flat but winding path along the Cuckmere Valley back to Alfriston and the garden behind the tea shop, the end to a perfect day.