Peregrinations near Eastbourne September 2021

As we look to the promise of tomorrow,

may we never lose sight of the beauty of today – anon

We ended up staying in Eastbourne for quite a while. We had family for lunch on the boat, several lovely sails and fabulous outings on land. A few people who had planned on visiting couldn’t make it due to work and illness which was a real shame. So we had more time than expected on our hands, and our planned departure was delayed by very variable winds, no winds, winds in the wrong directions… and the internet is irritatingly slow, so we decided to head home for a few days. But all that said, we really enjoyed Eastbourne and here are a few highlights of our stay!

A Bus Journey along the Coast and back again

On the Monday we took two buses to Brighton, going through Eastbourne, East Dean, Exceat, Seaford, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Saltdean, Rottingdean and then we arrived at the Roedean Cafe stop where we got off just north of Brighton Marina. It was quite a slow ride, but we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery, especially the clouds of Cabbage White butterflies over the fields high up on the Downs and the sight of the waterways meandering through Cuckmere Haven down to the sea by the white cliffs. We bought a sandwich and picked up our car from the marina car park.

National Coastwatch station on Newhaven Fort, Castle Hill

We drove back along the coast as much as possible. We stopped off in Newhaven, and walked up to Castle Hill, where once stood an Iron Age hillfort; coastal erosion means this is now almost all gone. Excavations have also found evidence of previous occupation starting as early as 10,000 BC.

Now the hill mainly shows remains of various WWII army buildings but also a rather marvellous National Coastwatch tower. We had hoped to visit here, but due to Covid restrictions this was not possible. But we had our picnic on a bench enjoying marvellous views, walked along a precarious path where we found some very tasty blackberries, and saw a structure down on the beach which invited a visit.



We both really enjoyed looking at and reading about the WaveWalker, an 8-legged walking jack-up barge which operates bidirectionally, allowing the self-contained platform to walk over the seabed and relocate without floating.

Sailing along the White Cliffs with Emma and James

James and Emma

We had the most wonderful day on the Tuesday, when Emma and James joined us on Idun for a day sail. The weather was beautifully sunny, with warm winds and intensely blue sky. We locked out of the marina mid morning, and sailed slowly with the wind along the Eastbourne Bay seeing the hotels, the pier with its golden dome and the wheel.

The land began to rise sharply up towards Beachy Head, and when we passed the Head the wind picked up and we had to quickly abandon our leisurely lunch. From 3 knots to 7 knots in a jiffy!

Skipper and First Mate enjoying lunch on deck, Eastbourne in the distance

So we enjoyed a lovely fast sail past the breathtaking Seven Sisters Cliffs up to Cuckmere Haven, where we turned and James tacked back to Birling Gap where we anchored. There were plenty of people on the beach, in the water and walking along the cliffs. While we enjoyed our treat of Emma’s homemade ginger cake a paddleboarder went by, and told us there had been dolphins here yesterday though all we could see was black seaweed floating by on the waves.

The coastal erosion is quite ferocious but the constant landslips keeps the cliffs this chalky white. And the soft chalk forms narrow ledges in the cliffs which support many breeding bird populations, including kittiwakes, fulmars and peregrine falcons.

James enjoying being at the helm
A flurry of activity when the reefing lines got tangled

We sailed back near to the cliffs and tacked repeatedly close in to Beachy Head lighthouse to get some of the contratide, but in the end the engine went on to take us back to the marina. After a short walk along the pebbly beach to stretch our legs, we had dinner on deck in the light of the many buildings surrounding the marina. What a most wonderful day!

A Cliff Edge Encore by Land

The next day we decided to enjoy the same stretch of coast, but this time on land! We drove through Eastbourne along the famous Royal Parade seeing the hotels, the pier and the wheel again! and up the steep road to Beachy Head carpark. Walking down to the cliff edge Dominic said he remembers there being WWII remembrance plaques, and they’re still there, bringing tears to your eyes.

We had the most fantastic day. There was a bit of a haze on the horizon but we could see all the way to Brighton. We walked west down Beachy Head, took loads of photos of Beachy Head lighthouse with Dominic continually telling me off for going too close to the edge ha ha! and then continued up the next hill up to Belle Tout lighthouse.

“Ahead of you stretches a hazy infinity of rolling hills … it’s a world of simple, bright elements: green land, white cliffs, deep blue sea” – Bill Bryson

Steep cliffside down to Beachy Head lighthouse

Birling Gap ahead with its Visitor Centre and Cafe and then come the Seven Sisters Cliffs and Seaford Head

We enjoyed seeing yesterday’s anchorage by Birling Gap! And this time we could also enjoy a tasty pastie from the cafe and having ice cream on the pebbly beach. We also really enjoyed the Visitors Centre. For example we learnt that the coast here erodes at an average of 70cm every year. It also answered our question as to why it looks like there are eight Sisters, not seven. This constant erosion is the answer. As the chalk cliffs recede, the appearance and position of the undulating troughs and hills will change. So when the cliffs were named, there were seven sisters, but technically now there are eight. 

A lovely snippet from sevensisters.org.uk:

“Seven Sisters represents a fragment of largely unspoilt coastline amid a heavily-developed south coast. The fact that it exists at all as it does today should never be taken for granted.

Back in 1926 a mysterious group of property developers wanted to build a new town above the cliffs. A group of early environmentalists – including poet Rudyard Kipling, the mother of a dead WWI soldier, a famous pilot and a walking group – led a passionate campaign to oppose the plans.

Opponents were only given a month to raise £17,0000 – the equivalent of £509,000 today – to buy out the developers and halt construction.

It was an almost unassailable target, but the campaign, led by the Society of Sussex Downsmen, a walking group formed just three years before, proved to be successful and the land above the cliffs was saved for generations to come.”

Looking east from the first Sister, a long way and many hills to climb before we’re back!

We got as far as the fourth Sister before deciding it was time to turn round. The walk back felt longer than the walk there, and I’m sure the hills were steeper, and towards Beachy Head there seemed to be far more of them as well…. we were all pretty tired after our day of walking but what a lovely day it had been! (And what we need to do now, is to explore this coastline from the air….)

The Skipper declared he has made his choice: “this is without doubt the most beautiful bit of British coastline”.

People on the Move Hoping for a Better Life

When we were at Birling Gap we saw a Coastguard car going off with blue lights. When we arrived back to the harbour in the evening we were stopped coming out of the car park by police tape and a police officer saying we couldn’t go further. When we asked what had happened he pointed to a large Immigration Border Control van and said this is your clue. So we realised migrants must have been found at sea. There was a large incident room tent erected and hoards of Border Force personnel. They were all there several hours more, coaches arrived and later left. We hope all these people will be ok.

From the local paper: “Police said a group of people on board a boat crossing the English Channel were towed into Sovereign Harbour in Eastbourne by RNLI Lifeboat volunteers at 1pm on Wednesday afternoon. “Officers have helped detain those on board, to await the arrival of UK Border Force officials,” a police spokeswoman said. Eastbourne RNLI said 104 people were rescued, including a pregnant woman and 16 children – the youngest was aged about 18 months old.”

Rest Day

A day of catching up, doing laundry, and enjoying my Birthday Present!

A grey afternoon in Seven Sisters Country Park

We both felt we needed to drag ourselves out this grey and tiresome day, so we drove to Exceat where you can walk through the country park along the old meanders of the Cuckmere river down to the sea, just next to the last (or first depending on how you see it) of the Seven Sisters Cliffs.

I learnt another fun fact: During the Second World War, German bombers used the estuary at nearby Newhaven to navigate to central London. To divert them away from the capital, a fake town was built next to the Seven Sisters at Cuckmere Haven!

Chips and Ambling along the Eastbourne Promenade

A Sunday afternoon walk on the Eastbourne Promenade was today’s outing, and very nice it was too!

Chips by the pebble beach

We drove into Eastbourne and parked by the beach front Promenade and started our walk. Our lunch was chips, eaten sitting by the pebble beach overlooking the Pier!

Colourful planting by the Promenade near the Pier

We’ve seen Eastbourne Pier from the sea several times now, and I always thought it looked like a cruise ship from afar! It was opened in 1870 by Lord Edward Cavendish although it wasn’t completed until 1872. It has been swept away by a storm, and seen two major fires, but it is still here today. The pier is 300 meters long and built on stilts resting in cups on the seabed allowing the whole structure to move during rough weather.

Majestic hotels line the seafront
Bandstand Sunday afternoon concert

We enjoyed hearing a band playing in the famous Bandstand, were awed by the views towards Beachy Head, marvelled at the huge seafront hotels, danced with the music from the rockband in the pub, walked right to the end of the Pier, and thoroughly enjoyed the long walk by the whole of Eastbourne’s seafront (and then back again!).

Pevensey Bay: The Normans and the Romans before them

Pevensey Castle, built by the Normans inside the existing Roman fortifications

We’re very near major historic sites here, so drove up to Pevensey to have a look round. We had a lovely wander around the Roman walls and the Castle. The land here was once a peninsula projecting from the Sussex coast, so a naturally defensible site. It was first fortified by the Romans in about AD 290, who called it Anderida, and it was built as part of a series of coastal fortifications.

When William, The Duke of Normandy landed with his army at Pevensey Bay in September 1066 to conquer this land, he built temporary defences at Pevensey, probably within the Roman fort, and later a great medieval castle developed inside its walls.

The historian David Carpenter, Professor of Medieval History at King’s College says about Pevensey and the invasion that it was “very, very carefully calculated.” “It’s not so much Pevensey, it’s Pevensey Bay. What you have got here is that great mass of shingle beach where you can bring large numbers of ships up.” “Like 1944, D-Day, you’ve got to run them up onto the beach and that’s just what the Bayeux Tapestry shows.”

There is so much of the Roman walls left, and we walked closely by it, admiring how well built it is. And thinking about all those people who have lived their lives here; Romano-British, Anglo-Saxons, Normans.

Battle Abbey and the Battle of Hastings

The next stop on our history tour could only be Battle, where once stood Battle Abbey and where King Harold and William, Duke of Normandy and their many thousands of men held their decisive, brutal, daylong battle. It is said that William, then the Conqueror, declared the Abbey must be built in such a place that the high altar would be where Harold died. Battle Abbey was a memorial to William’s victory – but it was also an act of penance for the violence of the battle.

There is precious little still standing of the Abbey and the claustral buildings. But what there is gives you a sense of its scale and quality of build. We walked around where the abbey itself once stood; its wall lines are marked out on the ground. It would have been an amazing building.

We then followed the trail around the battlefield telling you how the battle was fought, and the many turns and twists and the tactics involved. It all gives you a sense of the enormity of size of the armies, and makes it all too clear in your mind of the absolute horror of warfare.

View from the roof of the Great Gatehouse, looking over what is now Battle School and further on, the battlefield.
The high south end of the east range of the abbey buildings reflects how difficult it was to provide a level floor for the dormitory on the first floor, because of the steep slope of the hillside. To the right the remains of the latrines.
The Harold Stone. William of Malmesbury wrote in his Deeds of the Kings of the English about 1125 that the abbey: is called Battle Abbey because the principal church is to be seen on the very spot where, according to tradition, among the piled heaps of corpses Harold was found.

Trying out our New Sail

Dominic admiring the new sail

We’ve long wanted a bigger downwind sail, and here it is, hiding behind the mainsail! We went out for a short sail to test it out and it worked really well and added up to 1.5 knots to our speed even in relatively low winds.

We sailed past Pevensey Bay, Normans Bay, Bexhill, Hastings and when we reached the National Coastwatch Station east of Hastings we decided we had better turn back. Unfortunately the wind had now changed to WSW which was directly opposite to our return path, so we had to tack aggressively. By 6pm we still had 3.5 miles to go, so the engine went on and we got back to the marina, through the lock and were moored up by 19.30. Not such a short sail, after all!

Emma and James Sailing with us again

On the Friday Emma and James came for another daysail. We again went east, tried out the downwind sail to begin with but the direction of the wind didn’t allow this for long. But we had a really nice day out at sea, a gentle sail and anchored for a long lunch near Bexhill. We tried out the hammock but it was a bit bumpy in the waves! We tried it again later, in the marina, and this was a much more comfortable experience!

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