Thursday, 11 August 2011

"I Come Alive Outside The M25"

Am oasis of calm and simplicity, what many of us city dwellers need right now. I don't have to explain why, it has been done elsewhere and I find the whole thing enormously stressful and triggering to the brain-toad of anxiety, so I won't.

Whatever the causes of strife and stress, there is indubitably a big bucks market in relaxation. But for those of us with a lot more common sense than cash, calm can be found in many a place - wherever there is something beautiful, some exercise or something to remind us of happy memories. These places are rarely expensive and I have found many in my home city of London (check out my museums posts for my winter favourites). In summer, the weather sometimes enables me to get into the old bomber and escape to the country.

Today, I'm blogging about somewhere free, bar travel and the price of water and sarnies. Well, not even water if you bring a bottle; they have taps in the visitors' centre. The freeness of the day adds to my feeling of peace and wellbeing, for as we all know by now I'm tighter than the cap on a Coke bottle and anything bargainious fills my tiny icy heart with joy.

Cuckmere Haven is part of the South Downs National Park, located between Eastbourne and Brighton on the South Coast. It is well served by roads and regular bus services, so makes an ideal day trip if you are staying in either of the bigger towns. Being protected, it has no roads and you can walk traffic-free from the car park to the sea (about 1 1/2 KM). The main part of Cuckmere is a valley bringing the river Cuck down towards the beach, with steep chalk banks on each side with more adventurous walks branching off. Originally Victorian flood defenses, the valley is now rich with common and rare bird life, cattle, rabbits and insects. In July and August it is relatively dry underfoot (there are chalk paths for muddy days and those who are less mobile) and offers a wide variety of walks from a gentle half-hour stroll to a full day walking over the famous 'Seven Sisters' chalk cliffs. I know I said exercise is relaxing, but this is me, obviously I went for the easy one!

You start off from the visitors centre, which has a basic gift shop, some exhibits that were there when I was at school and, more usefully, information on what to see that day in terms of nature (essential if you plan a more challenging coastal walk- safety information such as tides and weather are important if you don't want to get stuck!). For the basic walk though, you don't even need boots, I usually wear shell-toes being the confirmed urbanite I am and manage with ease upon my weak, milky-white pins. You can also hire bikes or even canoes, if such things take your fancy. From there, it's simply a case of crossing the road and following the path down the left hand side of the river. The easy walk is by no means solitary, but the combination of families, well-behaved dogs and the odd tourist is rather jolly. Unless a dog decides to shake muddy water all over you. But that only seems to happen to me every time I go there.

Along the walk, there's plenty to see depending on your interests. I like craggy, Gothic landscapes - but there's nature a plenty and frequent signposts to beauty spots and vantage points.

I like this bit, it's kind of ghostly.
Once I passed this strange and haunted gate thingy, I was starting to hanker for my lunch. I think this harks back to school trip memories and is something of a Pavlovian reaction; on every school trip I ever went on my two main aims were to get into the lunch room and then the gift shop first. How I ever got my GCSEs I will never know. Perhaps my mother bribed them with my vast collection of museum erasers and pencil toppers..?

The Seven Sisters
Anyway, my sister was having none of it, we couldn't open the sandwiches until we got to the beach. Which was only fair as she had made them and wrapped them up and so forth. So on we went. As we got to the salt-water-meets-fresh wetlands between the land and the beach (don't worry; the path is raised and dry) the combination of reds, greens and whites was amazing. Anyone keen on art or photography coming here should bring their camera or sketch book; otherwise great kicking-of-self will ensue.

I know not what these flowers are.
But they are rather funky.
The beach is rugged and pebbly - perfect for pick nicking and sunbathing. There always seem to be some bathers however the rip tide is pretty strong and the shelf uneven, so ankle-deep is the furthest I would recommend (and swimming is one of my few physical strong points). At low tide there are rock pools under the cliffs, too, fascinating stuff!

Imagine living there! What a view!
Pick nick time!
Part of the poignancy of the beautiful Haven is that it's been decided to let the Victorian defences gradually decay in their own time. This means that slowly, over time, the ground-level walk will be covered with ocean and a new inlet and wetlands created. So although it seems timeless, it will change with the tides, like all things.

Still, perhaps that will encourage a lazy walker like me to explore the mightily forested hillsides and steep cliff top walks the park has to offer in future.


  1. That looks lovely! We all need a bit of break from London now and again. Apart from the police helicopters and the dodgy high street which I avoid it's pretty quiet round here and I can pretend I'm in the country most of the time.

    I loved "tighter than a cap on a coke bottle". You are funny. I'm glad I'm catching up at last xx

  2. Oh wow beautiful pictures and so serene.

    Looks lovely x

  3. Never even HEARD of it! I am ashamed! Looks fab!

  4. How peaceful amor, We all need to get away sometime. your are cracking me up with your funny comments.

  5. Very interesting points. Thanks!

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  6. Wonderful area we are blessed to have on our door step. I have to say, it's really nice to go for a cycle ride, on a warmish winters day all the Eastbourne, hardly a soul about, although does make ones arse as sore as errm a bloody sodding piffling sore thing!

    Thanks for the day out, if it wasn't for this post I wouldn't have had any fresh air today!


Let me know what you think!