Best Walks in East Sussex: Days out in East Sussex
The Birling Gap to Eastbourne walk starts near to the iconic white chalk cliffs known as the Seven Sisters Cliffs in East Sussex and gives you the chance to experience one of the UK’s most beautiful coastal walks.
Often mistaken from the sea as the White Cliffs of Dover, these seven chalk cliffs and the country park around them are definitely worthy of a visit. And being a mere 90-minute train journey from London this walk makes a perfect day out to the coast.
By walking the 6.5km clifftop path that follows the South Downs Way from Birling Gap to Eastbourne you will see the Belle Tout Lighthouse B&B, the lighthouse at Beachy Head and the Royal Air Force memorial before arriving in the quaint seaside town of Eastbourne.
The walk along this part of the 160km South Downs Way is one of many enjoyable things to do in East Sussex and will take approximately 2 hours with no stops (4 hours for the circular walk).
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Birling Gap Beach
Table of Contents
Things to Know before you Go
Birling Gap Pay and Display Car Park
How to Get to Birling Gap
Car: Parking is in the National Trust Car Park (pay and display) or on the grass verge (free). Beachy Head Rd, Eastbourne BN20 0AB. If you don’t have your own car then Europcar is a good car hire company to use.
Bus: Number 13X from Eastbourne Pier or Train Station will take you to Birling Gap. Or why not reverse the walk and start the journey in Eastbourne and catch the bus back from Birling Gap. Check bus times before your journey as they are less frequent in the winter months.
Train: London Victoria to Eastbourne takes approx 1hr 30 mins. Number 13X bus or a taxi will take you the rest of the way. A good app to check train routes and prices is one from the Trainline.
These cliffs are crumbling, in fact, the cliffs are kept white due to the constant effect of erosion. DO NOT go right to the edge no matter how good you think the photographs will be!
Dress for the occasion; good flat walking shoes and the correct clothes for the season. In summer it can be very hot and sunburn can occur so wear a high factor sunblock and a hat. In the winter it can be wet and extremely windy – again DO NOT go near the cliff edge in this kind of weather and wear warm, waterproof clothing.
Beachy Head Lighthouse
Facilities on the Walk
Toilets are at the National Trust Birling Gap Tea Rooms at Birling Gap. Make sure to use them before you set off on your walk!
If you need a stop on route then try The Beachy Head pub for lunch.
The end of this walk is by the Italian Gardens on Eastbourne’s promenade seafront however I have mapped the route back to Eastbourne train station to show distances. You can walk to the town centre along the pebble beach and pay a visit to Eastbourne Pier before heading home or returning to Birling Gap.
The start of the walk to Eastbourne is in the National Trust car park at Birling Gap. Look out for steps beside the red telephone box by the row of coastguard cottages and make your ascent onto the cliff path.
You may want to spend some time on the pebble beach before or after your walk so remember to pack your beachwear!
Coastguard Cottages at Birling Gap
Continue along the cliff path to “The Lookout” and you will find Belle Tout Lighthouse. It dates back to 1832 and was partially destroyed in the war but lovingly restored in the 1950s. It is now privately owned and one of the most unique lighthouses to stay in the UK offering spectacular views out to sea.
The walk up to the lighthouse is quite strenuous however you can drive straight into Belle Tout from the road if you are a guest.
Belle Tout has been called “Britain’s most famous inhabited lighthouse” for several reasons. Firstly because of its striking location and use in film and television such as Harry Potter and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And secondly because in 1999, due to continuing erosion threatening the future of the building, the lighthouse was moved 17 metres (56 feet) back from the cliff edge.
The chalk from the cliffs gives the seawater a murky blue hue.
Leaving Belle Tout you will immediately spot Beachy Head lighthouse.
Beachy Head is the most well-known place in East Sussex but unfortunately for the wrong reason. This is the highest sea chalk cliff in England rising to 530 feet (162 metres) at its highest point above sea level and is also one of the most notorious suicide spots in the world.
More than 500 people have died at Beachy Head since 1965, and a dedicated 24hr Chaplaincy Team works tirelessly to help vulnerable people close to the edge. A sad reminder that in such a beautiful spot an act of absolute desperation can occur.
Beachy Head is the home to diverse wildlife, including gulls and many other species of birds, snakes, rabbits, badgers, foxes and my favourite – butterflies!
The red and white striped Beachy Head lighthouse became operational in 1902 after the Belle Tout lighthouse was decommissioned. It sits in the English Channel and up until 1983 was manned by three lighthouse keepers. It now attracts photographers eager to capture the perfect lighthouse shot.
Alternative Walks along the Seven Sisters Cliffs
If at this point the thought of walking all the way to Eastbourne is too much for you then maybe opt for the circular walk from Birling Gap to Beachy Head.
You will walk on past Beachy Head lighthouse as far as the RAF bomber command memorial and then turn around and retrace your steps back through the Horseshoe Plantation, an area of shrubland on the cliff path.
This circular route takes the same amount of time as the one-way route to Eastbourne; approximately 2 hours, is approx 6.5km long and offers stunning views out to sea.
Royal Air Force Memorial at Beachy Head
Walking back to Belle Tout on the South Downs Coastal Path
Birling Gap viewed from the cliff path on the return walk
If you want a longer walk, you could start the route from East Dean to Birling Gap before continuing on to Eastbourne, this is a 10km walk and will take approximately 4 hours.
You could break up the walk halfway with refreshments at the Beachy Head Pub set on the rambling South Downs.
Whichever walking route you choose make sure you add in some extra time to simply take in the beautiful scenery all around you. On a sunny day, the magnificence of the white chalk cliffs and the aqua water is simply intoxicating and you will want to take as many pictures as possible along the way, especially of the iconic red and white striped lighthouse at Beachy Head.
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