Sandwiched between Eastbourne and Seaford, Cuckmere Haven is an area of flood plains where the South Downs meets the English Channel – with stunning results.
The track snakes down the valley by the twists and turns of the River Cuckmere, which opens out at a shingle beach offering dramatic views of the Seven Sisters – towering white chalk cliffs that drop sheer into the sea. With historical tales of smuggling and the Luftwaffe, it’s a fascinating place to explore on foot. And the flat terrain of the fertile valley floor makes it the perfect gentle winter amble. It’s also great for birdwatching, so don’t forget your binoculars.
Start at the gate opposite the Seven Sisters Country Park visitor centre and cross the main road. Pass through a wooden gate and keep ahead along the signposted track – the river should be on your right.
Look out for several oxbow
lakes – u-shaped bodies of water formed when a wide meander from the main stem of a river is cut off to create a lake.
Continue on the track, ignoring another track to the left, and keep heading along the valley towards the sea.
The River Cuckmere has been forming the meanders in its shape since the last ice age.
During the Second World War, the Luftwaffe studied the area as they flew missions looking for potential landing sites for invasion. An extensive network of lights was laid out in the valley to fool them into thinking they were over the nearby port of Newhaven. Many wartime defence structures are still visible around the landscape, including several pillboxes.
As well as grazing sheep and cattle, you’re likely to see and hear plenty of wildlife, including herons, geese, little grebes and wading oystercatchers.
On the big screen
As you reach the mouth of the river you can walk on to the beach and take in the sea view. The peaceful Sussex landscape was once notorious for smuggling, and this remote stretch of shingle was a favourite spot in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The beach has also proved popular with filmmakers – it featured in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and recently in Atonement.
Over to the left are the magnificent chalky faces of the Seven Sisters. If you’ve got plenty of time (and energy), you can follow the South Downs Way to Eastbourne – a glorious undulating coastal walk on the Sussex Heritage Coast.
Once the sea air has awoken your senses, retrace your steps to the visitor centre and indulge in a mug of hot chocolate.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Seven Sisters Country Park is situated at Exceat on the A259. The car park is pay and display and it’s best to check winter opening hours. Trains leave London Victoria for Lewes, where you change for Seaford. From Seaford take the number 12, 12A or 13 bus.
FIND OUT MORE
Seven Sisters Country Park
The Golden Galleon
Exceat Bridge, Seaford
Welcoming country pub on the other side of the valley – hearty food and good beer garden.
The George Inn
High Street, Alfriston BN26 5SY
Choose from 14th- or 16th-century bedrooms.