At the National Trust hamlet of Birling Gap, the sea’s aroma sits strong in the air. From the top of the steps above the beach and its numerous rockpools, the views of the Seven Sisters and Seaford Head are excellent.
For many, these huge chalk cliffs are even more picturesque than the famous White Cliffs of Dover up the coast.
1. Walk the chalk
Leaving Birling Gap behind, a walking route follows the South Downs Way along the cliff tops. The chalk grasslands here are rich with spring flowers such as milkwort and round-headed campion. Look out for early Brimstone butterflies investigating the cowslips.
2. Water world
From the top of the first sister, look behind you for a view of Birling Gap and Belle Toute Lighthouse beyond, then continue along the South Downs chalk grasslands, cropped by grazing sheep. Keep an eye out for kittiwakes and fulmars, nesting on the cliffs, while at low tide you may be able to see the wreck of Coonatto, a Barquentine clipper.
3. Food at the inn
At Haven Brow, the seventh sister, head inland from Cuckmere Haven, rumoured to be a former smugglers’ landing site. The area is strewed with wildlife-rich watering holes, from oxbow lakes and water meadows to the River Cuckmere, snaking through the wide flood plain to the English Channel. There is also a network of saline lagoons that attract oystercatchers and little egrets. The valley is of historical significance, too, with a number of World War II pillboxes and anti tank defences, known as dragon’s teeth, scattered across the coastline.
Travellers can catch a bus back to Birling Gap from the A259. Before you leave, take advantage of the tearooms at the Exceat Countryside Centre or the nearby Cuckmere Inn just over the river – the perfect ending to a summer’s day walk.