Going to England is a little different than going somewhere like Nepal or Alaska where you’ll be constantly surrounded by mindblowing landscapes. The decision to go to England had nothing to do with natural beauty; however, in our first two days in the country, we experienced one of the UK’s most impressive natural wonders and we were not disappointed.
Seven Sisters Cliffs
Not to be confused with the White Cliffs of Dover, the Seven Sisters are a series of chalk cliffs along the English Channel between Brighton and Eastbourne. There are numerous walking trails along this section of coastline, but the cliffside walk between Birling Gap and Cuckmere Haven is arguably the most scenic. There is a pay-and-display parking lot (“car park”) at Birling Gap where you can get a sweeping view of the Seven Sisters to the west as well as walk down a set of stairs to the beach. We walked along the beach for a few minutes, which even in the winter was occupied by selfie-stick-wielding tourists and surfers. From the parking lot, you can access the South Downs Way and walk along the tops of the cliffs with incredible views in all directions. We lucked out with one of the only sunny days of our entire week in England as well as 50 degree weather in late January which was a small miracle. If you walk the full length of all seven cliffs, you’ll arrive at Cuckmere Haven where the Cuckmere River flows into the ocean at the far west end of the cliffs. There’s also a place to eat here called the Cuckmere Inn which is pretty nice and has great views.
Beachy Head is the chalk headland to the east of Birling Gap. It’s actually the highest chalk cliff in Britain (531 feet) and is home to two iconic lighthouses: Beachy Head Lighthouse and Belle Tout Lighthouse. Belle Tout has been converted into a B&B but unfortunately it had already been fully booked when we inquired so swing and a miss for us. It would be an unbelievable place to spend a night. The red and white striped Beachy Head Lighthouse (pictured above) is definitely the better looking of the two, but given it’s location at the base of the cliffs, it has not been converted into a B&B. Like the Seven Sisters, there are walking trails along the edge of Beachy Head and multiple parking areas just off the road.
Like we mentioned earlier, we struck out on having the opportunity to spend a night in Belle Tout Lighhouse. While this was a disappointment, it really wasn’t so bad since we got to spend two nights in the nearby village of East Dean. With a population of just over 200, East Dean is tiny, but what it lacks in size it makes up for ten-fold with character. The green in the center of the village serves as the hub for all activity in East Dean and is surrounded by a pub, a coffee shop, and a Thai restaurant (seems out of place but it was surprisingly delicious). There is also a house on the green that says it is the retirement home of Sherlock Holmes. Yes, we know he is a fictional character, but apparently the author gives hints that East Dean is where Sherlock settled down and spent the twilight of his life as a bee keeper. And who can blame the guy? He clearly led a stressful life and East Dean is just about as tranquil as it gets. The whole bee keeper thing is weird, but to each their own.
We spent our first night in the Tiger Inn in the Catherine room located just above the pub. Even though this was the first pub we visited on our trip, it was without a doubt our favorite. We’re not pub experts. In fact, we’re Americans, which by definition makes us pub novices. But the Tiger Inn is everything we had imagined when we planned this trip. They served traditional English pub fare, had beers on tap from the Beachy Head Brewery down the street, and had multiple wood burning fireplaces. If you stay at the inn, a full breakfast is included and their English breakfast is both enormous and delicious. There was always a small group of presumably retired English men standing by the bar talking about golf and who knows what else because they were speaking English-English so we could only pick out a few words here and there. The ceilings seemed as if they were built with hobbits in mind which added to the authenticity of the whole experience. Throughout the course of the day, several groups of hikers stopped by the pub to take a break from their walks. The pub also serves as the start and finish of the “Mammoth Challenge” , a 26-mile hike through the South Downs that stops at a few other pubs along the way.
In addition to the Tiger, there are a few other places to stay in town such as the Garden Room where we spent our second night in East Dean. It’s right around the corner from the green and slightly less expensive than staying at the Tiger Inn (although it doesn’t include breakfast).
*Irrelevant Sidenote: For reasons that aren’t worth mentioning, we ventured into the neighboring town of Seaford. It seemed like a perfectly fine town, but definitely not somewhere that tourists ever visit. We popped into a small sporting goods store and were surprised to see the guy working the register was wearing a New England Patriots hoodie. He was equally surprised to see Americans in Seaford. It turned out that he was a die hard Pats fan and he was extremely jealous that we would be in Boston for the Super Bowl the following week (who won that game by the way?). When I asked him how he became a Pats fan living in Seaford, England, his answer was so much better than I ever expected. I expected something along the lines of , “well they always win and Tom Brady is the best QB ever…blah blah blah”. Kind of like Americans who pretend to be soccer fans and wear Messi jerseys because he’s the only player they can name. But no. His answer was so much better than that. In a thick English accent he said, “When I was younger I used to play a lot of Madden with my friends and I’d always play with Corey Dillon and absolutely murder them with the running game…Corey Dillon was on the Patriots at the time…so I became a huge Patriots fan because of using Corey Dillon in a video game.” That’s either the best answer ever or an elaborate sales pitch to get us to buy something…which we did.
Next Stop: Stonehenge