Beachy Head

IMG_0971With my next cycling trip just under a month away we thought it an ideal time for a couple of days away in the camper van to test the systems. The Eastbourne area is so close but is one town we have never visited so after watching a walking programme about the South Downs Kaye booked a couple of nights stay at Black Robin Farm. This is a Caravan Club CL with 5 pitches that is located at the top of  Beachy Head and surrounded by chalk downs. On arrival we were greeted by near gale force winds and looking at the trees it was not hard to determine the prevailing wind direction up here. The CL was very pretty with grass pitches and the sloping ground was not a problem, all the amenities were present and the owners were very nice I do however have a personal dislike of the modern trait of having signs everywhere telling you what is and isn’t permitted.

After levelling up the van, sorting the services and a spot of lunch we decided to get the bikes out and at least try to pedal the short distance to Beachy Head and with a very strong gusty wind on the beam it was not that easy to make headway. Our initial plan was a ride to the Birling Gap but with the strong cross winds Kaye opted for a quick look around the visitor centre and a return to the van. I decided to cycle down and recce the route.

From Beachy Head the road winds down hill to the Belle Tout lighthouse and then on to Birling Gap, the gradient is probably 4 or 5% but I did not expect to have to pedal quite so much into the wind and I was intrigued to pass a parked car displaying Beachy Head Chaplin Services, a reminder of one of the sadder reasons for which this Sussex beauty spot is famous.

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Belle Tout Lighthouse

Approaching Belle Tout I saw a constant stream of people up and down the trail emanating from the parked coaches so they could tick that one off the list. Belle Tout lighthouse was the subject of a major engineering work when in 1999 when  it was moved back from the edge of the cliff 19 metres using beams and jacks and as the script reads “The site should now be safe for many years and has been designed to enable further moves as and when they are required” although quite where it would move to I do not know . Birling Gap was busy, the car park heaving with cars and coaches and children going wild so this was a good reason to turn around and cycle back up the hill or should I say get blown up the hill, the tailwind certainly made it easy. Getting back to the van the kettle was on and over tea and cookies tomorrows assault on Eastbourne was planned.

Tuesday was forecast to be cloudy with light winds so when we awoke to sunshine we decided to leave early and cycle to Birling Gap and spend the afternoon in Eastbourne. Not really sure how Kayes back and leg would stand up to the hills we had the option of a bus service to fall back on.

The Beachy Head visitor centre was our first port of call and gave a splendid overview and history of the area, the site of the RAF memorial to Bomber Command is just across the road and was already attracting tourists.

The downhill run to Birling Gap was a lot quicker with just gravity and no headwind, our early start got us there before the massed hoards of coaches and school trips and once again the visitor centre provided all the information on the area, it is amazing to see the time dated photographs of the cliffs and the erosion that has taken place over time and the houses reclaimed by the sea. I am always impressed by the volunteers who staff these National Trust treasures with endless enthusiasm to share their  knowledge, they must be the Trusts biggest asset.

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National Trust Cafe, Birling Gap

After the obligatory cyclists coffee and cake we returned through East Dean and then the  A259, I was a bit concerned when we turned on to the main road and saw the uphill gradient but Kaye to my surprise just selected a low gear and plodded to the top without stopping so after a lunch stop back at the van she was ready to take the bike to Eastbourne.

So again from the top of Beachy Head it was downhill, this time to Eastbourne unfortunately in more ways than one. On the descent we were overtaken by a very shiny open top bus that looked fresh from the paint shop but it was not quite warm enough to entice the tourists upstairs and the lower deck was packed with people enjoying the ride. Our first impressions of Eastbourne were of lots of empty apartments, houses, parking spaces and residential homes but the seafront at least had lots of people promenading and enjoying the Spring sunshine just a shame that even the beach huts were a very uniform bland plastic, the local traders also seem to be missing a trick as nowhere was open to relieve the willing tourist of a shilling or two.

Sadly Eastbourne fuelled my hatred for unwelcome signs, it would probably be quicker to put up signs telling you what is permitted than go through the list of exclusions and a personal irritation was the prohibition of cycling on the 6m wide promenade with a £500 fine, why they cannot accommodate cycles within this width is baffling especially as they the alternative is the main road that is not much wider and takes two way traffic. The highlight of our visit to the town and a spark to turn the heads of the older generation skyward was the familiar sound of a Merlin engine and the sleek lines of a Spitfire hugging the coastline on a low-level fly past.

The ride back to the campsite was a long twisting climb and again Kaye made it without stopping, her recovery back to cycling fitness is going well. A lovely sunny evening as the Easterly wind kicked in and picked up to complete a very enjoyable trip.

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