Seven Sisters Country Park is in between Seaford and Birling Gap (near Eastbourne) in East Sussex and is about 700 acres of grasslands, chalk cliffs, coastline and Cuckmere Haven. It is a magnificent area where the South Downs meet the Sussex coastline and is part of the South Downs National Park (and owned by the South Downs National Park Authority). It’s also part of the Heritage Coast (an area of UK coast recognised for its natural beauty, wildlife and heritage).
If you’re exploring Seaford, Eastbourne or East Sussex, it’s a great destination and has stunning views, great walks and lots of points of interest. The area is named after the Seven Sisters cliffs which in turn are named Haven Brow (the highest at 77 metres and the nearest to Cuckmere Haven), Short Brow, Rough Brow, Brass Point, Flagstaff Point, Baily’s Brow and Went Hill Brow. This part of the coast was at one time joined to France but is now at risk due to erosion and climate change. Ancient mariners used to lookout for the distinctive cliffs to guide them home.
The River Cuckmere and Cuckmere Haven
The Cuckmere flows from Heathfield to Cuckmere Haven just south of Exceat and on the western border of the Seven Sisters Country Park. It’s an idyllic stretch of river which winds and bends its way through the Cuckmere Valley like a lazy serpent. There is an activity centre at the Exceat Bridge where you can hire kayaks, open canoes and stand-up paddle boards and take to the water to explore or relax.
Apart from being inherently beautiful, Cuckmere Haven has historically been a strategic location. In the late 18th century and early 19th century, smuggling was big business here at Cuckmere Haven and also at nearby Crowlink and Birling Gap. And it’s not hard to see why as these gaps in the cliffs must have offered precious access to land.
History, heritage and what to look out for
If you’re heading from Seaford, then before you get to Cuckmere Haven, look out for the iconic coastguard cottages and some of the best views of the cliffs in the background as you descend Seaford Head. There’s also a Cable Hut here which looks like a slightly odd building on the beach. In 1990, The Anglo American Telegraph Company bought this little plot to use for telegraph lines to France. It’s had a checkered history but apparently, the family that owns it now still use it to keep fishing and boating equipment.
Once you’re at Cuckmere Haven, look out for the two pillboxes and the anti-tank blocks built in WWII.
The ruins of Exceat
To the north east of Cuckmere Haven (on Exceat Hill), there used to be a Medieval fishing village called Exceat. It probably dated back to Saxon times and it is believed that King Alfred the Great used it as a naval base. After the Norman Conquest, it became an important village. However, the Plague and subsequent raids by the French meant that it had been abandoned by the 14th century. Today, there is a stone that marks the spot of the church but that’s all. There’s a small booklet in the church at West Dean that gives more information.
There are a series of memorials along the line of the cliffs. These start with the Canadian War Memorial at Seaford Head and then as you walk east, you come to the William Charles Campbell Memorial and the Roberston War Memorial Bequest Obelisk Memorial (both in the Seven Sisters Country Park) and they just serve to make the area all the more poignant. You cannot help but think of the lives lost in war and on the seas in an area that at times still feels wild and unconquered.
There are a number of different walking routes in the park, most of which are quite challenging because of the Seven Sisters’ peaks. A section of the South Downs Way runs from Exceat down to the coast and along to Birling Gap. For those that don’t know, the South Downs Way is a 160 km trail from Eastbourne to Winchester. It’s one of only 15 National Trails in England and Wales and is the only National Trail entirely within a National Park. The stretch between Exceat and Birling Gap is only about 6 km but it’s a challenging walk and you’ll be glad when you conquer the last of the Seven Sisters. There’s also a section of the English Coast Path which comes from Seaford and up and around Cuckmere Haven before following the same route as the South Downs Way to Birling Gap.
Other walks include a Beach Trail which includes an accessible Beach Trail and a Country Park Trail. The Country Park Trail takes you from the Visitor Centre down to the mouth of Cuckmere Haven and then up to Haven Brow before doubling back.
Flora and fauna
Seven Sisters Country Park has chalk grasslands, maritime cliffs, a river valley, salt marshes, a saline lagoon and the seashore which means it’s a delight for wildlife lovers. At the foot of the cliffs are a number of gullies where you’ll find all sorts of marine life, whilst on the beach, you might spot the bright yellow-horned poppy. Higher up, look out for the Adonis Blue butterfly or the bee orchid. The area is also great for bird spotters with a huge variety of species including grebe, curlew, geese, oystercatcher, kingfishers, swallows, martins, swifts, heron, little egret, shelduck, mallard, Canada geese, redshank and dunlin, to name but a few.
Seven Sisters Country Park is very proud of the Visitor Centre and rightly so. It’s in a rather beautiful 18th century barn and as you’d expect, there’s lots of useful information. There are a couple of interactive stations like the dark sky headsets which are fun. There is also a selection of local produce and arts and craft, as well as toilets. After (or before) a hearty walk, you might want a quick visit to the Grab and Go food stop or the café with a pretty walled garden.
Parking and transport
There is a main car park at the Visitor Centre at Exceat (just east of Seaford) and an overflow car park across the road. Alternatively, you can park for free in Seaford or at South Hill on Seaford Head, and walk from there. Or, further to the east, there is parking at Crowlink (not free). There are regular buses from Seaford and Eastbourne.
If you like this post, you may also like:
For more information visit: Seven Sisters Country Park