Beachy Head hikes from the bus
Based in the South Downs National Park, the Skoolie is perfectly placed for stomps in Sussex
The Skoolie Stays bus is the perfect holiday spot for hikers.
Perched above Eastbourne in the South Downs National Park, you only have to open your door and put your boots to find yourself hiking in some of Sussex’s most spectacular scenery.
This walk, or combination of walks, offers a range of options – all of which take in the dramatic cliff views, beautiful rolling fields, pebble beaches and beautiful village pubs in the area.
And, if you like the images later in this blog, we also run a landscape photography day, so you can join the clever fella that took the bulk of these photos and spend a day hiking and snapping with him!
Beautiful Beachy Head, Birling Gap and Seven Sisters hikes
Section 1: Skoolie Stays to Beachy Head
Leave the bus and cross over Beachy Head Road.
This is where you get to make your first choice. Option A is a one and a half mile trail that will take you down towards Eastbourne and below the Beachy Head cliffs. You then climb back up again to the cliff top.
Option B is one mile and avoids the steep climb back up to Beachy Head. It means you miss the view from down below, but it’s not as sweaty!
Option A: Skoolie Stays to Beachy Head via the beach (hilly, 2 miles)
Leave the bus and cross over Beachy Head Road.
Look for one of the many trails that will take you down toward Meads, on the edge of Eastbourne. As long as you don’t drift too far into town, you should reach a kiosk that sits at the end of the South Downs Way.
Follow Foyle Road, a narrow road to the left of the kiosk. This takes you down below the cliffs of Beachy Head. Eventually you reach a large playing field spread out on your right – the most unlikely place for a gathering of football pitches!
You can drop down on to the beach near here – perfect for a picnic or a spot of rock pooling (if the tides are right).
If you want to crack on with your walk, continue on past the playing field and start the short (but steep) slog up hill. There are a number of paths – but remember that your aim is to go up. If you see a fork that takes you on a flat plateau, it probably isn’t going to get you to the top any faster! Do remember though, the cliff edge is under constant erosion so take care to keep clear of the edge at all times and stick to the marked paths.
When you reach the top, give yourself a pat on the back and have a swig of water. This was the worst hill of the walk!
Option B: Skoolie Stays to Beachy Head direct route (flat, 1 mile)
Turn right at the Beachy Head road, crossing over where you can. Follow the path alongside the road until you reach Beachy Head car park and visitor centre. From here you can pick up the hike that takes you along the cliff top.
If you want to skip walking this part altogether – it’s the least interesting and if you have kids it can be a shame to waste their energy on this party – consider the bus to Beachy Head. You can also drive, but the car park is pay and display.
Section 2: Beachy Head to Belle Tout & Birling Gap (2.3 miles)
While you are catching your breath, have a wander around the war memorial and enjoy incredible views of the ocean. You can also head over to the car park and visit the Beachy Head Visitor Centre.
When you are done, join the grassy trail that follows the curves of the cliffs. It’s about 3.2km to Birling Gap and the views are stunning – steep white cliffs, crashing waves, the iconic red and white lighthouse down below and the original lighthouse it replaced – Belle Tout. If you are thinking it seems a little too close to the cliff edge, read on – it was even closer.
In 1999, Belle Tout, now a private hotel (we stayed a few years back and it was incredible) was taken apart piece by piece and put back together further back on the cliff face. The problem is that this part of the coast is eroding extremely quickly and so it is slowly creeping toward the edge again. We have already lost the path that used to lead up to it.
Eventually, the trail drops down to Birling Gap, where there is a National Trust cafe and shop (yay, refreshments), public toilets (yay, quick wee) and a bus stop if you want to cut the walk short. The bus drops off right outside Black Robin Farm.
If you are continuing on, walk through the car park and along the trail to the right of the toilet block. Turn left onto the stony driveway and follow it to the top of the short hill, past the houses until you reach a crossroad.
Section 3: Coast or field
Crossroads! You know what that means – choices! In this case it’s a choice between a quintessentially English village (complete with delightful pub) and some of the beautiful rolling hills of the South Downs, or the stunning Seven Sisters Country Park.
What it probably boils down to is whether you want a circular walk or an a to b walk with a bus back home.
Option one: The most direct route back to the bus (2 miles)
The easiest way to get back (aside from jumping on a bus) is to head back toward Belle Tout. From here, drop down onto the road below the lighthouse and cross over. There is a farm track that takes you inland. Just before you reach the farmhouses, turn right on the track. This will take you all the way to Beachy Head road and the Skoolie is just off to your left.
Option two: Back to the bus via the pub (4.5 miles)
At the crossroads, take a right turn toward East Dean, about 1 mile away, and walk across the field in front of you, straight ahead past the barn with the orange roof.
The trail naturally curves left here but continue straight ahead instead and join a new trail alongside the trees (on your right) that heads toward a flint wall.
Follow the flint wall to the left and then go through the gate into the next field. After about 25m, look for the wooden stile on your right and cross over it. Keep the wall on your right and follow the trail down the hill to a stone stile in the corner.
Cross over the stile to the left and follow the trail downhill through woodland. Go through another field and then eventually out of the gate and onto a small lane behind East Dean village green.
Onwards my friends!
Head out of the green and past the car park. Go left on Village Green Lane and, when you come to Gilberts Drive, cross over onto the footpath on the opposite side. Follow this path to the right, crossing back over when the footpath ends, so as to join one on the other side.
This new footpath is about a quarter of a mile. It curves around and you can see the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre ahead of you on the left.
Cross over and onto the driveway for Birling Manor. After about 25m pass through the gate on your left, into the field.
You stay on this trail for about 1 mile, along a flint wall and boundary fence. When the fence line ends, you pass through a gate next to a farm.
Follow the trail past the farm buildings, forking left across a diagonal path that takes you through two gates and into a field. Follow this trail, keeping the fence line on your right, for the next 4.5km until you reach Beachy Head Road.
Cross the road and follow the grassy trail to the right, parallel with the road. Continue along until you see the turning for Black Robin Farm and Skoolie Stays.
Now go take those boots off and relax!
Option three: Birling Gap to Exceat bus stop via Cuckmere Haven (4 miles)
Called by the coastline eh? Well we don’t blame you – this is a fabulous coastline and this next section is pretty special, taking you through the Seven Sisters National Park.
Turn left at the crossroads, following the signpost for the South Downs Way. This is Went Hill, the first of the Seven Sisters.
Sticking to the undulating path, continue along the coast, keeping an eye out for the remains of the 633 ton Coonatto on the beach at low tide. The ship run aground at Crowlink Gap in 1876.
Haven Brow is the last of the Seven Sisters hills and from here you drop down to the beach and river. Once you reach the concrete path, you can either turn left for the beach or right along the track. The latter meanders along beside the curving river, eventually bringing you to the Visitor Centre.
From here you will be able to catch the 13x bus back to Birling Gap or the 12 to East Dean (so you can still enjoy the village pub!).