November 2020 and we are heading for another National lockdown.
It was time to cram in the last of my UK landscape photography and on the list was part of the South Coast.
I decided to head down to Eastbourne. Some of my childhood memories is walking the cliffs and the stories about the jumpers of Beachy Head. On my childhood visits, I would take the long hikes with family and pick up snails along the way, curious by them as they were cone shaped and tiny. On my trip as an adult whilst there was to be a lot of hiking across the cliffs, this was a photography expedition to showcase the best of British scenic coastal views…
I packed all my kit in the car or at least so I thought and began the hour and a half journey, whereby even the drive from Hertfordshire to East Sussex means you take in stunning scenic landscape views and you have to resist the temptation to continuously pull over to take photos.
I literally got as far as Lewes when I realised I had forgotten my Canon DSLR. Dammit…. But fear not, technology has evolved greatly and if you know what you are doing and you have the latest Apple iPhone technology, you can still take stunning shots, often they will also come out just as good or better than the DSLR.
So here I was with camera kit and a iPhone 11 pro but no DSLR…
The first thing I spot as I edged nearer to Eastbourne was in Polegate. A tiny village just outside of Eastbourne with a stunning windmill in the middle of a residential estate.
The Ovenden’s Mill is a tower mill which was originally built in 1817. It ceased working in 1943. The mill underwent restoration in 2004 and finalised in 2009. The mill, towers over the residential estate below at a height of 45 feet and can be seen very clearly from the roadside. You have to take a number of winding small roads into the estate to get close to it. As we are in a pandemic, the actual visiting of the mill and its museum was closed. As you can see from the photography, it has certainly been restored to its former glory and it is magnificent.
Back on the road I head straight to Eastbourne but more specifically, Beachy Head. Here I intend to get a shot of the lighthouse as planned and then trail my way down the South coast to Seaford.
The weather is clear blue skies and warm for November. There is a mild breeze but with not a cloud in the sky, I was truly keen to capturing the endless horizon over the blue British sea. Yes I said blue, which I know is highly unusual for the UK as generally our sea looks a mucky brown colour.
I follow the winding roads towards Beachy Head and the chalk landscape is becoming ever more revealing as I near the cliffs. In between the patches of green shrubbery, trees and grass you see chalk pathways and small areas of erosion. When you follow the long road of the A259 you see the Eastbourne Downs Golf Course and several layby parking areas. I pull into the one closest to Beachy Head lighthouse and begin my hike towards the cliffs edge.
The atmosphere is buzzing as people get out to enjoy the November sunshine and a socially distance walk over the clifftops. Overhead is a spitfire practicing to be ready for its flyby on Armistice Day. I stop and watch as it loops the loop and maneuvers through the blue sky with the sun glinting off it’s wings. I try and capture this on video but it is so high up, an iPhone, simply cannot focus in.
I continue towards the cliffs edge and take in the stunning view. As you can see from the title photograph, the sun was strong, the sea is blue and I managed to capture a lone sailboat in the vastness of the English Channel.
There are a few things you should know if you don’t already, about Beachy Head.
There are no safety fences on the edge of the clifftops and the cliffs show obvious signs of erosion. The site itself has been a notorious spot for suicides for centuries. This is due to its height and the fact that if the tide is in, the jumpers plunge hard into the rocky sea filled terrain below and will usually be dragged out to sea. The waves do crash hard against the cliffs when the tide is in and this is exacerbated in stormier conditions and adds to the erosion and weathering.
There is also an interesting history beyond the suicide reputation that dogs Beachy Head and it appears there is a French link to the name that dates back as far as 1274. Beauchef was the original name for these cliffs until 1317 which was a changed use of the french word that means Beautiful headland (Beau chef). After 1724 it was known as it is today, Beachy Head.
The coast line has been the subject of many discoveries from fossils to a Roman woman of Sub-Saharan African origin that dated back to 200-250 CE and this specific discovery was made in the 1950’s.
There is also the famous Lighthouse, though you will note there are at least 2 along these clifftops. The most prominent one is the actual Beachy head lighthouse which stands in the sea in stark red and white uniform, surrounded by jagged rocks. Now, I am not great with heights but as you will see from the video, I will push my limits to capture shots. There was a lot of nerves and commando crawling involved and I was petrified of either going over the edge head of heels or dropping my iPhone, but there you have it, I successful managed to avoid both and bring you a stunning view, that shows the intensity of the sun, the clear blue skies above me with the ripples of the waves and the sun glinting into an endless horizon.
The image above has had a little photoshop adjustment to enhance the colours and detail and nothing more, but it is certainly natural art.
After a good walk along the cliff tops and taking in the view, it was time to head on a little bit down the road and get on the pebbled beach at Birling Gap. Here you have two choices. You can take a walk along the pebbled and rocky shoreline or you can hike more of the clifftops either way. I chose the pebbled beach and to get some shoreline captures, whilst taking in the November sunshine.
Birling Gap and The Seven Sisters is part of the National Trust and as well as covering a vast part of the South Downs and the South Downs National Park, it is rich in history. It is part of recent activities of the Seven Sisters Archaeology Project who have been uncovering more historical facts about this fascinating and impressive landmark.
The lighthouse you can see in my capture is in fact a B&B. The name of this quirky B&B that is nestled between Beachy head and Birling Gap is the Belle Tout Lighthouse. It was erected in 1832 was decomissioned by 1902 and suffered destruction in World War II. It was then rebuilt in the 1950’s and is still popular to this day with holidaymakers and tourists, and you can see why. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to a view like this? Not only do you get to see the sun rise over a dramatic setting, you can watch it set and this is exactly what I went on to do just a short drive down the road.
Some of the discoveries made along this coastline, stretch as far back to Neolithic enclosures to the Iron Age and the Second World War. Archaeology of the Seven Sisters covers thousands of years, telling a complex story about this dramatic coastline.
There are steps to the beach area at Birling Gap and weather permitting with the tide out, you can enjoy a seat on the pebble beach, watching the waves crashing in, or take a walk beneath the immense and impressive Seven Sisters cliffs.
Armed with my trusty iPhone 11 pro, I made sure to use it to its full capacity to create some stunning shots using the resources to hand on the pebbled beach which I was precariously walking along, whilst giving my legs the ultimate workout, as the pebbles rolled about beneath my feet.
The waves were crashing in and thankfully I was wearing a level of waterproofing so I didn’t get too wet. There were a few surfers taking on the icy waves and enjoying the fine weather. People were sat socially distanced on the beach and just enjoying the sound of the sea and the smell of the salty sea air. This is a smell I simply cannot get enough of and it brings such an amazing sense of calm and relaxation.
Following a good couple of hours photography on this wonderful beach, it was time to head to my final destination. I was going to take in the sunset at the stunning Coast Guard Cottages in Cuckmere Haven, Seaford.
Driving towards Seaford, I stopped impromptuly on the roadside, unfortunately to the annoyance of a couple of drivers but my attention had been caught by this stunning view of the South Downs National Park, with the winding estuary and sloping green landscape being highlighted by the intense afternoon sunshine which was now high in the sky. The waters glistening as the estuary meets the sea. I can be forgiven surely for this stop?
Pulling into Cuckmere Haven, Seaford, it was around 2pm and time for a quick spot of lunch before taking a walk down the South Downs to the famous cottages and to take in more of this stunning coastline.
Walking down a pathway, I take a step over a stile and end up finding a bush still full of red berries and felt this was an excellent photo opportunity of natural artistic creativity. The lush greenery and azure sky really enhanced the white cliffs reflecting in the sea and the berries.
Walking on a little more through the field and I come to the Famous Coast Guard Cottages. These cottages which teeter on the cliffs edge and are st risk of collapsing into the sea below (measures have been taken to try and protect them) are used in a number of famous TV and Film sets. It is also a popular venue for photographers of all levels. What is not to love?
With regards to the setting of this place for the film and TV industry, it was recently feature in two Sky productions. The first is the series Devils starring Patrick Dempsey and the second is Blithe Spirit starring Judi Dench, Isla Fisher and Leslie Mann.
This unique beauty spot is also filled with amazing history and it was once used by smugglers from the 16th to 18th century. It is reported, that in 1783 two gangs of smugglers overpowered law officials by sheer weight of numbers and carried away a large quantity of goods. During World War II, it was a site of interest for the Luftwaffe who were trying to identify potential landing sites.
There has to be a spot for me to sit and take the most stunning of shots, like many fellow photographers and I found mine on one of the breakers. I even made a friend whilst sat there…
The following images and video, need no further words from me. They just deserve your attention and appreciation for the simpler things in life that bring immense joy and beauty…
With dusk now setting in, it was time for home following a magical day…