‘Any flying is good flying,’ the paraglider pilot told me when we both stopped to talk about his sport. He had landed below Beachy Head and was wrestling with ballooning fabric to fold away his kit, a task that looked trickier than packing away a tent or an awning. Jumping off Beachy Head, even with a paraglider strapped to your back looked terrifying to me as I peered cautiously over the 550-foot high chalk cliffs.
It was the hottest February day on record and really a perfect day for my first visit to Beachy Head. We had walked up the cliffs from Eastbourne, a town that turned out to be much nicer than I had been led to believe. On the seafront we had chosen All Decked Out cafe, after walking by a couple of seafront cafes that only provided disposable cups; nothing spoils a mug of coffee as much as that plastic taste! The friendly owner at All Decked Out not only had china cups but good coffee and delicious cakes and we sat enjoying these with a sea view over the shingle beach from their outdoor terrace. It was an idyllic start to a splendid day and hard to believe it was February.
We walked along the tidy sea front to Holywell, passing the Martello Tower on the way. Called The Wish Tower we learnt that this is number 73 of 74 Martello Towers on the south coast built in the early 1800s to defend the country against Napoleon. We also read information boards about the devastation of the bombing of Eastbourne during the Second World War. From Holywell we were soon in the countryside and the South Downs National Park. Climbing and contouring around the cliffs through yellow flowering gorse bushes and holm oak trees on paths through the cropped grass we met the happy paraglider. Every time we stopped to rest I could enjoy the stunning views back to Eastbourne with its shining white pier in the brilliant blue sea.
We found the sobering memorial to Bomber Command that reminded us how dangerous it was to be part of the crew in a plane during the Second World War. The memorial, unveiled in 2012, is dedicated to the 55,573 airmen who lost their lives.
At Beachy Head we could see west to Seven Sisters and the red and white striped lighthouse was far below us. The ideal spot to take your photograph on the edge of the cliffs was eroded, this is such a popular spot. We were not only lucky with the weather, we also had a close encounter with a peregrine while we had our picnic lunch.
Heading inland on the footpath towards East Dean, with views to Birling Gap. We turned right too soon, having misread the map, and so lengthened our walk by a mile or so as we had to retrace our steps. No one else had chosen this route and we were accompanied only by sheep in the green fields; this wasn’t the crowded south of England that I had imagined.
Back in All Decked Out the friendly member of staff remembered us as she served us ice-cream and we chatted about how good the walking is from the heart of Eastbourne. What a memorable day!