Tuesday 27 October 2015

Task 2: Walk dogs along the Seven Sisters, East Sussex

I'm going to start this post with a small confession.  I've lived in the Sussex area for a total of 38 years, and in all that time, I've never walked a single step along the Seven Sisters......that magnificent iconic stretch of chalk cliff coastline no more than half an hour's drive from our house. 

Many's the time I've driven along the coastal road from Eastbourne to Brighton and felt a real yearning to take a stroll there - and I'd go home and say to Andrew, 'We really must take the dogs for a walk along the Seven Sisters', a sentiment strongly supported by The Times, which regularly features it in Top Twenty lists of Coastal Walks You Really Should Do (see Number 8 below).  But I've never actually walked the walk (I'm beginning to think that this blog is exposing me as a hardcore procrastinator). 

I got chatting to my friend and shiatsu therapist Paulette about Task 2, and it wasn't long before I clocked the fact that Paulette knows the Seven Sisters well. She's also an experienced hill and mountain walker (she ascended Table Mountain with ease at the age of three score years and ten) and has recently become a valued member of a local ramblers club. Added to which she and I always have great conversations (a vital ingredient on a walk).  I signed her up for Task 2 before she had time to get out her woolly hat.

I must tell you about one slight amendment to this task. Technically I was required to take dogs for a walk. However I began to hear stories of sheer cliff edges without any protective fencing in the Seven Sisters area. I pictured Alfie our lovable but honest to God mad and hyperactive Labrador charging down a hill and launching himself into thin air.  Oooh.....it just doesn't bear thinking about. I didn’t have the same concerns about Mabel, who despite achieving notoriety for her Deer Hunter shenanigans recently, is generally much more circumspect in her actions (and crucially, deer don't usually hang out on cliffs).  So after careful consideration, Task 2 was duly changed to 'take dog for a walk....'  To ensure that Alfie doesn't feel completely left out, I've inserted a fetching pic of him for you.

Seven Sisters Day dawned last Friday. The weather was cloudy but dry and very still. I smuggled Mabel into the car whilst Alfie wasn't looking, and we drove to a small and ancient church in Friston where we met up with Paulette and her husband Jeremy. The exterior of the church was beautiful, and it nestled against a very striking backdrop of fields, sea and sky. We visited the interior of the church, and were especially touched by a 17th century monument to the Selwyn family, who had 6 daughters and 3 sons, but none survived infancy. We were glad to think that each of their tiny lives continue to be acknowledged hundreds of years later.


The churchyard boasts a very rare gate that rotates like a revolving door.  Jeremy decided that Paulette and I should test it out - and so of course we did. 

Paulette, Mabel and I bid Jeremy farewell and we set off across the fields towards the coast, whilst Jeremy drove to Birling Gap where we were to rendezvous at lunchtime. Twenty minutes later, I had my first sight of the cliffs. Wow - totally stunning!! Sheep were grazing in a very relaxed fashion just feet from the cliff edge (Paulette and I decided that evolution must have sharpened their health and safety awareness over many generations). An image of Mabel chasing sheep over the cliffs in a replay of Far From the Madding Crowd briefly popped into my head and I clutched her lead very tightly. But she continued to sit placidly by my side and  the views were glorious, I could have stood and gazed out to sea for hours.  


Here's the evidence that Mabel and I were both there, although Mabel is refusing to look at the camera (has she got her eye on those sheep I wonder.....?)

Paulette and I walked over three of the Sisters (NB we managed to continue talking the entire time, even when tackling a 1 in 2 incline - not bad eh) and arrived at Birling Gap at lunchtime. The tide was out, and visitors were strolling along the beach, studying the cliff face where a massive section of rock and chalk fell into the sea last year, and climbing over rocks to fish in rock pools. It's an idyllic setting and very sad to think that it's under such constant threat of erosion. 

Jeremy was waiting in the cafe (now run by the National Trust and very nice too) to meet and greet us. Amongst rich and varied topics of conversation over lunch, we talked about the challenges and frustrations of 21st century social media. On the basis of 'if you can't beat it....' we took a selfie. 

Paulette, Mabel and I then walked back to Friston. Mabel said that if Alfie was going to have his own photo in my blog, then she should have one too. So here she is, looking like a small sheep in need of a good sheering session.

A splendid walk indeed along the Seven Sisters - Mabel and I were expertly guided by Paulette, with Jeremy playing his part to ensure that Task 2 was completed in line with sixtyat60 rules. A huge thank you to both for a lovely day. I feel that I could now hold my head up in Sussex Ramblers society and I can't wait to return to those iconic Sisters for further exploration. And maybe.....just maybe.....we might try taking Alfie one day if a light sedative can be slipped into his breakfast bowl......

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Alzheimer's Research UK. For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/Vivien-Hunot  

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