Monday, 4 August 2008

Seaford to Eastbourne – (East Sussex) – 03/08/08 – 13 miles approx – IVC.

Unlike my rehearsal along this route two and a bit weeks back, it was clear from the off that the weather this time was going to be a lot more unpredictable. Anyway given that this had been forecast, and that the cost and time required to get to Seaford is hardly a positive factor, a turn out of ten people for the first walk I have led for IVC was more than satisfactory. I had sent an email around the group earlier in the week warning people that this was a very demanding route, and no doubt that had (rightly) succeeded in putting some people off. However it soon became clear that this had also acted as a marketing commercial to others who were looking to test themselves.

So having made our way onto the cliffs at Seaford, it became apparent how strong the wind actually was, and I for one alternated between trying to lean sideways against it, and taking my hat off (metaphorically speaking, as a real one would have blown off) to the golfers putting away a few hundred yards to our left. However whist there were a few spots of rain in the air, I for one was still kitted out in shorts (albeit with a bodywarmer on upstairs). Everyone was going along at a fair pace though, especially as for this section before lunch I kept stoppages to a minimum. Thus by the time we had made our way inland from the beach at Cuckmere Haven, I sensed one or two people felt this was all fairly easy fare, even if I did point out we had only come a third of the way, and the real challenges were still to come.

So three of us decided to have lunch at the Golden Galleon, with two others furtively having their sandwiches in the garden, meanwhile everyone else wandered down the road to the Exceat tea rooms by the visitor centre of the same name. Unfortunately for me the pub had one of those menus which I didn’t really fancy anything from, so I resorted to what is my usual fail-safe, namely have the chicken (or Hunter Chicken as it was called). What ended up in front of me tasted like Lamb, and was smothered in some sweet, tangy and disgusting sauce. While I lamented the fact that Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares series had come to an end (perhaps this place can make the next one) I took some comfort in the fact that the Seven Sisters section would be enough to burn the lump out of my stomach before I chucked it up instead. So with just two of us left in the pub, and my (normal for IVC) lunch hour deadline closing in fast, we set off to round up the others, only to find everyone still settled into the Exceat tea room now ordering coffee’s. So by the time they had rolled out of that, lunch had been expanded to an hour and twenty minutes (a most definate rebellion in the ranks).

As we regrouped by the bus stop opposite, the rain had started to come down steadily, and en masse we all put our waterproofs on, which was guaranteed to dehydrate one and all on the hardest section ahead, going over the Seven Sisters. However having made our way back towards the sea, along the river and back up onto the cliffs, I decided I would have my revenge over the lunchtime extension. The fact is I am far fitter and faster than anyone else who had come along on the day. Therefore I made a point of shooting on off ahead at speed, up two of the Sisters at a time, and then waiting at the top for everyone to catch up. Thus as soon as the last one was back level, I would cheerfully ask “everyone feeling fit” ? and then shoot off again before waiting for an answer. Whilst that was a bit naughty putting everyone under pressure on the hardest section, especially given that I was the leader, I can’t pretend that the extended lunch break hadn’t slightly pissed me off. Thus by the time we reached Birling Gap I was told (with some justification this time) that everyone was having a half hour tea break.

So following what was for a change a really enjoyable cup of coffee (well at least compared to the dishwater I bought earlier at Victoria station), we set off again on the long climb up to Beachy Head. For my part I was feeling more confident about the weather with the wind having dropped, and I resorted to coming out of my waterproof gear again. Now the thing is I think what hits people hard on this walk, is not the section over the Seven Sisters as people rise to the challenge. However having completed that, it starts to become both mentally and physically draining when they realise that there is still another two and a bit mile climb up to Beachy Head, and then a long and not very exciting three mile descent down to Eastbourne. One person who had told me earlier in the day, how he was taking up walking to lose weight and wanted to be physically wrecked at the end of all of his walk’s, was by this point constantly asking whether each new climb was now the last one.

A fortnight or so back I had thundered through this section, however I had long lost any sense of urgency, especially as we all agreed that the 1855 train from Eastbourne was going to be the realistic option. So on the climb’s up towards Beachy Head we stopped and looked at the Belle Tout lighthouse that had been moved 55 feet inland in 1999 due to nearby coastal erosion. Also we wondered at the some newish, and some wilted, bunches of flowers that had been pinned to the fence. Surely people hadn’t ……….. ? Well by the time we noticed a few small crosses by the edge, as well as a gap in the fence that one could only describe as a diving platform, it was clear people had…….., that is had been using this spot to take the easy (or hard) way out.

So having made it to the car park at Beachy Head with the remainder of our group (one person having taken the bus drop out option at Birling Gap) not yet feeling the need to go over the cliff themselves, everyone seemed relieved when my fortnight prior recce, revealed that there were public toilet facilities available for one and all in the car park. Just as well given the effect running water has on most of us, as from this point the heavens literally opened. It didn’t matter how expensive your waterproof gear was (not very expensive in my case) you were going to get soaked. All of which meant that the three mile descent down into Eastbourne put something of a dampener on what was an otherwise good day. Thus by the time we made it into the station, to a man and woman everyone had both mentally and physically had enough, and been soaked through into the bargain.

So overall a good day, although my walk along this route two weeks prior in nicer weather and unburdened by the responsibilities of leadership, was the more enjoyable.

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