Address: Beachy Head, East Sussex

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Beachy Head History

Beachy Head is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, giving spectacular views over the English Channel and the surrounding countryside. It’s 530ft above sea level and forms part of the South Downs in East Sussex, lying just west of Eastbourne. The ‘South Downs Way’ footpath, a path running west from Eastbourne to Winchester in Hampshire, 99 miles away, passes by. On clear days, from Beachy Head, you can see Pevensey Bay and Hastings to the east and Newhaven and Brighton to the west. If extremely clear, you can even see the Isle of Wight.

You’d think that Beachy Head was named after its location, but that’s not the case as records show it being called Beauchef and Beaucheif in the 13th and 14th centuries. The name then transformed to Beachy Head by the early 1700s. To the west of Beachy Head lie the ‘Seven Sisters’, a series of undulating chalk cliff faces. Legend has it that many years ago, seven sisters each had a house in the valleys between eight chalk cliff peaks. With Beachy Head they form a spectacular coastal view with their glimmering white cliff faces.

These cliff faces are continually eroding, albeit to a small degree, due mainly to the weather and sea conditions. It’s estimated that the cliffs erode about 6-9 inches a year on average. Every so often a portion larger than normal falls into the sea with the last occurrence being in 2001. This usually happens in the winter when the rainwater that penetrates the cracks in the headland near the cliff edge freezes and expands, causing the rock to break away. When this type of rock fall happens, the mass of rock that’s fallen on to the beach then protects the cliff from the rough seas and there are often no falls again at that point for about 10 years.

One of the main features of Beachy Head is the lighthouse. It was built in 1902 as an additional safety measure to the existing Belle Tout lighthouse, a few miles to the west. The Beachy Head lighthouse was built using a cable car and lines from the headland.

Perhaps the most famous historical event in the area happened in 1690 and was the Battle of Beachy Head, being part of the Nine Year War with France.

 

Beachy Head Visit

This really is a stunning piece of south coast land and if you pick the right day, and enjoy walking, you can have a memorable time. The cliff-top coastal walks are incredible and you can walk along the South Downs Way path.

If you just want to go to Beachy Head, there are car parks nearby and alongside the main car park is a pub and visitor centre. The paths are a safe enough distance from the edge, but near enough to enjoy the spectacular views. Careful if you take a dog as they can chase seagulls and forget the important things like staying on land! This is prime dog walking country though and it’s teeming with wildlife in the ferns etc.

It’s a place that gets hundreds of coach parties a year as it’s very much the British landmark. The visitors are catered for by a nice pub that serves food and is open all year round and there’s an adjoining visitor centre that gives much information about the place and surrounding area.

It’s known as a suicide spot and there are reminders with the chaplain’s Land Rover and the Samaritans sign. But with the stunning scenery, you wonder how many people took one look at it and suddenly had a change of heart! The visitor centre staff talk about the occasional ‘successful’ jumper, but you wonder if they’ve got that the right way around? The successful ones leave the area past the ferns, gorse, rabbits and foxes, with a lasting memory of the place.

If you want to make it part of a day out in the summer, there are beaches at Eastbourne three miles to the east and Seaford which is six miles to the west. From each, it can be a great walk over the headland to Beachy Head, then a walk back to the beach, even stopping off for some food. Brighton is further to the west and is about 15 miles away.

It’s one of those places that it’s good to cross off your list if you’re in the area, and it doesn’t need an energetic trip as it’s only a walk of a hundred yards or so from the main car park. There you’ll see various plaques and war memorials near seating areas and probably join dozens of people enjoying the scenery.

If you want some great views, get yourself down to the Downs!