Early morning the bandstand is silent with turquoise dome and silver spire. Benches surrounded by half eaten fish and chip wrappers from Eastbourne’s Saturday night out. I share the elegant promenade with rollerbladers in neon pink bikini’s, tanned retirees in pastel cottons and middle aged men speed walking while looking repeatedly at their watch with a serious expression.
Two swimmers far out at sea powerfully crawl towards the towering white cliffs of Beachy Head. Start of the South Downs way and a steep climb up. Humming of crickets matches the euphoric elevated feeling of this path like flying above the sea.
Indications of tragedy start to punctuate the landscape: first a Samaritan sign, then a stone verse from the bible and finally dispersed crosses for jumpers who took their lives here.
A passing lady “My gosh this is a very popular walk it’s never like this in the Downs”. “I suppose it’s the lure of the sea” answers her friend.
Two bronzed and tatted men run past with full Marathon de Sable style running kit, one has a stereo playing ‘Eye of the Tiger’ loudly. As they puff and pant past – each walking couple looks to each other and smiles gently.
Cuckmere haven seems to be an outing of choice for language schools: Japanese, Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish each in clusters incongruously close and occupying the space in their own distinct ways.
Elderly man converses with his companion “you know what I don’t remember my parents ever taking me on a trip….. we had to make our own fun – mostly playing in bombed out buildings” he chuckles .
“When you’re gregarious as a child it helps when you get older, young people don’t converse, it’s all texting – stuck to their screens”
“That’s why all these foreigners are taking their jobs”
Mercifully at this juncture the wind blew their conversation away.
Cuckmere river was straightforward to ford at low tide saving me 4km, the first time in the walk the route ended up shorter than planned.
Seaford beach draws into view as a huge curve of coloured specks, squealing kids and roaring jetskis backed by an even larger sweep of parked cars extending back on side roads as far as the eye can see. Placed incongruously in the centre of all this a Martello tower with its canon sitting on top pointing to sea.
On the South coast each unbuilt area divides clans of people as surely as a sea or mountain range ‘Oh no not Seaford,that’s simply dreadful’ one can imagine an Eastbourne inhabitant stating.
The scent of disposable BBQ’s, the sound of garden sprinklers, towers of Brighton visible beyond. Seaford Bay Exercise Park an optimistic name for 3km of featureless concrete with regular ice cream stands. Cote d’Albatre is in harbour at Newhaven, engine growling and trucks entering below her raised snout. She dwarfs the surrounding terraces.
Newhaven feels like it’s a necessary stop off for people on the way to somewhere else quartered by the river and the main road. The guest house grossly overpriced due to ferry terminal and very few options. Mean though the room is, the exquisite pleasure of being horizontal after a long days walking remains undiminished.