Today I plan to catch the train back from Brighton. I park near to Seaford station and walk through the town, down to the sea front, then along the promenade, heading westward.
As the crow flies, this would be a reasonable walk of 11 miles. However, my progress will be interrupted by the mouth of the River Ouse, leading to a detour into Newhaven to find a bridge across the river. So, I am anticipating a walk of 14 miles today. This is a long walk for me and I am hoping the walk will not be as strenuous as yesterday, when I went up and down, up and down, up and down – eight times – across Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters.
Yesterday, on the train, I saw kitesurfers along this beach. Today, with no wind, there is no sign of the surfers. There are young people around, school age children really, in large groups with a couple of supervising adults. What is going on? Why aren’t they in school? Then I remember. There is a strike of public sector workers today and some schools have closed. What a wonderful morning to have off school!
As I near the mouth of the river, I see the breakwater and the lighthouse on the other side, with a bright yellow ferry making its way into the river and heading for Newhaven.
This section of the coast is a nature reserve called Tide Mills. There are old ruined structures and a sign tells me this was a place where there was a tidal mill. When the tide came in, water entered lagoons and, when the tide came out, water ran out through water wheels, powering the mill. All around here was a village, with cottages housing people who worked in the mills.
When the mill shut down, the village simply died. All that is left is the footprint of ruined foundations.
Further on, I see groups of adults working on some of the foundations, as an archaeological dig.
I started my walking adventure knowing little or nothing about birds. Now I can name some common birds and can recognise when I see something unusual. So, I knew this little bird, with a white breast and black stripes across its cheeks, was out of the ordinary.
A signboard tells me this is a Wheatear. An unusual bird. Shy and rare. This one flits around with the sparrows. After much patient waiting, I manage to take a decent photo.
I walk through the ruins of the abandoned mill village, meeting a footpath that seems to double as the beginning of the Vanguard Way and the end of the Sussex Ouse Valley Way – both long distance footpaths.
This section of path runs along a waterway parallel to the Ouse. I am meandering, slowly, along the path when a voice says ‘excuse me’ in my ear. I nearly fall over with surprise. A very speedy walker – younger, fitter and faster than me, with soft walking shoes and noiseless footsteps, overtakes me.
‘Is this the path to Newhaven?’ I call after her rapidly disappearing back.
‘Yes. Just ahead.’
The footpath ends at a road and I am forced to walk along pavements, through a scruffy area of light-industry, past a couple of small railway stations, past the entrance to the ferry port, until I reach the bridge over the river Ouse.
I stand on the bridge and look down toward the river mouth. In the bright light, I squint past jetties and, in the distance, can see the mouth of the river with the breakwater and the lighthouse.
I remember the beginning of my walk, 14 months ago, when I set off down another river with the name Ouse – The Great Ouse River – and walked the 16 miles from Kings Lynn to Hunstanton. That seems a very long time ago.
As I walk up the west bank of the river, I notice a number of sculptures. They all feature the cormorant, the large black bird, with a long snaking neck, that has become a familiar sight to me along this section of the coast.
This side of the river is in the process of renovation. There is an odd mix of decrepid jetties and decaying wharves, alongside smart new housing and a landscaped walking route.
Eventually, I reach the marina area, with a multitude of boats of all shapes and sizes. I stop in a cafe and have a cup of tea and some cake. Now I head towards the Fort, standing on the hill, guarding the entrance to the river mouth.
There is a lookout station up here. To my left is bright blue sea. To my right is a sprawling caravan park and housing estates – the edge of Newhaven, a place called ‘Harbour Heights’.
If I look back, towards Seaford, I see a beautiful sight. There is Seaford with the cliffs beyond – bright white chalk rising up from a deep blue sea, topped with a green open space and crisscrossed by the footpaths where I walked yesterday. Lovely.
On this side of the Ouse, the path runs close to the cliff edge and some sections have crumbled away. I follow the pathway as best I can, heading along the green space at the top of the cliffs, towards Brighton.
I pass one walker and, much later, meet a man with a dog. Otherwise, I am alone for this, the best part, of my walk today.
This section of cliffs is rich in fossils and is designated as being of ‘Special Scientific Interest’. Later on I will see attempts to hold back the erosive effects of the sea. But in this area, the cliffs are unprotected and it is evident, from the vanished sections of footpath, that the edges are falling into the sea.
Looking back, I can see the waves washing away material from the base of the cliff face, where the water is a creamy blue colour, as it carries away milky traces of chalk.
Now I am approaching a built up area called Peacehaven. Bungalows and houses, laid out in grids, stretch towards the sea. There is a narrow strip of green land and rough roadway, between the houses and the edge of the cliff.
Below, I see a newly built promenade – a gleamingly clean, unblemished, wide, concrete walkway – winding around the base of the cliff, forming a protective buffer against the force of the waves. A flight of steps leads downwards. Although I see some construction equipment below, I see nobody working. Is it open? I hesitate. Should I go down? It would be nice to walk on that clean, flat surface, next to the sea, under the cliffs. But, how far does it stretch? After a few yards, the walk disappears behind the curve of the cliffs and I can’t see what happens next.
It is a long way down and I don’t fancy having to climb back up again.
In the end, I stay on the top.
Later, I learn that Peacehaven has an unusual and controversial history. The town appeared in 1916, almost from scratch, as a result of a land-selling scheme by a Mr Charles Neville. You can see an informal description of the history of Peacehaven at Peacehaven Online and a more considered history on the official Peacehaven Town Council site.
I read the information on the base and discover this monument marks the line of the Greenwich Meridian. Longitude 0 on the map.
This seems an important milestone in my walk, and I text the exciting news to my husband. He is in the middle of a busy working day and seems particularly unimpressed.
At the end of Peacehaven, I come across a nice pub and have some lunch. When I emerge to continue my walk, the sky had grown overcast and the clouds over Brighton look black and threatening.
Inland there are houses. I pass Saltdean and Rottingdean. There is a windmill on a hill. The path goes up and down across a gently rolling cliff top. Sometimes there are areas where you can access the beach and the sea below. I am never sure whether it is worth the climb down. Despite my recent stop for lunch, I feel hot and tired.
I reach an area of wide greenery and find another memorial. This one looks like a classic war memorial, but there is no inscription, no list of names, nothing to indicate what the memorial is for – or even if it is a memorial at all.
Later, I search the internet, but don’t find any information about this mysterious monument.
Hoping for better shelter, I follow a slope down to the shore and join a promenade walk, winding along the bottom of the cliffs, heading for Brighton. There are families down here. Some sit at a little cafe. Others walk, jog, or bike along the promenade. The cliffs above are crumbly. I see the occasional rock that has fallen down. I wonder how safe this walk is?
The skies become even darker. People begin to disappear. Now there is just the occasional cyclist, pedalling back towards Brighton.
I reach a marina area, new and modern. But I decide to head back up and climb up a very steep slope to regain the high ground, walking alongside a very busy road, approaching Brighton itself.
I was really looking forward to arriving at Brighton. I know this is a lively, vibrant city. But, I have to confess I am not impressed. The time is around 5pm. The promenade becomes very crowded. Despite signs saying ‘no cycling’ and a clear cycle route alongside the road, people cycle at great speed along the crowded prom. I dodge cyclists, joggers, families with pushchairs, people with dogs and old people on mobility scooters. I feel tired and harassed.
Everyone seems stressed and joyless. This doesn’t seem like a seaside resort. Just another big, busy, bustling city.
Then I see something that catches my eye and cheers me up.
Below is a young lad – maybe a student – sitting at a drum kit, beating the life out of his drums. A couple of teenagers, slightly tipsy, stand on the upper promenade and begin to dance and clap. The drummer finishes a particularly energetic session and, mindful of his audience, stands up and bows to the teenagers. They shout down, asking where the rest of his band are. He just laughs and continues thumping his drums.
Brighton’s pier is disappointing. It appears to have construction works going on. I see a large crane at end of it. Later, I realise it is not a crane, but a fun-fair ride.
I head away from the seafront, towards the station. The road slopes uphill and the pavements are crowded. I walk behind a group of school aged children, early teens, who walk too slowly but don’t give me enough space to overtake them. I am thoroughly fed up by the time I reach the station and very pleased to arrive back in Seaford, where I collect my car.
It is late, and I stop at a restaurant in Seaford for an evening meal. The food is surprisingly good and the service is excellent.
Miles walked = 14