September 3: South Downs: The Seven Sisters

Our final full day’s walking in the South Downs was over the Seven Sisters.

These are medium-sized hills/cliffs overlooking the sea between Eastbourne and the Cuckmere Estuary of predominantly grass and chalk. The iconic view of them is from the sea, but of course when you are on top of them you don’t get this view!

Our walk started in the tiny village of Friston, by its church and pond. The church is unusual as it has a Tapsell Gate – this type of gate swivels on a central spindle (rather than a fixed post to the side) – enabling easier access for bridal and funeral processions.

Friston Church

Friston Church

The pond, too, is unusual as it listed as an Historic Monument. To our eyes, it looked no different from any other village pond !

Friston Pond - An Ancient Monument

Friston Pond – An Ancient Monument

From the church we headed southwards to reach the top of the first of the Seven Sisters. Depending on which map you read the either the tops or  bottoms are named ranging from tops of Went Hill Brow and Baily’s Hill to bottoms of Short Bottom and Limekiln Bottom.

We had hopes of finding a couple of caches after the church, but our footpath went no closer than a quarter of a mile from a cache.. a bit to far to ‘cache and dash’ while out with a walking party!

The Seven Sisters are devoid of caches – predominantly because there is nowhere to hide a container. Just one field boundary, no trees, and very few scrubby bushes. The rest is well-clipped grass ! This meant we had a few cacheless miles and a lot of up and down! In fact, we had 8 ups and downs! This is because there are actually 8 sisters! Originally there were 7, but since they were named, erosion has taken place and an eighth is now as visible as the rest!

No where to hide a cache here!

No where to hide a cache here!

The Seven Sisters is part of the South Downs Way, and we fully expected to continue along the South Downs Way to our destination, Exceat. However our route took us gently down from the last top, to the Cuckmere Estuary. Here we admired the brackish water – where fresh and sea water combine – and the plants that survive there. Our nature investigations were marred by a large school trip excitedly passing by and the high jinks that happens on geography field trips!

Estuary Plants

Estuary Plants

Estuary Plants

Estuary Plants

The Cuckmere estuary has two parts. The first, a beautiful, slow-moving, meandering river, and a much faster straighter man-made channel. Both are retained, at the moment, by concrete/shingle flood defences. However with rising sea levels, these defences will soon be breached, and the decision has been made NOT to reinforce them. Thus, at some time in the future, the beautiful meanders will be lost forever.

Cuckmere Estuary

Cuckmere Estuary

The chalk cliffs form a great barrier for sea-invaders; the only weakness being the break in the chalk at the Cuckmere Estuary. For this reason, many fortifications were built in the estuary during WWII to provide some defence against an invasion.
The first object we came across was a ‘tank trap’ – whose fierce concrete teeth may well have slowed up a tank. It slowed us up, as we found a cache under one of the teeth!

Tank Trap / Dragon's Teeth (cache site!)

Tank Trap / Dragon’s Teeth (cache site!)

The second fortification we saw was a type 25 pillbox hidden behind some trees. There was a cache here too, but a very quick investigation yielded nothing apart from a bed of stinging nettles. However we were within half a mile of the walk’s conclusion, so while the rest of our party partook of the local tea shop and South Downs Museum, we walked back for a further investigation. This time after a little bit of a search we found the cache and more importantly did so without being stung!

Pill box.. but where's the cache ?

Pill box.. but where’s the cache ?

Our last cache was in a telephone box in Exceat.

We’ve had trouble finding caches in phone boxes before, but this time the useful hint meant we found it within seconds of squeezing into it.

One of the three caches we found

One of the three caches we found

This was the end of our 3 day walking holiday with, and with a bit of preparation, a bit of luck we were able to cache while being led round one of England’s more beautiful counties. Our cache per day ratio was small, but still very rewarding.


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