It took me a while to realise that I was an outdoor enthusiast. I have always loved travel, but my adventures in the outdoors were infrequent and usually happened as part of a longer trip to a far flung destination. I have done some amazing treks in New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Peru, and Sri Lanka over the years. But they were never the focus of my trip, even though they were often my favourite part.
I didn’t see spending time in the outdoors as something that I could do by myself, as the main purpose of a trip, or as part of my ‘everyday’ London life. It was only on the way back down from Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka, that my friend and I said to each other, ‘that was incredible, why don’t we do things like this all the time?’ After we got home we planned a weekend in Wales, to climb Snowdon and check out out the countryside on our doorstep.
Unfortunately, not too long after that I broke my ankle and was housebound for a couple of months. Being stuck at home, unable to walk, really brought home to me how much I love hiking, how lucky I was to be able bodied, and how much I was craving adventure. Perhaps looking for escape, I began reading adventure books (including ‘Wild’ of course, but also the amazing ‘Tracks’) which inspired me to research and discover the John Muir Trail (JMT).
As soon as my ankle healed, there was no stopping me – although I decided to look a little closer to home at first. Whilst doing an obligatory Google search I stumbled across the fantastic Saturday Walkers Club who list (for free) dozens of walks, all reachable from London in a day. I decided on a 13.5 mile walk from Seaford to Eastbourne, a coastal route that takes you up and along the ‘Seven Sisters’ and has been called ‘the best day hike from London’. It’s also the last stage of theSouth Downs Way, a 100 mile trail that begins in Winchester.
My friend and I planned to meet at Victoria station for a train leaving at 8.30 am changing at Lewes and arriving in Seaford at 10.00 am. Unfortunately towards the end of the week she got sick and wasn’t going to be able to join me. I debated not going as I’d never gone for a walk by myself, funny as that now seems. But I thought well, why not? And so on the Saturday morning I got up horribly early for a weekend and headed off by myself.
I was slightly apprehensive about a day of walking solo, especially as it was raining. However, once I got to Victoria station I started to feel a bit more excited and a little less conspicuous in my hiking gear. There were lots of other people, (including some other solo women) who were clearly headed out into the countryside and I felt like I was part of secret club. One that has walking sticks as its calling card.
I arrived in Seafood to what I believe are known as ‘bracing’ winds and a pretty wild looking sea. The sun started to come out and I was excited to see the white cliffs in the distance.
The route itself was pretty easy to follow, as it basically involves keeping the sea to your right as your make your way up and across the cliffs, and back down into Eastborne.
There was a two mile detour (no longer in place) that took you up and back ’round an inlet, passing some small lakes. I was so tempted to swim, but thought maybe it wasn’t wise by myself. So instead, I stopped to eat some of my M&S swag and dipped my toes in.
Shortly after the detour I joined the South Downs Way itself and the route started to go uphill.
The view from the top of the cliff was really beautiful and I could see for miles out to sea. I couldn’t believe my luck having left London in drizzle and had to pack away the majority of my layers.
There were a fair few other people along the route, but the path is wide and I was completely by myself for a few stretches.
I really enjoyed the undulating nature of the walk and being faced with a fresh wave of green to summit each time I got to the bottom. It’s not a particularly difficult walk, but I certainly felt that I had earned my sausage roll when I stopped for another break in the sunshine.
In addition to the stunning views, there are a few thought provoking things to see along the trail. This includes Beachy Head, an area notorious for suicides and a circular war memorial that you can sit inside.
There are one or two options for food along the way if you don’t want to take a packed lunch, details of which can be found on the Saturday Walkers Club website. I peaked in at the National Trust cafe at Billings Gap (a beach about half way along) and was very temped by some of the things I saw (hello, scones). But in contract to the peaceful trail it felt very hectic, so I decided to keep going.
The scenery continued to be absolutely gorgeous, and I felt very content.
I finally ran out of luck with the weather as I began my descent into Eastbound, but I didn’t mind putting on my waterproof jacket too much, given how fantastic it’d been for most of the day.
I felt a little strange arriving in Eastbourne. Partly as I was still in my little nature bubble, but also because I’d only ever known it as a place that my Grandmother and her friends used to go to on holiday. She died a number of years ago and I never went there with her, but I felt quite close to her whilst walking along the seafront. Especially as there are literally hundreds of memorial benches lining the promenade, each with lovely messages about summers gone by, addressed to Edith’s, Joyce’s, Arthur’s and Kenneth’s. It was sweet, moving and quite amusing, all at the same time. I did look out for a Barbara, although I didn’t see one.
I arrived at the train station at around 4.30 pm with plenty of time until the next train, so I got myself a coffee and ate my last remaining snack.
I arrived back into a very busy London that was just kicking off it’s Saturday evening. I felt quite funny being back in the city in my hiking gear, but also felt as if I’d stumbled across a bit of a secret by having my mini adventure. What an amazing way to spend a random Saturday in April.