“Today I will be happier than a seagull with a stolen chip.” So declared the sign in the pub, where seven of us filled up on fish-finger sandwiches and pints of ale ahead of a blustery walk across the Seven Sisters. I can’t believe I’d not been to Eastbourne before – especially as I actually grew up in another Eastbourne, in Wellington, New Zealand. Both are little seaside towns, both the kind of places city folk might pop round to for an ice cream (and both have seagulls that steal chips), but the comparison ends there.
Where the Eastbourne of my youth was all lush green hills and tiny harbour, here on the Sussex coast it’s all about the white chalk cliffs, the Seven Sisters, looming above shingly beaches. And every day, a throng of day trippers, like us, amble along the tops of them. I can’t decide whether it’s refreshing or actually rather mental that there are no safety measures in place to keep people a safe distance from the sheer cliff edge, where the green grass suddenly turns into thin air. Nothing between yourself and oblivion.
When we stopped for coffee at Birling Gap, a sea-salted man from the National Trust told me the cliffs erode by almost a metre every year. Yet only two weeks after we visited, a 10-metre chunk of cliff gave way, crashing into the sea and killing some pour young soul in the process. And the crazy thing is, we had seen the crack. Friends and I had even stood on it. Because we were foolish, and yes, we dared to stand on the edge. As it turned out, we all ambled our way safely across and strode happily into Seaford, resting our legs in another pub, with another pint, and regale what a breathtaking part of Britain this is. The pub, it turned out, was called The Wellington. Maybe someone up there was looking out for me? Or maybe we were just lucky. But I’ve learned my lesson – always mind the gap.