IOPCC Trip Report

Two Lights Bivi
4th - 5th September 2015


Tony Sandry Mark Whitaker
Michele Springall  

With so many trips cancelled this year because of high winds, it was a relief to see the weather forecasts for the weekend. Light winds and lots of warm sunshine would be a welcome change from blustery showers.

Mark Whitaker (PDCC)

The outward journey from Seaford Head was uneventful, and the sea was slight, with a light offshore wind. Apart from the few headlands, tidal streams along this coast are not very strong and we were between Spring and Neap tides.

Alan MacKenzie, a professional photographer has some great images on his Flickr photostream.

This link is the much photographed view of the Seven Sisters from Hope Cove/Cuckmere Haven.

After Beachy Head we stopped for a coffee at the Holywell café. This is the western terminus for the Dotto train which slowly meanders along the Eastbourne seafront during the summer. It was a long time since I visited this café, and it had clearly had a major refurbishment. Latte and exotic teas were now the order of the day instead of instant coffee and tea of the stewed variety.

Michele Springall

We paddled close to the beach and under the fire damaged pier. Langley Point and its huge development seemed to go on forever. The harbour and adjacent multi-story buildings, like much of Eastbourne, are built on a flood plain, and many houses are below sea level. Some of the seafront properties looked perilously vulnerable to the sea if some of our global warning predictions are ever realised.

Wild camping on Pevensey Beach is more urban camping, as it’s impossible to get more than a hundred yards away from houses.

Campsite at Pevensey Beach

There is an Environmental Agency compound, with a small wind generator not far from the public car park. We camped near this compound and only saw a few people whilst we pitched our tents.

Early morning over Pevensey Bay

To catch the tides we had to leave about 08.30. The Royal Sovereign Light looked very small.

Royal Sovereign Light

We had a slight sea and light tailwind to aid (or hinder) us. The paddle took about two hours and we spent about twenty minutes having a bite to eat and taking a few photographs, before heading off to Beachy Head.

There had been a Light Ship on the Royal Sovereign Shoal since 1875. It was replaced in 1971 by the present light. It is one of the least attractive lighthouses in the UK, but has served it's purpose adequately enough.

Lunch break at the Royal Sovereign Light.

The return journey took us about two and a half hours, and for the last hour we had a stiff headwind and some lumpy conditions to contend with. As we closed onto the coast it was obvious that we were losing ground to the tide so we had to adjust our course. We stayed close to the beach and made our way to the lighthouse.

Mark approaching Beachy Head Lighthouse at low water. The reef in the foreground can produce some challenging conditions in rough conditions.

Beachy Head Lighthouse with Belle Toute (The original lighthouse) in the background.

This link is of Beachy Head Lighthouse at a very low Spring tide. The view is looking west towards Birling gap and Seaford Head.

A couple of kayakers out for a short paddle from Eastbourne caught up with us. Michelle knew them and we had a brief chat before pressing on to Birling Gap for a much needed break. We had been in our boats for five and a half hours and needed to stretch our legs.

The chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters are world famous. Although the sea erodes the chalk face from below, the near vertical faces of the cliffs are mainly caused by heavy rain passing through the chalk and then freezing. The expanding water cracks the chalk, causing the cliffs to erode from the top.

At Birling Gap the geology is different to the Seven Sisters and it consists mainly of coombe rock. The dry valley was created during the last ice age. The coombe rock is much softer than the chalk and so it erodes at a faster rate, causing a bay at Birling Gap.

Because the cliff at Birling Gap collapses on a regular basis, the tower staircase is designed to cope with these falls. The National Trust car park and café were busy, although the expensive coffee machine wasn’t playing ball, so the multitude of visitors had to make do with tea or filter coffee. The National Trust has an ‘Interpretation Centre’ with photographs that show the extent of the cliff collapses over the last century.

This link from a Sussex archaeological website shows the extent of the cliffs retreat.

After a decent break lounging around on the beach, we set off on the final leg of the paddle to Seaford Head. We had a great view of the Seven Sisters with Cuckmere Haven and Hope Cove beyond.

This link is the view looking west from Birling Gap.

Mark and Michele

The wind had got up a little and was blowing into our faces, so we had no following sea to surf our way back to the beach.
Michelle and Mark did a slick exit onto the steeply shelving beach at Seaford Head. (I wish I could do that). Less gracefully, I then paddled furiously onto the beach and with their help I managed to get out of the boat before it slid back into the sea.

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Report: Tony Sandry
Pictures: Tony Sandry



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