Sunday, July 3, 2011

Chalk Figures, the White Cliffs, and a Stroll at Eastbourne

Tuesday, May 17
            The South Downs National Park, covering 628 square miles and stretching a hundred miles from Beachy Head west all the way to Winchester is England's newest, having been officially opened on April 1, 2011.
            From Heathfield we drove to the Cuckmere Valley along country roads. As we approached the ocean I began to notice that most of the stone in the buildings we passed and in the  numerous walls along the roads was flint. I picked up a few pieces of flint and put them in my pocket so that I could try making sparks by striking them with a piece of steel.

Driving through the rolling hills near the village of Wilmington we came on an amazing sight, the white chalk figure of a long man over 200 feet tall etched into the green grass slopes of Windover Hill. Although various archeological studies may disagree on its age it surely dates back at least as far as the 1500's.

A few miles farther we spotted another hillside chalk figure, The White Horse of Litlington. This one is relatively recent. Created in the 1920's, it was painted over with green paint during World War II, as was the Long Man, to prevent these landmarks being used as navigation waypoints by German bombers. Both were scrubbed clean again in 1945.

We parked in a public wayside to hike across the across flat land meadows that lie on either side of the winding oxbow Cuckmere River. It was only a mile or two past flocks of sheep grazing in fields of bright yellow buttercups to the shingle beach at the mouth of the river where the waves coming off the English Channel made a faintly rumbling sound as they crashed on the shore. Three sturdy looking stone houses with white walls perched on the cliffs on the right, and off to the left were towering chalk cliffs of "The Seven Sisters", seven headlands in the chalk cliffs which plunge dramatically from high bluffs straight into the sea.

By the time we had returned to the car along the winding banks of the Cuckmere we had worked up quite an appetite. It was only a few minutes drive to the Beachy Head Pub. We ate and sipped a pint by the windows that overlooked the expanse of the Cuckmere Valley and the chalk cliffs all the way to Beachy Head itself.
Comfortably refueled, we proceeded down to the seaside resort town of Eastbourne, where we found blocks and blocks of walkways paralleling the beach. Next to the paths were rows of wrought iron benches, all fully occupied with people, young and old, all bundled against the slightly chilly air, chatting with each other or just sitting and soaking up a bit of welcome afternoon sunshine.
The Eastbourne Pier is a magnificent, anachronistic Victorian construction that juts out nine hundred feet over the grey water. It is everything you would imagine: electronic arcades with strange machines, a tea room, souvenir shops, a restaurant, and a fishing venue at the very end. there were only two hardy fishermen huddled against the wind and hopefully watching their lines, but no evidence of any catch they could take home with them at the end of the day. The west side of the pier buffeted by the gusty winds off the channel was empty but we saw a few people sunning themselves on the other side, sheltered by the buildings that stretched along the center.

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