Hiking

Hike around England on the world’s longest coastal path (soon to be completed)

Scotland made its foreshore accessible in 2003. Wales completed its 1,400 kilometer coastal path in 2012. England, however, is behind the coast party. Unlike its neighbours, there are still large parts of the English coast that are closed to the public – at least for now. In 2013 an ambitious plan was drawn up to create a 4,500 kilometer walking trail around the entire coastline of England, making it the longest coastal path in the world. It was originally supposed to be completed in 2020, but we all know what happened that year. Although not yet fully completed, many of the 67 sections are now open and work is underway on the rest.

The latest episode to be unveiled is a 53 kilometer stretch of the south coast between Eastbourne and a quaint little town called Shoreham-by-sea, which happens to be where I grew up. There’s something about going on a trip from your childhood home that instantly teleports you back to your teenage years. Shouldering a backpack full of supplies for three days, I assure my mother that yes, I’ll be careful, no, I won’t talk to any strangers and OK, I’ll try to be back in time for tea.

Day 1 – Shoreham to Brighton – 11 kilometers

Panoramic view of Brighton Beach.  Brighton Wheel and Hotels.  Crowded with people on a sunny day.  xxEnglandCoastPath England Coast Path Shoreham to Eastbourne;  text by Rob McFarlandcr: iStock (reuse permitted, no syndication)

Brighton Beach. Photo: iStock

It’s a disappointing start. For the first 40 minutes, I take a busy road lined with warehouses, big box stores and junkyards. Things pick up when I reach Shoreham Harbor and the trail jumps through two sets of locks to reach the seafront. Before you conjure up the image of a golden strip of pristine sand, the beaches on this part of the coast are all pebbly, so lying on one is like lounging on a cobbled street. Not that that deters people – on this balmy July day, a handful of determined sunbathers hobble to and fro from the sea.

My destination today is Brighton, a cheeky, liberal, all-purpose seaside resort that has long been one of the UK’s favorite weekend getaways. But first I pass through the eminently more sensible Hove, which greets the coastline with an elegant facade of pastel beach huts, manicured lawns and imposing Regency townhouses. It also has a rare cluster of beachfront homes known as Millionaire’s Row, whose famous residents have included Adele, DJ Fatboy Slim and Paul McCartney’s ex-wife Heather Mills.

I know this area well, but I want to experience it as a tourist, so when I reach Brighton’s bustling parade of bars, restaurants and funfairs, I do two things I don’t. have never done before. First, I visit the small (but free) Fishing Museum, which gives an interesting insight into the town’s long-defunct fishing industry. Second, I buy a crab and prawn roll from one of the seafood shacks that line the walk (I can’t stand the jellied eels). Joining the throngs of vacationers on the beach, I lunch to a familiar soundtrack of screaming seagulls, waving flags and carousel waltzes.

After checking into the cozy but cute Hotel Nineteen near the Grade II listed Palace Pier, I have a typically eclectic evening in Brighton. The first up? A soothing leg sauna in a converted horse box at the Beach Box Spa. Next, a kimchi-smothered chicken burger at Shelter Hall, a hip seaside food market. Finally, a stroll through The Lanes, the city’s atmospheric maze of 18th-century alleyways, where I discover a delicious caramel ice cream savory at Brass Monkey Ice Cream. Back at the hotel, I pass a man in a kilt tap-dancing on saucepans.

Day 2 – Brighton to Seaford – 19 kilometers

The defining feature of this stretch of coastline is its towering white chalk cliffs. Departing from Brighton, the route takes a path under the cliff punctuated by an ominous number of ‘Danger Falling Rocks’ signs. There’s nothing like the thought of a falling piece of chalk to give you a boost and I soon reach the quaint seaside village of Rottingdean, a charming cluster of cottages and tea rooms which once housed Rudyard Kipling.

So far the path has been pleasantly flat, but that changes at Saltdean, where it veers sharply up and over a grassy cliff dotted with tiny yellow wildflowers. It’s an ice-scorching climb, but the rewards are stunning views of the English Channel and less chance of being flattened by dislodged rock.

The respite is short-lived, however, as inexplicably the protective fence atop the cliff suddenly ends, meaning there is nothing but the occasional warning sign of a stumbling man. comically over the edge to keep you from…well, comically stumbling over the edge.

Luckily, there are plenty of interesting distractions along the way, including a meridian marker indicating zero degrees longitude, several WWII gun emplacement, and the busy ferry port of Newhaven.

All day I hoped to bump into another hiker from the coastal path, and during the approach to Seaford I think I found one. It turns out Julian, 59, is completing the Vanguard Way, a 106 kilometer trail from London to Newhaven. “I love these long walks,” he enthuses. “They’re just a great way to reset.”

Day 3 – Seaford to Eastbourne – 23 kilometers

Seven Sisters Cliffs in the South Downs Sussex UK xxEnglandCoastPath England Coast Path Shoreham to Eastbourne;  text by Rob McFarlandcr: iStock (reuse allowed, no syndication)ÂÂÂ

The Seven Sisters. Photo: iStock

Continuing the theme of trying things for the first time, I start my last day with a 6am swim off the expansive shingle beach of Seaford. Sea swimming has exploded in the UK during the pandemic and soon I am joined by two other early risers and a water skier, from everyone. Anyone would think we’re in the Mediterranean.

There are two compelling reasons to approach this walk from west to east. The first is that the prevailing wind is from the west; the second is that it saves the most spectacular section to the end.

From Seaford, the path climbs steeply above Seaford Head before descending to Hope Gap, where I get a first glimpse of one of the South Coast’s most distinctive features – a series of seven chalk cliffs called the Seven Sisters. Apparently named by sailors in the 1600s who thought they resembled the white hats of nuns (they had obviously spent a lot of time at sea), the cliffs are a gently undulating prelude to the tallest chalk cliff in England, the 162 meter- high Beachy Head.

Hiking along the wind-whipped ridges of these giant cliffs is a dramatic and moving experience, especially since there are no barriers or fences.

After savoring the panoramic views of sea and land from the summit, it’s an easy descent to Eastbourne, a popular seaside resort for retirees known for its grand Victorian architecture, beautiful 19th-century pier and oversized benches in wood.

If you had asked me on day one to predict how I would feel now, I would have probably said “hungry and ready to go home”. But to my surprise, I’m neither. I loved the challenge and freedom of hiking alone. Moreover, it was a glorious reminder of the spectacular variety of this stretch of coastline. What I would really like to do is continue. Fifty-three kilometers of descent, 4447 to go.

FIVE MOST EPIC BRITISH HIKES

PENNINE WAY

Britain’s first National Trail twists 435 kilometers from Derbyshire to the Scottish Borders, passing through the beautiful Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales. See nationaltrail.co.uk

THAMES ROAD

Follow the country’s most famous river for 298 kilometers from its source in the Cotswolds to central London. See visit thames.co.uk

PEMBROKESHIRE COAST PATH

This 299 kilometer section of the Wales Coast Path offers a spectacular mix of cliffs, coves and secluded beaches. See pembrokeshirecoast.wales

SIDE BY SIDE

Promoted to National Trail earlier this year, this spectacular 300 kilometer route crosses country from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hoods Bay in North Yorkshire. See coasttocoast.fr

HADRIAN’S WALL PATH

Follow Hadrian’s Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for 135 kilometers from Wallsend, Newcastle to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria. See nationaltrail.co.uk

THE DETAILS

TRANSPORTATION

Buses run along the coast and all major towns on the route have train connections to London. London to Shoreham takes 75 minutes by train; Eastbourne to London takes 90 minutes. See bus.fr; southrailway.com

WALKING

Information, maps and GPX downloads are available on the National Trails website. Currently there are no local operators offering a baggage transfer service, however Brighton & Hove Cabs can provide quotes for baggage transport. Alternatively, the Stasher luggage storage service has several locations in Brighton. See nationaltrail.co.uk; brightontaxis.com; stasher.com

AFTER

traveller.com.au/Britain

visitbritain.com

Rob McFarland was a Visit Britain guest.