View of the Seven Sisters and the Ocean

Hiking in the South Downs: The Seven Sisters

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Seaford to Eastbourne —12.5 miles

Whether work’s got you down or you just need a small break, if you want to get away from the bustle of London a hike in the South Downs is the perfect way to enjoy nature without having to travel too far from the city. 

Although not extraordinarily difficult, trekking the Seven Sisters from Seaford to Eastbourne does take a good deal of endurance as the approximately 12.5-mile hike is made up almost entirely of hills. I recommend you take some high energy snacks or a picnic—a water bottle is a must. A jumper and a windbreaker will be life savers as, even on sunny days, the sea breeze is quite cold.

Take the train early from Victoria Station in London (about an hour and twenty minutes), switching at Lewes, to arrive in Seaford. It’s a picturesque seaside town and is well worth a quick walk around. If you skipped breakfast there are a few cafes that can offer you a bite.

From here, you’ll need to find the ocean and head left. You can walk on the beach (as we did) but be warned: these are shingle beaches, made of millions of small round rocks which can be difficult to walk on.

As you near the end of the beach there will be a golf course to your left and a small jetty to your right, you have reached the start of the hike.

The first cliff is quite steep but, once you reach the top, you’ll have a wonderful view of Seaford and the surrounding countryside, a little further and you’ll be able to see the Seven Sisters. That’s right, although you’ll hike the Seven Sisters, there are plenty of other cliffs to climb, let’s call them the step-sisters.

Overlooking the town of Seaford and the Ocean
Sunny Seaford as seen from the start of the Seven Sisters hike.

Coming down off the first step-sister affords the best views (and photos!) of the Seven Sisters.

Once you reach the bottom you will have to make your way to the first sister. Aim for low tide because, if the tide isn’t low enough, you may have to get your feet wet. If the tide is too high you may need to trek to the nearest crossing which will add quite a bit of time to your journey.

View of the Seven Sisters
View of the Seven Sisters from the first ‘step-sister’.

Finally, you will have reached the sisters. The first hill is arguably the hardest and is the steepest of the hike, don’t be afraid to use your hands to steady yourself as the chalk can slip under worn shoes. Once you are at the top of the hill the views of the rest of the sisters are quite amazing.

As an aside: remember that chalk is not the sturdiest of materials, don’t go too close to the edge! The cliffs are known to sheer off near the edges and it’s a very far drop.

The rest of the sisters are a bit easier than the first. I recommend stopping somewhere around the fourth, it’s a great place to lay on the grass, enjoy the views and have a picnic.

After you descend the seventh sister, there is a small parking area at Birling Gap where you can refill your water, grab snacks at the café or call a cab if you’ve had enough of the hike.

Otherwise, its back up the next hill, only 5 more miles to Eastbourne!

On the way to Eastbourne, you will pass two lighthouses, the Belle Tout lighthouse (which is also a bed and breakfast) and Beachy Head lighthouse.  Belle Tout makes a good resting point to relax and can offer a break from the wind as well.

Beachy head lighthouse below the cliffs on the Seven Sisters hike
Beachy Head Lighthouse sits below Beachy Head Cliff.

A few more ups and downs and you will crest the hill overlooking Eastbourne, from there a leisurely walk down the hill and to the promenade to have a well-earned pint! On the street just behind the pier there are some lovely places to have a beer or a coffee, although I never did try the food.

Overall, the hike is quite long for a day trip but the views and scenery make it worth it. It is hard to find such a picturesque hike in South-Eastern England, without the noise or encroachment the city. Pick a sunny day, bring a few snacks, wear your hiking shoes and enjoy, this is a hike I would highly recommend.

Map of the hike from Seaford to Eastbourne atop the Seven Sisters
Map of the hike from Seaford to Eastbourne.

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