A nice walk in a great pub: the Tiger Inn, East Sussex | Holidays in Sussex
Start The Tiger Inn, East Dean, near Eastbourne
Distance 7Â½ miles
Total ascent 370 meters
Difficulty Easy to moderate
Google map of the route
Autumn gusts are in the air as I exit the parking lot, with rain clouds above my head and towers exploding from the treetops like shrapnel. In the village square, the cozy Tiger Inn looks tempting, but I’ll save its awards for later. Until then, in the shallows, with a steep southwest straight out of the sea, I risk being roughed up.
The picturesque village of East Dean sits just off the A259, between Seaford and Eastbourne, and provides a perfect gateway to the Seven Sisters Park. If you don’t know the name, you’ll recognize the landscape from book covers and movie backgrounds, its verdant hills and towering chalk cliffs suggesting a nostalgic notion of pastoral England.
For the geologist, these cliffs reveal the spot where the broad strip of chalk of the South Downs, deposited 80 million years ago, reached the English Channel, only to be washed away by the relentless waves. The Sisters are peaks between ancient river valleys: Haven Brow, towering 77 meters above Cuckmere Haven at the western end, is the tallest of the seven. To the naturalist, the surrounding prairie means flora. and a particular fauna; to historians it means Saxon churches, smugglers’ tales, and Iron Age earthworks.
This place is too well known to be anyone’s ‘best kept secret’, but it never disappoints. The landscape is on such a large scale that it easily absorbs day trippers who lean over its muscular outlines. Every day brings new skies, every season new attractions, and there are enough trails that I can find a new route every time, with my own take on these stunning cliffs.
Today I’m heading south from East Dean Village Park, following a dead end road (Went Way) to a gate, then through a wet field to a small wood. The trail climbs through the trees, tunneling to an oval of light that promises a view beyond. I emerge to find the famous panorama that awaits me. Below and to the east is the hollow of Birling Gap, with its hotel, cafe and beach, from where the cliff line rises again to the Belle Tout Lighthouse and towards Beachy Head. Ahead is the sea, all the shadows of the clouds rolling and the rays of the sun from the spotlights.
No rain for the moment. I continue on the grass cultivated by the sheep and pass stunted hawthorn trees to a barn with a red roof, from where the track descends gently towards the cliffs. At a cluster of low brush, where the path continues to Birling Gap, I head right, along the top of the cliff. I have now joined the 160 km South Downs Way which, if I had the time and energy, would take me to Winchester.
The cliff path is a switchback walk, the roar of the waves suddenly turning on and off as its ripples drag me in and out of the wind. In summer, chalk blues and other butterflies dance on the flowering grass. Today the jackdaw straddles updrafts and a few whirlwinds fluttering past them, the last of many southerly migrants for which these cliffs mark a final starting point. I look out in the hope of seeing a passing peregrine falcon but I stay far from the shore: it’s far.
A third of the way, I come to a monument studded with flint commemorating the purchase of the Crowlink Valley in 1926 (for “the use and pleasure of the nation”). From there a shorter circuit leads back inland to East Dean, but I continue to finish the sisters. After another 45 minutes of ups and downs, I’ve reached Haven Brow and look west across the floodplain and meandering Cuckmere Valley. High above the mouth of the river, the famous Coastguard Cottages – also regulars on those movie sets and book covers – cling precariously to the cliffs.
A National Trust sign on Haven Brow offers a choice of routes. Leaving the cliffs, I turn right on a smoother path inland. At the bottom of the valley, I meet a paved track that leads north to the National Park Visitor Center (in an 18th century barn, with tea room and toilets). From there I was able to make a longer return to East Dean through the deep, dark Friston Forest, north of the A259. But I can’t get enough of these cliffs, so cut off on a raised shore and follow the Cuckmere out to sea.
This small loop around Cuckmere Haven is the land of birds. In about a month, ducks, ducks and other wintering wild birds will flock to graze the salt marsh. Today, little egrets work on the banks and prawn knights probe the tidal pools. Past visits have brought me kingfishers and, one red letter day, a wandering osprey.
Reaching the beach, I walk left through the pebbles towards the foot of Haven Brow, its massive chalk buttress towering defiantly above the waves. From there a steep zigzag path carved into the hill brings me back to this NT signpost, where a kestrel now hangs motionless in the breeze. I headed east again, retracing my steps along the cliff, the low sun behind me now lighting up the panorama in front of me. Reaching the last dive before the monument, I go through a sheep gate into Crowlink Valley and back inland, for the last hour, which is gentle.
My route follows a farm track north through fields to the hamlet of Crowlink – its houses hidden from below until you are among them – then continues on a road to Friston Church, a original Saxon building in front of a perfect pond which was listed in the Domesday Book. On the other side of the cemetery, a door opens onto Hobb’s Eares field and the final descent to East Dean. The rabbits rush towards the hedges as I lengthen my stride, the Tiger’s Inn in sight.
This quaint pub sits among the flint-walled cottages that surround the grounds of East Dean Village. It is said that there has been a guesthouse here since the 12th century: the “tiger” bit would refer to the crest of the three leopards of the Dene family. The current structure dates from the 16th century, as evidenced by its oak beams. Local beers on tap include Harvey’s Sussex Best bitter (Â£ 5.50 a pint) and Longman Long Blonde (Â£ 4.40), while pub fare includes Newhaven’s’ catch of the day ‘and a’ sans burger. tiger ‘vegan (Â£ 13.50). Book ahead in the summer, when there are a lot of thirsty hikers and drinkers spilling onto the green. In winter, the low ceilings and blazing fire suggest the retreat of smugglers that legend says it once was.
The the pub has five en-suite bedrooms upstairs (from Â£ 100 in bed and breakfast). It also has nine self-catering cottages set around a walled garden behind the pub, accommodating between two and six (from Â£ 405 for a long weekend). For a unique alternative, on top of a cliff a mile from the Inn and a short walk from Birling Gap is the Belle Tout lighthouse (from Â£ 175 B&B). It has six bedrooms and an extraordinary living room with 360 degree views of the South Downs and the English Channel.