The plan: Wake up early and pack up, make our way to the Cuckmere Meanders viewpoint where we’d have breakfast and watch the fiery skyball rise over arguably the best damn view in Sussex.
The reality: Make it to the viewpoint, check the weather and comment, “Well it’s meant to be raining right now,” then immediately regret all of your life choices as, right on cue, the rain comes in sideways with the wind. Great.
We did have a champion’s breakfast of frankfurters on slightly-too-sweet cheap bread rolls (new rule: I’d rather have no bread over cheap bread. Cold soup is one thing but bread should not taste like sugar) but the weather got too much so we retreated down the very steep, very wet hill to the toilets at the Seven Sisters Visitor Centre. I can’t even believe they were open at this hour on an October morning but they were and we loitered in them for a while, because loitering is the only kind of existing possible in a public toilet at 7am when you’ve had your shit and were now passing the time taking selfies in the mirror.
We couldn’t stay in there all day though. We still had to get to Newhaven and we weren’t going to do that and remain dry so we might as well get a move on. As we walked around the Meanders the rising sun threw a gorgeous orange glow over the sky. Perhaps if we’d braved the weather a bit longer at the viewpoint our eyeholes would have been rewarded but hey. You’ve got to choose your battles and I really enjoy having the feeling in my face and fingers. Next time, Cuckmere.
Tell you what, though. The shingle beach here is never not beautiful regardless of the weather. The Seven Sisters cliffs start here and stretch off to the east towards Beachy Head. This section of coastline is awesome in the very true sense of the word and not the more modern meaning which covers everything from your Hermes delivery not being left in a puddle to a particularly good jam sandwich. It could be pissing rain and you’d still have to stop for a minute and gawp at it regardless of how many times you’d seen it.
Talking of pissing rain, that didn’t let up for a while but the wind was so much worse. As we climbed over the cliffs after the beach heading towards Seaford, the tailwind didn’t gently propel us up the hill so much as brutally throw us into gates. It was epic, and definitely not what you want when you’re mere metres from cliffs prone to randomly dropping into the sea below. It was hard going. The wind swept our walking poles away as we tried to plant them. When we stopped using the poles as it was just making it harder, the wind went for our legs. Seriously, I’m not even shitting you, you’d be mid-stride and the gale would try and whip your swinging leg out from under you.
Heading down the hill was fucking treacherous too, it was a mud slide. We mostly remained upright, sort of half walking, half gliding (this makes it sound graceful. It was not) down the hill, and I say mostly because at one point I properly slipped and fell backwards. I put my hands out behind me as you instinctively do to break your fall, landed with my left arm straight and jarred my elbow quite badly. Fuck me, that hurt! I took a minute to decide if I was going to cry or not, decided to be a big girl and tried to get up. Yeah, that’s not easy when the ground is made of mud and regret. Every time I planted a foot to get up it ended up half a metre away from where I put it.
I figured it was karma for telling Tarrant she looked like a stuck tortoise the other day. My karma tends to be delayed whereas Tarrant’s is usually instant. Just as she was taking the piss out of my fall (we do love each other really, I promise) she twisted an ankle and fell. She’s fine, we both are, but I will complain incessantly about my elbow until it doesn’t hurt any more.
We eventually hobbled into Seaford and walked along the seafront where we saw a chap sat at some benches clutching a take away cuppa. Where did he get that fucker from? I suddenly never wanted tea so much in my life and it turned out there was a little kiosk which was, bizarrely, open. You really wouldn’t expect anything seafront based with no indoor seating that relied on passing trade to be open in this kind of weather. The poor woman was huddled inside, proper rugged up, probably oscillating between boredom and hypothermia. I really don’t think she wanted to be there, bless her.
It had stopped raining by this point but the wind was still trying to relocate whatever wasn’t bolted down. We sat in the shelter by the kiosk and sipped our drinks to fortify ourselves against the weather and the home straight. Not long to go now, probably just over three miles until the end. The last bit is always the bitch. Whether you’re doing twenty miles or ten, the last few have every molecule in your body screaming, “Are we nearly there yet?” like a stroppy five year old.
It’s an uneventful last little bit, mostly flat, more or less straight-ish. You do walk through Tide Mills, the ruins of an abandoned village which might be worth more time than the cursory “that looks interesting” we gave it, but we had our little hearts set on not stinking like we’d just spent 4.5 days walking, I could hear the shower calling my name. Or maybe that was just delirium brought on by the pain in my elbow which was loudly complaining every time I moved it.
The Vanguard Way officially ends at Newhaven Harbour Junction train station situated on a back road which has sort of a “gonna get mugged for 20p and a packet of crisps” vibe about it, and hardly any trains to boot, so we carried on to Newhaven Town station and caught a train back to Brighton. It’s always an anticlimax when you’ve spent a few days walking then it just finishes. I wonder how we’re going to cope when the big walk fishes next year after five months of this shit.
Anyway. I’m writing this from my sofa with a beer after a long, hot shower. I fucking love hiking, and I fucking love wild camping, but I also really love being clean and dry. Oh, and pro tip: If you feel the odd insect having a nibble on your tender flesh, get off your lazy arse and get the DEET and douse yourself in that shit. Don’t sit there and mumble through chops full of mostly-cold-with-pockets-of-tepid soup that you’ll “grab it in a minute” before completely failing to do so, because you will become a banquet. We were both already coming up in itchy bites from the previous evening. I’d like to say we’d learned our lesson but, well, we probably haven’t and are unlikely to finish most walks with our full compliment of blood.
Westdene, East Sussex to Newhaven, East Sussex, England
Stayed at: Home
Activity: Hiking the Vanguard Way, North to South
Useful shit to know…
- The Vanguard Way website has all manner of excellent information to help you plan your hike, including the invaluable trail notes which you can download to your phone and refer to offline.
- Once you’ve completed it you can contact them and they’ll send you a certificate. They also sell really cool embroidered patches for £4 plus £1 postage (correct as of October 2021).