Saturday Walkers Club
Looking back to Birling Gap

Looking back to Birling Gap

by Saturdaywalker

Birling Gap

Birling Gap

by Saturdaywalker

Leaving the sea behind

Leaving the sea behind

by Saturdaywalker

Goodbye to the sea

Goodbye to the sea

by Saturdaywalker



by Sarah Heenan

SWC Walk 60 : Eastbourne to East Dean

Coastal walk via Eastbourne's promenade, Beachy Head and the 7 Sisters, then inland over the downs to East Dean. Return by bus.


11.6 km (7.2 miles)

Longer options 13.4km (8.3 miles) to 18km (11.2 miles)

OS Map

Landranger 199, Explorer OL25 (formerly 123)

Toughness 5 out of 10:one very steep climb onto Beachy Head: three short climbs in the afternoon

The bulk of this walk reverses the end of the Seaford to Eastbourne walk from Time Out Country Walk Book 2. This brings you along Eastbourne’s pleasant seafront, and up onto Beachy Head for lunch, and then down to Birling Gap for tea. After Birling Gap there is a gentle climb inland, with fine sea and downland views, to the village of East Dean, where there are further refreshment options, and frequent buses back to Eastbourne.

The walk is not quite a reverse of the book route, however, as if you follow its suggestions, it takes a slightly different route along the seafront promenade out of Eastbourne, and uses the lower clifftop route to Beachy Head, which may be unfamiliar to walkers. This route stays close to the sea along the foot of the downs (with wonderful wild flowers in late June and July), and then at the last minute makes a very steep beeline up the hill (with exhilarating backward views) to arrive directly at the Beachy Head pub.

Walk options

a) The obvious way to extend this walk is to carry on from Birling Gap along the coast over the Seven Sisters to Exceat, a strenuous but very scenic 6km (3.7 miles), from Birling Gap, making a total walk of 15.2km (9.4 miles). The way to Exceat is never in doubt: after Haven Brow, the last and highest sister, you veer right at the signpost to follow the well waymarked South Downs Way to the road and Exceat Vistor Centre, where there is the Saltmarsh tea room and 400 metres further down the road the Cuckmere Inn. From either place you can get the 12 or 12A bus to Seaford or to Eastbourne (From Exceat, Seaford is nearer and your Eastbourne train ticket will usually be accepted on trains out of Seaford).

b) A shorter version of the above is to go over the first three Sisters to Flastaff Point, marked by a Sarsen stone monument, and here turn inland up to East Dean. Directions for this are given at the end of the main text, but it has to be said the route up to East Dean is not quite as scenic as the direct one from Birling Gap. This route is 4.2km (2.6 miles) from Birling Gap, making a total walk of 13.4km (8.3 miles)

c) You can also make this a circular walk by carrying on from East Dean back to Eastbourne, adding 6.4km (4 miles) to the walk, to make a total walk of 18kmkm (11.2 miles). Directions for this are at the end of the main walk directions. This route is not as scenic as coastal parts of the walk but is a pleasant enough walk initially along a quiet downland valley and then over the ridge and down into Eastbourne. It has the virtue of introducing little-visited territory at the heart of the downs, but does involve a rather dull last mile on Eastbourne Streets. It is possible to cut out this last section (but also quite a nice descent into Eastbourne) by taking a bus half way (3.2km/2 miles) into the extension.

Transport Trains to Eastbourne take 1.5 hours and currently go at 17 and 47 past. The 9.47 gets you to Eastbourne at 11.15, which will get you to the Beachy Head pub in reasonable time, but if you are doing this walk in the summer and fancy a swim before lunch, get the 9.17. Buy a day return to Eastbourne.
Lunch The Beachy Head pub offers a good selection of food, and has both an outside terrace and inside tables with fine views south westwards over the downs and sea. If it is too busy, it is not that much of a stretch to carry on to Birling Gap, which also has a rather dingy pub serving food. Both establishments are open all afternoon, year round.

Birling Gap’s National Trust Tea Room has a lovely sea front location and has always been popular. Officially the cafe is open till 4pm daily, though it seems to be in operation later than this on fine days.

East Dean has two tea options. The Tiger Inn has been a favourite with walkers for generations, and was revamped in 2012.

Next to the pub, and seemingly run by it, is the Hiker’s Rest tea room, which is open till 4.30pm in winter, 5pm in summer: but closed in early January

For fish and chips, the Qualisea restaurant is recommended. From the Arndale Centre stop on the bus (see the end of the walk directions) carry on along the main shopping street, forking to the right at the end of the Arndale Centre down the pedestrianised section. The Qualisea is on the left at the start of the last stretch of road to the seafront.

On the circular walk to Eastbourne, Grove Road, near the station, also has some cafes - eg The Tea Shop halfway up on the left, open till 5pm Monday to Saturday - and there are some pubs by the station.

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After the walk, we would really appreciate your comments

Out: (not a train station)

By Car

Start: BN21 3QJ

Finish: East Dean, East Sussex


National Rail Enquires: 08457 48 49 50 • Travelline South East (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (10p/min from landlines) • Transport for London: 0343 222 1234



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Walk Directions

Download and print the PDF file for complete walking directions.