Cuckmere Haven is an area of flood plains in Sussex, England where the river Cuckmere meets the English Channel between Eastbourne and Brighton. The river is an example of a meandering river, and contains several oxbow lakes. The beach at Cuckmere haven sits next to the famous chalk cliffs, the Seven Sisters.
The River Cuckmere has been forming the meanders since the last ice age, in the 19th century the meanders were cut off by a canal (for shipping up the river and to lower the risk of flooding). There is a plan to re-instate the meanders to promote the growth of a salt marsh.
The first occupiers of the locality was prehistoric man; flint objects such as arrow heads and axes have been found; At about 3,500 BC, a more advanced stone age man started to arrive on the coasts of south east England. Bringing agriculture to the Cuckmere Valley, deforestation happened in the area around Cuckmere Haven, radically changing the areas appearance.
By AD 1000 Exceat village had developed, and was become a thriving settlement, being noted in the Doomsday book; by the 1500s the village was greatly reduced, due to the Black Death and sheep farming on the downs. Smuggling was a bit activity along the coasts of southern England, and Cuckmere haven was no exception, In 1840 the canalised section of the river was constructed by prisoners at Lewes Prison to reduce flooding.
The last war involved Cuckmere Haven to a far greater degree than during any previous outbreaks of hostility. During the early part of the war, and extensive network of lights was laid out within the valley. The purpose of these was to give German bomber crews the illusion that they were over the port of Newhaven, around 6 miles (10 km) westwards. Later on pillboxes were constructed (and can still be seen) in the valley to repel any German invasion.
Flora and fauna
Cuckmere Haven is famed for its Saltmarsh environment between the flood bank and the tidal river, a salt marsh has developed which is covered by most tides. The level of the mud is slowly, but constantly rising. At slack water either side of high tide, the suspended silt particles, which have been brought down by the river, sink and are deposited around the roots and stems of salt marsh plants. These are specially adapted to living in a soil with a very high salt concentration and are called halophytes.
The bare mud is first colonised by the fleshy (succulent) green glasswort (Salicornia sp.) but as the level of the mud rises and is covered by water for a shorter time, other plants become established. These include sea purslane (Halimione portulacoides) which has flattened grey-green leaves, sea spurrey (Spergularia media), which may be distinguished from the similar sea blite (Suaeda maritima) when not in flower, by the whitish scale at the base of the leaves, and the red fescue grass (Festuca rubra). Still higher and reached only by the highest tides are the grey-green sea wormwood (Artemesia maritima) and the mauve-flowered sea aster (Aster tripolium). The seed and fruit of these plants are mainly dispersed in sea-water by the movement of the tides.
From London Victoria station Take the London – Eastbourne train and change at Lewes for the Seaford train. At Seaford, come out of the station and the bus stop is on the opposite side of the road on the left (next to ‘Flowers’ furniture shop). Take the 12, 12A or 13 bus to Exceat. Or, take the train all the way to Eastbourne, then take the bus from Terminus Road.
From Brighton Take the train to Lewes, then proceed as above or take the 12, 12A or 13 bus from Brighton (the train may be marginally quicker - but more expensive, fares by bus should be about £4 return)
From Eastbourne Take the 12, 12A or 13 bus from the bus stops on Terminus Road (around £3 return), which are outside the Arndale Centre, and just down the road from the train station.
The 13 bus runs on Sundays and Public Holidays only.
Cuckmere Haven is situated on the A259 between Seaford and Eastbourne. From Eastbourne, follow signs for Seaford (A259), and follow the road over the Downs through East Dean down to Cuckmere Haven; but be aware that there can be long queues down to the Haven from the Eastbourne side of the road, due to a one-lane bridge across the river, which gives priority to traffic from the Seaford side. From Seaford, follow signs for Eastbourne (A259), heading east out of the town, down into the valley.
- 1 Seven Sisters Country Park car park (Follow the directions above, the car park is on the Eastbourne side of the road bridge, and is on the south side of the road), ☏ (number for booking for coaches). Locked overnight and exact times vary. Car for 2 hours: £3; Car for whole day: £4.
- 2 Cuckmere Inn car park (Follow the directions above, the car park is on the Seaford side of the road bridge, and is just on the start of bridge on this side), ☏ . Car park owned and operated by the pub here; no charge for parking, and no barriers or gates. There's also three separate levels for parking Free parking.
- 3 Friston Forest car park (Follow directions above, but head for the Eastbourne side of the bridge, and turn onto Litlington Road by the barns on the north side of the road, and continue along this road, keeping left, then turn right into the car park), ☏ . 8AM-dusk. This is further away from the Haven than the other two car parks, but is in the nearby Friston Forest, so you could spend time there after. For up to: 2 hours: £2.30; 4 hours £3.50; all day: £4.60.
Fees and permits
Entrance is free, but there is a small charge for the Seven Sisters car park, and the Friston Forest car park. You can buy a Discovery Pass from the Forestry Commission which gives you free parking at several car parks around the area - including the Seven Sisters and Friston Forest car parks - and money off in some places nationally. These can be bought, for £28 for one year, online, or over the phone at +44 300 068 0400.
- Foot - slow and steady, there is a metaled path to the beach (although the beach is comprised of cobbles and may not be suitable for all people), alternatively there are paths up into the sides of the valley for the more adventurous; clifftop walks to Beachy Head are also popular.
- Maps - if you want to walk further around the area, then you should get a map of the area. Ordnance Survey maps are good for this, and can be bought at most UK bookstores, try nearby Seaford or Eastbourne for these shops. For the Cuckmere Haven and surrounding areas, use the OS Explorer OL 25 map, which uses a 1:25000 scale, which gives good detail for walking, or the OS Landranger 199 map which uses a 1:50000 scale, and is better for driving and cycling.
- Bike - bikes can be rented at Cuckmere Cycle Co there are many different models, also one could cycle in Friston Forest, an area of downland forest behind Cuckmere Haven.
- Canoe - Canoes can be hired from the Canoe Centre near to Car park, they cannot be landed in the meanders though
See and do
The park is a working farm with grazing sheep and cattle, and therefore you must keep dogs under close control at all times.
There are two signed walking trails at the park:
- Park Trail is marked with purple arrowed numbered posts and is 5 km (3 miles) long.
- Habitat Trail is marked by green arrowed posts and is a 7 km (5 miles) circular trail around the perimeter of the Park.
Both trails begin at the gate opposite the Visitor Centre (opposite the car park and bus stop). After wet weather the path can get muddy and you are advised to wear stout footwear also mobile phones have a tendency to lose signal (although it depends on network)
To purchase a map showing these routes use the Visitor Centre.
There is also an 'easy access trail' for 2 km along the valley floor to the shingle beach and mouth of the river, it provides a view of Seaford Head and is suitable for people with impaired mobility (quite how they would see the view), wheelchairs, mobility scooters and push chairs.
If you wish, you can also walk inland along the river along an unmarked path. To access this route, walk along the road to the side of the bridge furthest from the pub and furthest from the sea, here, there is a gate which leads to a high river bank. You can follow this along the river all the way to the Plough and Harrow Pub in Litlington. This walk is roughly 3.6 km (2¼ miles) long.
- Cycling. There is a concrete track which offers safe and easy access to the beach and amazing views of the Seven Sisters Cliffs. The path is flat and suitable for all ages and abilities. The Friston Forest, a 1,700 acres (690 hectares) area easily accessible from the park offers a number of trails and routes from a pleasant family ride to downhill biking. Information about these routes can be found at the Cuckmere Cycle Hire shop, which is located next to the Visitor Centre. The park can be easily reached by the National Cycle Network.
- Bird watching. With a wide variety of different habitats packed into this special 280 hectares (690 acres) site, there are some great year round birding opportunities, weather permitting! more information is available here.
- 1 Cuckmere Valley Canoe Club, ☏ . If you'd rather use the famed meanders for having a look around, the Cuckmere Valley Canoe Club has instructors and canoes. Hire is for groups who pre book only, although occasionally there are days when people can turn up and just have a go. You can also get annual membership, meaning you can use the club's facilities at any time in that year. Adult annual membership and equipment hire: £90.
- If you have your own canoe, you can use the meanders for canoeing at any time. However, anyone accessing the meanders by canoe must use the dedicated slipway - this is the only permitted entry and exit point. The banks of the meanders are quite fragile and nesting birds could be disturbed.
- 2 Seven Sisters Sheep Centre, Gilberts Drive, East Dean, BN20 0AA, ☏ , fax: , ✉ email@example.com. Daily 10:30AM-5PM; closed 3 May to 1 July. Walk, bus (with the 13X), cycle or drive (could try canoeing if you're up for it) up to the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre. It offers one of the largest collections of sheep in the world with over 40 different breeds of sheep with many older breeds no longer seen on modern farms. In the spring, lambing takes place so you may be lucky enough to see a lamb being born (March to May) and between July and September, shearing takes place. Adult: £6; OAP: £5.50; Child: £5; Family: £21 (They only accept cash or cheques).
- Fossil hunting. The Chalk Cliffs of the Seven Sisters provide a fairly rich hunting ground for fossils, but please be aware there have been rock falls - it is advisable to wear glasses and maybe even hard hats. Coastal erosion is a big problem in this area, so chopping off vast swathes of the cliff isn't a great idea. However, fossilised ammonites, sea urchins and gastropods can be found.
There is a gift shop in the information centre, but apart from this there isn't anywhere to shop. If you really want somewhere to shop, take a short trip to the nearby Seaford.
Eat and drink
- One could always walk into Litlington, Lullington or Alfriston further up the valley
- 1 The Cuckmere Inn (used to be called the Golden Galleon), ☏ . M-Sa noon-11PM; Su noon-10:30PM. This pub is situated on the west side of the river, offering home-cooked food and beer. It isn't the most authentic pub ever, but is good for pub food after (or before) a walk round the park. £11.50 for fish and chips; £6.50 for 175ml of Sauvignon Blanc.
There is limited accommodation in the area, so it's probably best to stay in either Seaford or Eastbourne and then travel to the park. However, if you are planning to walk to the area as part of a school group of organisation like the Scouts, there is a campsite.
- 1 Saltmarsh Farmhouse, East Dean Road, BN25 4AD, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. This place has six rooms which you can stay in, and it definitely has a cosy feel. It also offers traditional Sussex food in a farmhouse environment. It is behind the Visitors' Centre and its cafe can get crowded year round, so it may be best to book in advance, although it is not necessary for groups with fewer than six members. £120-£350 per night, including breakfast.
- 2 Dovecote Garden Holiday Cottages, Old Coach House, The Lane, West Dean, BN25 4AL, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Three barns nearby to the park, with comfy settings and mod-cons like WiFi, TV and BBQs. They're only a mile (1.6km) away from the coast, and is set back from the busy park in the village of West Dean. From £300 for 7 nights, up to £995 in mid-summer.
- Foxhole Campsite and Camping Barn, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. 1 April-31 October. These are essentially backpackers' accommodation offering space for 20 small tents and sleeping up to 35 people in a traditional Sussex barn. It isn't for the use of the general public though, and can only be used for "pre-arranged educational groups and events". You need to contact the County Council to make a reservation and to check dates. If you stay here, you must be over 21, or have someone over 21 in your group. Campsite: Adults: £5; Under 18s: £4; Camping barn: Adults: £6; Under 18s: £5.
The Visitor Centre is situated in an 18th-century barn, and provides a range of useful information about the Park. There are also displays and exhibitions detailing the history, geology and wildlife of the Park. There is a shop with leaflets, maps, souvenirs and local craft items for sale.
The centre is open Apr-Oct: daily 10:30AM-4:30PM; Nov-Mar: Sa Su only 11AM-4PM.
There's normally someone else walking around, but the area can get foggy (surprisingly quickly) so beware, the beach has some submerged remains (various boats have run aground in the area) and the area can experience strong tides. the cliffs that flank the valley provide a fairly obvious health hazard.
- Nearby Newhaven has a ferry service to Dieppe, from where you can explore France and the Continent.
- There's Brighton to the West and Eastbourne to the, erm, East, which is a simple bus journey away (£4.00/2.00 taking about an hour and a half /half an hour). Or, you could take the bus to Seaford, from where you can get the train onwards to Brighton, for trains to Portsmouth and Chichester; or London Victoria for the capital.
- The South Downs Way passes thought the park, from there you could walk to Eastbourne or all the way to Petersfield in Hampshire.
- Go cycling in nearby Friston Forest.
- You can walk or cycle up the valley to Alfriston, to see a typical Sussex village.