15 Nov 2017 Clifftop landscape photography in East Sussex
I’ve written often enough about how much I love landscape photography in stormy weather. The challenge of capturing the drama of a good storm, or emphasising the threat from glowering grey clouds, is enough to get me out of the door in the worst possible conditions. Every so often, though, I have to settle for sunshine and clear skies – exactly the conditions I enjoyed during a recent walk from Seaford to Eastbourne on England’s south coast. It was a chance to enjoy some of England’s best coastal views, a new lens, and a few unexpected visits from a masterpiece of British engineering.
The walk from Seaford to Eastbourne is a popular 18-22km route (depending on the tide), taking the walker across the tops of the Seven Sisters – a series of white chalk cliffs – to a final magnificent view point at Beachy Head before dropping down into Eastbourne. Although the route is easily navigated without maps its hilly nature can be quite strenuous, as the path frequently drops to sea level before another hill demands a thigh-burning walk back to the top.
All those hills, though, provide great vantage points for landscape photography. There are plenty of well-found tracks to set up leading lines out to the famous Seven Sisters, and photogenic beaches to explore at low tide (check Eastbourne’s tide table before you set off). Even tourists – who so often threaten to spoil landscape photographs – can turn into subjects as they gaze out to sea. And who can blame them?
Most walkers will trek inland at Cuckmere Haven before tackling the Seven Sisters, although at low tide it’s possible to cross the Cuckmere River as it opens out to sea. If you’re lucky you might even spot the odd chalky cairn left shoreside by passing walkers with a sculptural bent. Further along this beach the white cliffs loom large, towering above picnickers willing to sit at their base – far from advisable, since cliff falls are a perpetual hazard here. From time to time I saw brave (foolish?) walkers standing on overhangs for selfies, elevating a sad art to a near-death experience.
Beyond the National Trust’s tea room at Birling Gap the final stretches of the walk take in Belle Tout – an old, non-operational lighthouse commanding spectacular views of the English Channel – and the famous red-and-white Beachy Head lighthouse, dwarfed at the foot of the cliffs. Lighthouses are gifts for landscape photography, although here aviation photographers can also get their kicks: on clear days Spitfires fly out to sea from Goodwood, providing pleasure rides to enthusiasts at £2,750 a sortie – worth the price, perhaps, although it’s free to watch the aircraft swoop and soar above the Channel.
This walk marked the first outing for my new Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 lens, the perfect tool for flattening perspective in landscape photography of the cliffs and Belle Tout. I’d hoped to make some wildlife pictures but nothing really presented itself – apart from those foolhardy souls one selfie away from disaster.