Rolling Around in Southern England's South Downs - Page 3
Just east of the Seven Sisters, a hamlet of fishing cottages called Birling Gap clings to the cliff and a long staircase descends to the pebble beach. In between Birling Gap and Beachy Head, the Belle Tout lighthouse stands sentry, visible for miles as the only tall structure on the rolling green mesa. Barely saved from erosion, the towering cylinder was moved 56 feet inland and reopened as a bed and breakfast in mid-2010.
This coastal stretch past Birling Gap and over the Seven Sisters to Cuckmere Haven, where the Cuckmere River flows into the channel, is a favorite training route for Stuart Mills, a seven-time winner of the Beachy Head Marathon.
"The Seven Sisters are actually eight climbs, some short and steep, others longer and less steep, so attacking the climbs and recovering on the descents makes a natural fartlek-type session," says Mills. "The trail from Beachy Head to Cuckmere Haven has great terrain for running, consisting of short grass, and being a chalk base, there's never any mud."
The South Downs Way turns inland from Cuckmere Haven, traverses the wide-open and rolling Seven Sisters Country Park, and intersects with the A259 highway. At this point it skirts Friston Forest, where many more trails branch out.
The South Downs Way also cuts inland and loops back from Beachy Head near Eastbourne, leading to the small towns of Willingdon and Jevington. A trailhead called Butts Brow next to the Beehive Plantation on Butts Lane (yes, these names are for real) provides a good starting point for running the trail through grassland and past farmers' ponds, approximately six miles to the coast.
"There are spectacular views whichever part of the South Downs you're running on," says longtime runner Julia Armstrong, who lives in Eastbourne and has a marathon best of 2:36. "The grassy downs give way to chalky, muddy, stony paths and patches of forestland. It's completely magical."
San Francisco Bay Area trail runner Sarah Lavender Smith blogs about travel-oriented running and training at The Runner's Trip, www.TheRunnersTrip.com.
TRAILHEAD: South Downs, southern England
Where to Stay. Go coastal in the pebbly beach playland of Brighton, where entertainment on the pier and in the pubs can get as lively as Mardi Gras. Great South Downs running around Beachy Head is just about 20 miles east.
For a more tranquil beach town vibe closer to the South Downs Way trailheads, stay in Eastbourne or smaller Seaford. The Belle Tout Lighthouse B&B offers 360-degree views of the Downs, www.belletoute.co.uk.
In the Cuckmere Valley, the quaint village of Alfriston has charming B&Bs and pubs (if traveling with kids, be sure to stop in Alfriston at Drusilla's small-animal zoo). For an inland destination infused with British history and Elizabethan architecture, stay at the northwest end of the South Downs Way in the city of Winchester, just north of Southhampton.
Seasons. Summer is the peak time to see the seaside destination in its blue-sky glory, but you can run there year round. British temps rarely dip below freezing and generally max out in the high 80s.
Resources. For a guide to the South Downs Way National Trail, www.nationaltrail.co.uk/southdowns, or the Long Distance Walkers Association, www.ldwa.org.uk. For an overview of the South Downs National Park, www.southdowns.gov.uk. For trails in Friston Forest, search Friston at www.forestry.gov.uk. For trails off Butts Brow, www.eastbourne.gov.uk/environment/countryside/walks.
Retailers. In Brighton, The Jog Shop (www.jogshop.co.uk) at 39b George Street is a specialty running store, and can offer tips on where to run in the Sussex area. In Eastbourne, The TriStore (www.thetristore.com) at 49 Grove Road sells off-road running gear and dispenses advice on South Downs routes.