BEACHY HEAD – 8 miles (20 minutes by car)
Beachy Head is a chalk headland, close to Eastbourne, immediately east of the SevenSistersCountryPark. Beachy Head is owned by Eastbourne Borough Council. The cliff there is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising to 162 m (530 ft) above sea level. The peak allows views of the south east coast from Dungeness to the east, to Selsey Bill in the west.
Wave action contributes towards the erosion of cliffs around Beachy Head, which experience frequent small rock falls. Since chalk forms in layers separated by contiguous bands of flints, the physical structure affects how the cliffs erode. Wave action undermines the lower cliffs, causing frequent slab failures – slabs from layers of chalk break off, undermining the upper parts of the cliffs, which eventually collapse. In contrast to small rock falls, mass movements are less common. A mass movement happened in 2001 when, after a winter of heavy rain, the water had begun to seep into the cracks which had frozen and caused the cracks to widen. This then made the cliff edge erode and collapse into the sea, out as far as the lighthouse.
The name Beachy Head appears as ‘Beauchef’ in 1274, and was ‘Beaucheif’ in 1317, becoming consistently Beachy Head by 1724, and has nothing to do with beach. Instead it is a corruption of the original French words meaning “beautiful headland” (beau chef).
In 1929 Eastbourne bought 4,000 acres of land surrounding Beachy Head to save it from development at a cost of about £100,000.
The prominence of Beachy Head has made it a landmark for sailors in the English Channel.
The headland was a danger to shipping, so in 1831, construction began on Belle Tout lighthouse on the next headland west from Beachy Head. It became operational in 1834. Due to cliff erosion, in March 1999, Belle Tout lighthouse was moved more than 50 feet (15 m) further inland.
Because mist and low clouds could hide the light of Belle Tout, another lighthouse was built in the sea below Beachy Head. It was 43 m (141 ft) in height and became operational in October 1902. For more than 80 years, the red-and-white striped tower was manned by three lighthouse keepers. Their job was to maintain the light, which rotates, making two white flashes every 20 seconds. It was then visible 26 miles out to sea. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1983 and the keepers withdrawn.