The day started cold and drizzly but we decided to set out anyway and, in the end, we were glad we did. At our destination on the south coast, it was dry and warmer than in London. There was even sunshine for some of the time, though views were troubled by mist throughout.
The picture on the left will tell you where the first leg of our journey took us: Brighton. This clock was installed in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It is one of my favourite features of Brighton, the town where I grew up.
Brighton was not our final destination. Down the road from the station we took a number 12A Eastbourne bus. We often take this bus to Beachy Head where there are splendid views over the coast and the sea, not to mention a pub serving delicious meals. But that was not where we were going today. We were heading into the sheep-strewn fields of Sussex.
This is the time of year when ewes give birth to the new generation of lambs and where better to see sheep and lambs than at the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre? Sheep are among my favourite animals but even I was amazed at the wide variety of breeds present in the relatively small space of the visitor centre.
The lamb in the picture is one of those born to a ewe who has given birth to more lambs than she can rear. These lambs have to be looked after in a separate nursery.
In the first stage after birth, a small number of ewes and their lambs are placed together so that the lambs can learn to recognize and find their mothers in a crowd. Looking at the ewe with two lambs below, it’s hard to escape the feeling that she enjoys her babies whether they are climbing all over her or vigorously feeding.
The Centre sells bags of feed which looks rather like large calibre All Bran. I have no idea what’s in it but the sheep love it and will take it from your hand.
They are surprisingly gentle, scooping up the food with their tongues and lips. You are advised to wash your hands thoroughly after touching the animals and before touching your face or mouth, to guard against possible infection with e.coli.
If you don’t want to buy food or if you run out, you may be surprised to discover that the sheep will take hay from your hand despite being well supplied with it in their enclosures! This ewe is taking hay from Tigger.
Studies have shown that sheep recognize other members of their flock, even in pictures, and feel happier when in their company. We may be tempted to think that all sheep like alike but they are in fact as individual as people. Perhaps the portraits above will illustrate this.
The Seven Sisters from which the Sheep Centre derives its name are 7 chalk cliffs along the sea coast. They form the Seven Sisters Country Park within the Sussex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Down the road from the Sheep Centre is Birling Gap, a hamlet now owned by the National Trust. We decided to walk there. Along the way we met these curious and rather splendid pigs.
Birling Gap is perched high on the cliff-top with a staircase leading down to the beach.
Looking west from Birling Gap, you can see what a misty day it has been. If you think the buildings are uncomfortably close to the cliff edge, you are right. And they are getting closer by the minute. The cliffs here suffer from fast erosion so that several buildings have already been lost and the remainder are under threat.
These days, Birling Gap seems to comprise little more than a hotel (half of which has already either fallen over the cliff or been demolished to stabilize the remainder), a restaurant and a pub. What draws people is the splendid view.
If you like an unspoilt beach without “attractions” where you can picnic and bathe (in warmer weather) and if you don’t mind descending the staircase from the cliff-top (and going up it again), then Birling Gap might be the place for you. My Lowryesque photo gives you some idea of it, despite the ever present mist. In common with much of the south coast the beach is shingle rather than sand, which may deter the bucket-and-spade brigade.
The rolling Downs are good country for ramblers, offering both green countryside and spectacular views of sea and coast. It is also windy country and many of the trees are horizontal rather than vertical! So it is also good country for flying kites and for hang-gliding, assuming you are brave enough to risk launching yourself into the gusty breezes. I have never attempted it myself.
We were uncertain as to whether to continue on the Beachy Head and have dinner in the pub there or return to Brighton. In the end, we decided to go back to Brighton as evening was coming on apace, and find somewhere for dinner. We had in mind Fat Leo’s Italian restaurant in Market Street as we had been there several times before and had always been pleased with the food and service. It was as good as we remembered.
We had been too busy travelling to spend any time in Brighton today but we felt we ought to at least go down to the seafront before catching the train home. The setting sun was masked by the mist that had remained throughout the day, creating a pretty pink glow in the west.
“Pink sky, shepherd’s pie,” said Tigger. Was this a koan, I wondered; a gnomic saying encapsulating great wisdom? In the end I decided it was a Tiggerish version of the more usual saying about red evening skies and shepherds.*
Is the forecast correct? Will the weather be fine tomorrow for more wanderings? We shall soon find out….
Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight;
Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning.