Saturday, 29 November 2014

Cuckmere Haven at sunset

I have completely abandoned any plans to move to North Devon and the glorious coastal scenery there, but I can console myself with the coastal scenery of Sussex. It's not uniformly glorious, but it's very good in certain spots, and most of it faces exactly the right way for really great sunsets at any time of the year.

Not too far from me is a particularly attractive place, Cuckmere Haven. I've been going there repeatedly since the early 1990s. It's the bay you come to if you have walked all the miles westward from Eastbourne, past Cow Gap, Beachy Head, Belle Tout and Birling Gap, and then up and down each of the Seven Sisters, those very high iconic chalk cliffs set all in a row, that gleam so whitely. It's also the bay you come to if you struggle up Seaford Head, walk eastwards to Hope Gap, and then just a little further. It's the outfall of the River Cuckmere, which cuts a wide green valley in two, a mile of meadowland that separates the car park at Exceat (doesn't that sound such an ancient name?) from the shingle shore and the sea. A row of old coastguard cottages stand guard in the turf above the bay. They are holiday homes now, with private access only through locked gates and along a rough gravel track.

Cuckmere Haven is a very popular sunset destination, but it never seems crowded, because ordinary visitors can't drive to the sea there - everyone has to park and walk a distance. Photographers love it. There's a good shot to be had from any angle, at any state of the tide.

Today was, for once, a really sunny day, and I decided to go to the Haven for some fresh air and exercise. I hoped there would be a decent sunset too.

On arrival I thought that I'd left it too late, as the sun was getting pretty low. Nevertheless, with the shingle (and larger pebbles) in mind, I spent time putting on my Alt-Berg boots. It seemed likely that the sun would be set before I reached the first of several lagoons that lie between the car park and the shore. And indeed, the sun's disc was only just visible at the first lagoon:

But the horizon fell as I walked on towards the shore, keeping the sun in view just a little longer. Then, in the immediate afterglow, wisps of cloud became colourfully illuminated. I looked for eye-catching water-reflections. The coastguard cottages and their distinctive chimneys became evocative silhouettes. So did the people on the shore.

On my left were the beginnings of the Seven Sisters cliffs. They seemed a long way off, but I did make it to their foot, as you shall see.

Suddenly, from nowhere, a flock of seagulls rose from the beach and headed my way. My little Leica isn't the right camera for shooting fast-flying birds, but I did get these shots - one into the sunset, and one against the rising moon:

There were people on the shore. A lot of them seemed to be Chinese. Students, that sort of person. They were all watching the sun go down. The waves broke gently. There was almost no wind.

I came across a large white chalk pebble, upended on the shingle. There were plenty of similar pebbles around. Here's my right foot on one, followed by a view of this rather elegant complement to the sunset sky:

From this moment, the light began to fade fast. By the time I'd trudged up to the cliffs, it was twilight. But that lit-up wisp of cloud refused to die.

Satisfied, I headed back. The afterglow tempted me to keep shooting all the way. I couldn't resist.

Eventually I had to resolutely turn my back on the sunset sky, and point the Alt-Bergs firmly towards the car park. The light was getting very dim. And I was suddenly conscious that I was on my own, in the dark, and in a lonely spot. I felt exposed to potential danger. I wish I hadn't dallied.

I stepped up my pace and was very glad to catch up with, and overtake, a family party of eight. Normal people. They wouldn't stand any nonsense from anyone. They'd cover my escape. Then I was back at the car park. It was quite dark now. Boots off, socks off, shoes on, get inside Fiona, lock the doors, fire her up, drive off. Presumably the family party made short work of any mad axemen who had been on my tail.

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