I made for Birling Gap, on the coast between Seaford and Eastbourne, but my route took me on a country road that passes near Alfriston, one of the South Downs valley villages of East Sussex. I immediately noticed all the flooding in the river valley - water covering huge expanses, and lit up beautifully by the setting sun. Alfriston has a prominent church, that sits on a mound on the river side of the village, and is popularly dubbed 'The Cathedral of the Downs', although it really is no such thing. It looked ethereal in the amber light:
Hmm. Completely waterlogged down there! I was wearing the black boots I'd bought at Fat Face last November, which hadn't seen a lot of wear hitherto, but were now coming into their own as proper winter weather at last descended on Sussex. Here they are, when new six weeks ago:
They still looked pretty much like that. Almost pristine, with no signs of wear. I was up on a high lane that looked down on the fields. I itched to get down into those fields to try different shots into the sun, and not just across the valley, but attempting to do that clearly wouldn't do these boots any good at all. They were much too nice to get mucky.
I did have my regular Alt-Berg walking boots with me, though they back where I'd left Fiona. And really these super-saturated fields needed proper wellies, like the Gumleaf ones I'd bought last August, which I had been successfully used for caravanning on wet grass but for nothing else so far:
Of course, I didn't have them with me!
Mind you, for all I knew the water was deeper than it looked, and therefore even with these knee-length wellies I'd be minded to hesitate. What would I do if I sunk in too much, had to struggle, slipped or overbalanced, and took a header into the morass? As well I might. Drive home naked, or at least clad only in my underwear? (I wasn't going to besmirch Fiona's seats with evil-smelling ooze from the field)
So I contented myself with the shots I could get from the lane. There wasn't much scope. I took pictures that might look 'interesting' when worked on back home. Alfriston as never seen before...
But these two, with recognisable trees in them, came out all right:
I drove on to Birling Gap on the coast. A half-decent sunset was rapidly developing. It was the obvious place to go next. Birling Gap is a little community badly threatened by sea erosion. It always has been, but in recent years the cliff face has been retreating inland at a rate of knots. Well, perhaps by a metre or two every year, anyway. Every time I visit, a few more inches seem to have disappeared. Yesterday it was like this:
That row of former coastguard cottages in the shot just above seems to shrink in length on a regular basis! As recently as 2013 the end of the row extended beyond the chimneys:
Now a bit more had had to be taken down for safety's sake, a room upstairs and a room downstairs both sacrificed as the foundations became dodgy:
There was once space at the seaward end of the row for stowing all kinds of fishing gear, as in this shot from 2008:
And the tenant had even been happy to store his boat against the face of the cliff, as in these shots from 2001 and 2002:
No longer! I understand that the 'end cottage' commands a low rent on a wasting lease. A few years ago the lady in occupation - she was an artist, I seem to recall - explained that it was worth living there even if she'd clearly have to abandon her home at some point, because the rent was so reasonable, and she had that wonderful sea view from her front bow window and her back garden. Well, yes, if you are able to sleep soundly through every winter storm! I don't think I'd be able to. The chalk cliffs here are very fractured and easily undermined by the waves. You can see the process at work on the high cliffs nearby:
They warn you to keep away from the cliff edge, because you may very well be standing on an unstable overhang that might go at any moment. The verticality and whiteness of these cliffs testifies to how many falls occur:
There are not just old cottages at Birling Gap. There's a National Trust Shop and Café (previously a hotel) which was once comfortably back from the cliff edge, as in this 2002 shot:
Oh dear, not in 2016...
The beach remains, and a staircase to reach it, that they have to dismantle and rebuild every few years. It's a great platform for viewing the many fine sunsets you get along the Sussex coast. More now of what I saw yesterday.
On the beach student girls frolicked and chatted while waiting to see the sun dip, and lovers snuggled up closely and hugged each other. I attempted contre-jour selfies.
I could see it wasn't worth waiting for the sun to sizzle and quench in the cold sea. A low bank of cloud was going to hide it. I left, retracing my route. I put my camera away. Then, on reaching Exceat, I saw this in the afterglow as I passed. Reflections in an oxbow of the Cuckmere River. Hurriedly parking, I ran back, drivers on the A259 kindly stopping, realising my haste, to let me cross the road and get my shot. They got my very best smile in return.
Now that's uncontrived natural beauty, no gimmicks, no false colour, caught inside a narrow and lucky window of opportunity. What I believe most photography is basically all about.