I live with my husband and children in rural south-east England. My favourite place for a family day trip is a stunning beach called Birling Gap on England’s South coast, near the vibrant city of Brighton in Sussex.
The pebbly beach is owned by the National Trust, a charity which protects the nation’s heritage. There’s nothing there but the Birling Gap café and glorious views in every direction. The white of the famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs, the green of the South Downs, the ever-changing English Channel and the beach itself combine to make a unique and glorious spot. The cliffs there are eroding and above the beach sits a terrace of coastguard cottages which has partly disappeared because of the encroaching sea. Next to these cottages is an old-fashioned red phone box which my children think is hilarious – they love pretending to make calls from it and hearing about life before mobile phones.
Before visiting Birling Gap it’s best to check the tide times to make sure that you go there at low tide. For my perfect day there with my kids I’d take a picnic, swimsuits, towels, buckets, fishing nets and something to sit on. We’d arrive early on a sunny day at low tide. We’d head down the steep stairs to the pebbly beach and enjoy rock-pooling, paddling, swimming and sunbathing until it was time for our picnic lunch.
After lunch we’d go up the stairs, through the car park and walk along the cliff path to the East, keeping well away from the cliff edge. This is a gentle, uphill walk through green, chalk-flecked downland with huge skies framing views across the English channel. After a few minutes’ walk you come to the Belle Tout Lighthouse which was built in 1832, decommissioned in 1902 and is now a bed & breakfast hotel. On the ground near here there are often pictures and words formed of the tiny pieces of chalk which are everywhere on the grass. We’d stop to create our own pictures, which my children love doing, and then follow the path behind the B&B and out the other side for a view of the iconic red and white stripes of Beachy Head Lighthouse. (When the lighthouse owner could no longer afford to repaint the brightly coloured stripes a public appeal raised the money to cover the work).
We’d then walk back to the car park and nip to the café for an ice-cream, which we’d eat back on the beach. We’d stay at the beach as long as we wanted to, then pop in to the café for a cream tea before setting off for home.