Are you interested in walking to the Beachy Head Lighthouse?

If so, read this first.

The Beachy Head Lighthouse is an operational station and is owned, maintained and operated by Trinity House.

Due to this, you can’t visit the Beachy Head Lighthouse, you will not be allowed in the lighthouse and technically stepping foot on the lighthouse is trespassing.

Before Setting Off

The Beachy Head Lighthouse  is situated at the base of the cliffs at Beachy Head and can only be reached at low tide.

It is very, very important that you check the tide tables before setting off otherwise you could get cut off, stranded and possibly drown.

It is also important that you wear sturdy footwear, i.e. walking boots, as the terrain can be hard going in places and will require you to clamber over rocks.

Careful planning can prevent injury and save you from a calamity.

Tides and Tide Tables

The Beachy Head Lighthouse can be reached at a low tide and the best time to arrive is about one hour before low tide.

You getting different heights of low tide. At a low-low tide it could be as low as 0.2 metres (above chart datum) but a high-low tide could be around 2 metres (above chart datum).

This can make a dramatic difference to how low the water level will be, how much of the beach you can access, how close you can get to the lighthouse and the time you have available to do the walk.

The BBC publishes tide tables up to one week ahead:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/coast_and_sea/tide_tables/9/84#tide-details

Eastbourne Council also makes available a yearly tide times booklet which you can buy or download as a PDF:

http://www.eastbourne.gov.uk/residents/leisure-and-events/eastbourne-seafront/tides/

(Chart datum is the level from which water is measured on nautical charts in order to provide an accurate prediction on tide height around the UK)

How to get to the Beachy Head Lighthouse

The Beachy Head Lighthouse stands at the base of Beachy Head cliffs which are 172 metres or 531ft high.

The only two points of access are Birling Gap in the West or Cow Gap in the East.

Starting from Birling Gap

You can park at the car park at the National Trust visitor centre at Birling Gap.

You can descend the stairs to the shingle beach to begin your walk.

The distance to the lighthouse is 1.93 miles or 3.11 km.

Approximate walking time to the lighthouse 1.5 to 3 hours.

Starting from Cow Gap

Cow Gap has stair access to the beach, but first you need to reach cow Gap.

You can park at the Beachy Head Hotel and walk down to Cow Gap (.8 km or .5 miles), or you can park at top end of Dukes Drive (B2103) in Eastbourne and walk along to Cow Gap (1,94 km or 1.21 miles).

The distance to the lighthouse from Cow Gap is 1.01 miles or 1.63km.

Approximate walking time to the lighthouse 1 to 2 hours.

Lighthouse Walk Recommended Start Point is Cow Gap

I would recommend starting from Cow Gap.

The initial part of the walk to the lighthouse is easier and the distance is shorter.

The reason I give approximate times is due to walking conditions. If it has been raining or you are walking out very shortly after high tide the ground is wet and slippy. If there have been any recent cliff falls you will need to clamber over, or avoid the cliff falls and that all takes time.

Calculating the Walking Time

If low tide is 11:30 then in order to allow an hour at the lighthouse aim to get there for 10:30.

If starting off from Cow Gap we need to allow 2 hours to do the walk, walking conditions permitted, so we would need to be at Cow Gap for 08.30.

If parking at the top of Dukes Drive in Eastbourne the walk to Cow Gap is just over one mile. Allow thirty minutes for the walk to Cow Gap so you need to set off at 08:00.

You will have a good hour at the lighthouse knowing you saw it with the tide at its lowest and could get as close to the lighthouse as you could on that day.

It is best to re-trace your route back as exactly as possible. This way it should take you a comparable length of time to return to your start point.

Be careful and enjoy the experience

I think it is a great opportunity to visit the Beachy Head Lighthouse and get a true sense of scale. From the cliff-top the lighthouse looks small, but when you’re standing at its base looking up at the lighthouse you really just how big the building is.

Also, spend a moment to think what it must have been like to be stationed on the lighthouse for a month at a time with only the company of your two fellow lighthouse keepers. There was nowhere to go as you were ‘on station’ all the time with very little room in the lighthouse to move around in.

When I do this walk, I am well prepared and my list of items includes:

  • Mobile phone
  • Food / Snacks / Chocolate / Breakfast Bar
  • Water
  • Clothing, including layers such as base layer, fleece/jumper, coat, hat, scarf, gloves
  • Walking boots
  • Heavy duty cord
  • Utility knife
  • Torch, including spare batteries
  • Whistle

I am well prepared because I am aware that anything could happen at any moment. I could trip, fall, sprain or break my ankle. I could get trapped by the tide or I could encounter other people in difficulty.

Keep as far away from the cliffs as possible as a fall could happen at any moment.

I was walking about 10 metres away from the cliffs a few years ago and I heard a heavy thud just to my side. I looked down to see a jagged sharp lump of chalk about 8 inches across. If I had been a metre closer it would have most likely killed me. I still have that lump of chalk as a reminder of how lucky I was that day.

Be very careful of your footing as it is very easy to slip off a rock, twist or even break your ankle. Take it slow, don’t rush and don’t definitely don’t run. Take your time and be aware of every step you take.

If things do go wrong and you are cut off by the tide, the main thing is don’t panic. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll be stuck for six hours waiting for the tide to turn. You can sit, wait it out and then walk back when safe to do so.

Do not try to climb the cliffs. They are very unsteady and covered by loose bits of chalk of various sizes which make it difficult to get a grip, but also you could inadvertently trigger a fall.

Study the cliffs carefully and look for the high water mark. The tide can be over 8 metres at its highest and due to this you need to be above the highest point. This can be seen by a green line or seaweed mark on the cliffs or boulders.

Clamber above this point and wait it out. This is why it pays to be prepared as if you have enough clothing, you’ll be warm and if you have food and water, you won’t go go hungry or thirsty. When the tide retreats, you can simply walk back to safety.

Don’t be afraid to abort the walk. I started walking from Birling Gap and there had been so many cliff falls that it was taking much longer to get to the lighthouse than usual. After over two hours I still hadn’t reached half way. This infringed the contingency time I allowed so I had no option but to abort. It was the safest thing to do, plus, I can always try again another day.

In case of an emergency, dial 999 and ask for the coastguard.

I take no responsibility for your safety during your walk.

The information is provided in good faith and to help as I get answered this question a lot.

Don’t let this put you off. On a nice day, it’s a wonderful walk, just be careful.