Chalk cliffs at Beachy Head
Chalk cliffs at Beachy Head

The landscape of the South Downs at Beachy Head in East Sussex is one of the most visually striking scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Lush, rolling, green hills set against stark, cream chalk cliffs create an otherworldly effect. When I visited the area, cloud-filtered winter light gave everything a hazy, yellowish-gray tinge. A strong wind blew salty mist in from the sea during the entirety of my three day stay. Contrasting elements of harsh and soft had all of my senses working overtime.

I spent my days walking the Downs, where sheep and cattle graze. My mom and I visited in December, when the area was completely abandoned, except for locals. On walks of several hours, we encountered only one or two people, who were very approachable and friendly. The vastness of the landscape was highlighted by this sense of solitude. Around me in every direction was endless greenery, and in front of me, a hazy sky and rough sea blended almost imperceptibly at the horizon. These elements were occasionally punctuated by scrubby brush growth and stunted trees clinging to life in the harsh, salty wind.

At the midpoint of our walks, we came to Birling Gap. Here, the cliffs swept elegantly down to the sea from their towering heights at either side. An expansive visitors’ center and tea room made for a comfortable resting spot, with great views of the beach. Refreshed with tea and pasties, we walked along the beach, and continued our leisurely strolls across the Downs.

Sunlight on the water at Birling Gap
Sunlight on the water at Birling Gap

At the beginning and end of these long walks was the charming town of East Dean. We stayed at the Tiger Inn, where some of the locals we encountered on our walks stopped for evening drinks. The food and service weren’t great, but the atmosphere was spectacular. Friends gathered bar stools in half circles to talk, and mingled with others sitting at the two or three tables surrounding the bar. The other patrons immediately singled us out—two American women obviously exhausted from a combination of physical exertion and exposure to the elements—and struck up pleasant conversations.

Despite being in a completely foreign environment, I felt that I belonged in this place. It provided the bare minimum in comfort—closeness with nature and a small, friendly community—and nothing superfluous. Necessities could be bought at the general store, and a train station in nearby Eastbourne connected us with the outside world. Even after all of the years I’ve enjoyed living in Philadelphia, I hope to make my permanent home in this kind of place. The close-knit community opened up, and took us in, because we appreciated all that it had to offer, and couldn’t have dreamed of asking for anything more.

This post is a response to the weekly WordPress Photo Challenge, which asked bloggers to showcase their best landscape shot.

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