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Climbing up a steep hill, I question why are they called Downs?

In an attempt to chase the winter blues away I am rambling along Sussex’s Seven Sister coastal path in bright winter sunshine. There is blue sky, contrasting green vistas of the South Downs National Park and spectacular unspoilt views of the sea. A cold breeze too. Just the thing to start the year’s travels.

The Seven Sisters, the name given to undulating cliffs between Cuckmere Haven and Birling Gap near Eastbourne, were formed by glacier melt water at the end of the last ice age.

My walk starts at Cuckmere Haven where the meandering river meets the English Channel – a fine view of oxbow lakes.

The turf covered white cliffs rise before me – a spectacular reminder that Britain was once joined to France before they were broken apart by the Channel, which continues to erode the sheer, crumbling chalk heights.

In the distance, clinging to the cliff side is Belle Tout. Now a private home, built originally in 1828 as a light house. It was later replaced by the more famous red and white striped Beachy Head light house.

I remember Belle Tout, ‘the light house that moved’ in a TV documentary about rescuing it from falling in to the sea. With a series of hydraulic jacks it was slid 17 metres inland. Its dramatic location was later featured in films such as the James Bond Living Daylights and Life and Loves of the She-Devil.

When I finally reach Birling Gap the wild sea is churned into a dramatic milky white from the eroding cliffs. Every single year the sea nibbles away at the cliffs leaving row of fisherman’s cottages now uninhabited waiting for the sea to claim them. The recent high tides and heavy rain has closed the beach, however, there is a fine viewing platform.

The South Downs National Park is well worth a visit any time of the year– a real breath of fresh air.

I found the answer to my question – Down or Dun is an Old English word for hill – now I know.