Even if you have never been to East Sussex, you will probably recognise the familiar view of the Seven Sisters cliffs unfurling like a banner behind a line of quaint coastguard cottages. That’s because they set the scene for Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and the romantic finale of Atonement. If locations could win Academy Awards, the Seven Sisters would have many to their name.
Up close, horizontal seams of flint give it the look of lined paper. From afar, folds of rock stick out from the base, straining like the Achilles tendons of some enormous giant.
“From the viewpoint at the coastguard cottages, it is possible to see almost all seven peaks, their grassy scalps receding into the distance”
These cliffs have become the more attractive double for the not-very White Cliffs of Dover, which are slowly greening from decades of protecting the Channel Tunnel and busy port from cliff erosion. 80 miles to the west, at the start of the South Downs, the Sisters’ cliff faces are less protected. The natural collapse of the rock often exposes the raw, white chalk beneath, giving the desired effect for spectacular film scenes that want to capture a sense of the sublime, the coast or of a quintessential English-ness. Because of their impressive filmography, I was surprised to find that the stretch of iconic coastline was not overcrowded during my visit. Perhaps put-off by the drizzly weather, there was barely a soul on approach to the beach. It is low tide and the leaden sea throws white lines of whipped-up foam to the shore, as if to reconcile their differences. At high tide, the waves are less innocent, and erode the rock by half a metre every year.
From the viewpoint at the coastguard cottages, it is possible to see almost all eight peaks, their grassy scalps receding into the distance. As more erosion causes the cliffs to recede, there will likely soon be more of them.
This was published in the May 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.