KEVIN GORDON - Sussex coastline explored in fine detail

Kevin Gordon

Kevin Gordon

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I often take my dog for a walk along the beach at Seaford or at Tide Mills and try to imagine what the view would of looked like in days gone by.

Since William the Conquerer’s ships were dragged up the beach near Pevensey over 900 years ago, the Sussex coastline has changed dramatically.

At Rye and Pevensey, huge tracts of the seashore have silted up with shingle, whereas at between Seaford and Eastbourne the cliffs have eroded. By the 16th century, the ancient Cinque Port of Seaford was made unusable as the River Ouse changed its course.

Between Bexhill and Eastbourne, most of the Martello Towers built between 1804 and 1808 had succumbed to the advancing waves after standing for just a few years before the high water mark crept further inshore.

What caused these changes to be made? Is it natural or man-made conditions? These and many other questions are answered in a carefully researched and well-written book by Seaford author Rodney Castleden “The Sussex Coast – Land, Sea and the Geography of Hope”.

This is a book for anyone who wants to know more about the geography and history of our coastline and is written in a language easy to understand.

Rodney is not too technical in his writing, so it is a book to be enjoyed. He is also a talented illustrator and the book is enhanced by some good, clear illustrations and maps. Particularly interesting are the small diagrams showing the encroaching (or sometime receding) coastlines.

Rodney has carefully read and studied the 154 kilometre Sussex coastline, from west to east and describes its physical attributes.

Every inlet and cliff, every beach and seaside town is considered, as well as the people, past and present who have lived here.

Sussex residents range from the fur clad Neolithic hunters, to the retired couple who have moved down south for the warmer summers, indeed more than half the people who live in Sussex now live on the coast.

Sussex is after all the sunniest county in the country. All have left their mark from the flint tools and animal bone axes to twee holiday homes (I particularly like the twee circular art-deco style homes at Pevensey Bay).

It is not only a physical legacy – our coast has drawn artists and actors, potters and poets. A Country Life survey of 2009 declared that East Sussex was the third most active county in the UK for the arts. (Only West Yorkshire and Norfolk were more arty with West Sussex coming seventeenth).

As I have been writing Seaford history items in this paper for several years, I was pleasantly surprised to read quite a bit about our local coast that I didn’t know about. Rodney had obviously left no pebble unturned in seeking information.

I was fascinated to read about ‘solution pipes’ along the chalk cliffs of Seaford Head.

These are round features that cut through the chalk like a back-filled well and are formed by the chalk dissolving over millions of years.

They can be seen under Seaford Head not only cutting their way up through the chalk but also as circular depressions in the wave-cut platform which can clearly be seen at Hope Gap during low tides.

Rodney has plotted 19 of these features and believes that this is the only place in the world where this geological feature can be so clearly seen.

But you don’t need to scrabble across the scree under Seaford Head to learn more – the Sea Breezes and Sea Beans exhibition at Seaford Museum has been very popular, with maps and photos and some examples of exotic flotsam washed ashore in the bay.

Why not pay a visit this weekend? You can buy Rodney’s book there. It has over 300 pages and is a cracking read, I certainly enjoyed it.

The price is £15.95 and it is also available from lulu.com. Alternatively drop a note through Rodney’s postbox (he lives at Rookery Cottage on Blatchington Hill, Seaford) and he will contact you to arrange delivery.