Exceat was once a sleepy hamlet consisting solely of isolated farmsteads near Cuckmere Haven alongside the towering Seven Sisters cliffs. Since 1977 it has been the operational centre for the 700-acre Seven Sisters Country Park, thousands of people every year coming to enjoy one of the last undeveloped river estuaries in Southern England. Walkers, cyclists and canoeists throng here in the summer season but the wide open spaces accommodate them all. It is still easy to find peace and solitude alongside the Cuckmere River whose lazy, serpentine meanders put me in mind of my old grandad?s pipe smoke as he snoozed by the fire. This exhilarating ramble initially climbs the green heights on the South Downs Way giving spectacular views of the river before dropping down to a wonderful shingle beach beneath the chalk cliffs. The return route is on a hard path at the water's edge.
1. Cross the road opposite the Visitor Centre and go left of the bus pull-in to a gate. Go through and go left, following the yellow South Downs Way sign uphill on a grassy track. Where the track divides at the marker post, swing right and go through a kissing gate, heading downhill towards the Haven and to the right of a rectangular pond. Go through a gate at the bottom.
2. Turn left to the gate and go through, walking on to the next direction post. Go left, following the yellow South Downs Way sign, and then swing right at the bottom of the hill, following the sign to the beach.
3. Turn right over the shingle beach to the Cuckmere Haven sign and the river outlet.
4. Turn right on a track. Go through a gate and walk on to the next gate. Go through and follow the concrete path left to the road and the starting point.
Exceat is one of the lost villages of Sussex mentioned in the Domesday Book but by 1460 it consisted of just two houses and a ruined church. Frequent raids by French pirates were the most likely cause of depopulation and abandonment, although the visitation of the Black Death was a likely contributory factor.
Cuckmere Haven and the Cuckmere River have been used by commercial vessels over the centuries - par of the channel was straightened - but the unpredictable nature of winds and tides and the constantly changing shape of the shingle bank have made the landing a precarious one. But it was a convenient spot for smuggling! This precious resource is being allowed over the next couple of decades (with a little help) to revert to its natural form to optimise wildlife and to create an exceptional habitat particularly for birds and flowers. At low tide, you can feast your eyes on the luscious dazzling white curves of the Seven Sisters cliffs to the east.
As you walk around the park you will notice one isolated and several clusters of Second World War pillboxes located at strategic positions to defend the beach in the event of invasion by German forces. The blocks to the left of the gate at point 4 on the walk are tank traps and they are in their original position.
Exceat is between Eastbourne and Seaford on the A259. Park in either of the two pay and display car parks near the Visitor Centre. Toilet facilities are available close by.