Lighthouse Challenge achieved

ON 24th June, two members of Seaford Rotary Club, President Elect Mike Roper, Paul Connor, a Friend of Rotary and myself were among the 663 walkers participating in the Lighthouse Challenge, a rare opportunity when a low Spring tide occurs during daylight hours for people to walk around the Beachy Head lighthouse.
The walk was organised by Eastbourne AM Rotary Club in conjunction with the “Save the Stripes” campaign. In addition to raising funds for the necessary re-painting, the walkers also support local charities through their fees to participate. To participate, each walker is required to be reasonably fit and to purchase a ticket, either on line (£6.50) or to pay an increased fee at the start (£7.00).
The weather was cool for June with fog encircling the upper parts of Beachy Head when the first of the intrepid walkers set off from the starting point, the kiosk by St. Bede’s school, Holywell, Eastbourne.
The starting time was between 16:00 and 17:15 BST. The times were stipulated so that maximum advantage could be made of the small window that enables people to walk around the lighthouse, and return before the tide turns and the sun sets. On the 24th June, the maximum low water was forecast to be at 18:37 BST, and sunset at 21:24 BST.
Mike Roper and Paul Connor set off together before me, but we all started near the earlier time. Each participant is given a numbered wrist band at registration for the walk.
The route took the 663 walkers over the Downs to Cow Gap, where following a few steps cut into the hillside, there is a metallic ladder staircase down to the beach. The lighthouse was not yet visible and all the event partakers had to turn right and walk along a path of rounded flints to a track through a chalk rock outcrop, and over a flint path though scattered chalk boulders before observing the lighthouse around the headland.
The first view of the lighthouse showed, however, that there was still a significant stretch of coast line to overcome before the objective of the walk could be reached.
When the red and white painted beacon was first visible to the leading walkers, the sea had not retreated from its base, and they had to wait until the tide had receded further before managing to view the seaward side of the concrete obelisk.
The route continued over a small sandy beach to flat wet eroded smooth chalk covered with seaweed of varying types and which also supported colonies of limpets, winkles, several crabs in the rivulets in cracks in the chalk or pools left behind by the receding tide, and at one location a starfish.
At the end of this section, the string of walkers clambered precariously between chalk boulders that appeared to have been the result of a cliff fall many years ago. This gave way to another shorter length of smooth chalk before more clambering between larger chalk boulders revealed a clear view of the lighthouse from top to its base.
Members of Eastbourne AM Rotary Club were on hand along the route to guide and assist walkers if necessary. They endeavoured to keep walkers at least 50 feet from the based on the cliff to protect us from cliff falls, although none were seen. The last section of the outward walk however necessitated following a flint pebble path near to the foot of the cliff before turning directly towards to lighthouse which by now was standing isolated from the salty waters but surrounded by a throng of satisfied participants. Beachy Head stood dominating behind us.
Eastbourne lifeboat was also stationed off the lighthouse, and their small patrol boat was seen going along the near shore in readiness to give assistance if necessary.
I managed to join Mike Roper and Paul Connor here, they had already walked around the seaward side of the lighthouse, and I completed the objective of the walk before joining him.
From reading the guidance for participants before starting the walk, I had expected Rotarians from Eastbourne AM to be taking a note of our wrist bands both for safety and as a confirmation that we had rounded the lighthouse so that we would be eligible for a certificate of achievement, but on finding a Rotarian, I was informed that this practice had been given up several years ago as the logistics of recording details of each walker was found to be impracticable!
The route back was much the same except that as the sea had retreated further, it was not necessary to clamber between chalk boulders over part of the route as the receding tide had uncovered a further flat stretch of chalk.
Possibly due to this alternative route, the return journey seemed quicker, and it was not long before all three of us were clambering up the steps at Cow Gap and the series of steps cut into the hillside to reach the grass path above. There was still a good twenty-minute walk back to the registration point where certificates were being given to the weary travellers.
Mike, Paul and I eventually reached the registration point and joined the queue for our certificate to authenticate that we had undertaken the “Lighthouse Challenge” successfully. The walk had taken just under three hours.
On the walk, the participants were of all ages, children, couples, families, some four legged canine friends, serious and non-serious walkers.
As we waited to hand in our wrist bands and collect our certificate, we were joined in the queue by an elderly lady with her granddaughter. We were informed that this lady, Mary Smith, celebrated her 90th birthday in March this year! So next year as the average age of club members is only 74, will more Seaford Rotarians participate?

posted: Saturday, 24 June 2017

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