Words and pics: Neptune SUPs
Most people think that if you live on the coast you spend most of your time SUPing on the sea. The reality is as anyone that lives on the coast will tell you, sometimes the sea is just not an option. Whether it be the tide is wrong, water state too choppy or too much current, the list goes on. Sometimes it’s just a no go. So other options are needed.
Lakes and rivers are always great fun and when learning an important proving ground to hone your skills. Also you are guaranteed to get a paddle. We have all done the journey to the beach only to be met by less than perfect conditions and thought better of it. If you live in the south east you’re surrounded by amazing lakes, reservoirs and rivers. This article is about one such area – The Seven Sisters and River Cuckmere.
The Seven Sisters is a series of chalk cliffs next to the English Channel. They form part of the South Downs, East Sussex, between Seaford and Eastbourne. The cliffs are occasionally used in film making and TV as a stand-ins for the more famous White Cliffs of Dover. They are also featured at the beginning of the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and at the end of the film Atonement.
The Cuckmere Valley in East Sussex is quite possibly the best location in Sussex to experience SUP with a range of water states – from calm and sheltered areas of meandering river, tidal river and access to the sea and surf. It’s the home of Neptune SUPs who can often be found carrying out R&D and demos on the river. If you have your own kit you can just rock up and get on the water for ‘FREE’ (apart from your car park ticket). There is a club house which is home to Buzz Active. The centre is run as a part of East Sussex County Council’s ‘learning outside the classroom’ portfolio. This includes offsite approvals, Duke of Edinburgh Award and local provision for sailing, windsurfing, team building, powerboating, kayaking and in recent seasons, stand up paddle boarding. It’s a facility for the whole community. There’s also another location on Eastbourne seafront. The two centre operation introduced SUP as a core part of its offering in 2012. In 2016 this has focussed primarily on the renamed Buzz Active Cuckmere Centre. They use a range of equipment and work closely with Neptune SUP’s.
The Cuckmere Valley – one of East Sussex’s countryside gems – is an iconic Sussex beauty spot. SUP has become one of the fastest growing sports in the UK and worldwide and in East Sussex it’s no different. The Buzz Active Cuckmere Centre provides tuition and rental to all for this popular and accessible sport. With a range of 10’ and 10’6’’ Neptune all rounders the Cuckmere River is a perfect location for novices and experts alike. Offering a sheltered oxbow lake known as ‘The Meanders’ this closed section of river affords paddlers the perfect spot to start out on shallow sheltered water where participants can easily get to grips with SUP and progress their skills easily with qualified staff available for tuition. Hire is also available.
The centre also has access to the tidal section of the river. Tours are available up to Alfriston, a beautiful and historical Sussex village, and down to the river mouth. Local brand Neptune SUPs, started by Damian Scott an Eastbourne local, meant an opportunity arose to champion a local brand developed by local people. Working with Neptune SUPS the centre has started a social group involving the Eastbourne SUP community, which every Thursday evening gives people the chance to paddle with others if they have their own kit, try some Neptune gear and meet some of the Neptune SUPs team.
What can I expect when paddling on the river?
From beginner to hardcore riders, the Seven Sisters will not disappoint. If you are just learning then going from the slip by the club house is perfect. It’s land locked so there’s no tide or currents to worry about yet still there’s a good stretch to play on. For the more adventurous, once you reach the natural end, then it’s off and over a small ridge. You are now on a sea connected river so check tide times etc. After that you have two choices.
Go left and paddle to the sea. Depending on conditions you can catch some nice waves at the end of the route (that’s the part of beach that was used in Robin Hood). It’s an average distance paddle of about 1.5 miles. For the real hardcore you can keep going left from the river mouth and paddle to Eastbourne. This is for experienced riders only as there is only one exit point (Birling Gap about seven miles away) and then it’s about another seven mile paddle to Holywell (the next out). Again you really must check the tide on this, but if you do get it right, what a paddle! Passing Beachy Head lighthouse and some amazing coastal views I would recommend at least two SUPers, with buoyancy aids, radio, and provisions buddy up. Parking is at both locations – it would be a long day completing the return leg – but certainly doable for the adventurous/experienced.
Go right and paddle inland. This is a very scenic route going under bridges and paddling close to grazing cattle. You can keep on going for as long as you like as the river goes on for miles. Most stop at the beautiful village of Alfriston and get a well-deserved drink. This takes about an hour and a half with the tide from the slip. To really max this run it’s well worth planning your journey and getting the tides right as it’s a tough route against but great fun with!
Regardless of ability the Seven Sisters has a lot to offer. The locals are very friendly and regardless of conditions you will be able to get on the water. There is accommodation close by, also Alfriston has a great campsite, B&B’s and pubs with rooms. So don’t be shy come down and give it a try, see you on the water.