Cuckmere Haven

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Looking West over Cuckmere Haven
The Seven Sisters and the coastguard cottages

Cuckmere Haven (also known as the Cuckmere Estuary) is a rivermouth on the sea an its surrounding area of flood plains, in Sussex. This is where the Cuckmere River bursts out into the English Channel between Eastbourne and Seaford.

The river meanders wildly here, and several oxbow lakes about its course testify to where it has moved over time. It is a popular tourist destination with an estimated 350,000 visitors per year, where they can engage in long walks, or water activities on the river. The beach at Cuckmere Haven is next to the famous chalk cliffs, the Seven Sisters.

The wreck of the Polynesia, a German sailing ship that ran aground in April 1890 west of Beachy Head laden with a cargo of sodium nitrate, is exposed at low tide.


Econd World War defences

The beach was commonly used by smugglers in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. For example, in 1783 two gangs of smugglers (each numbering 200 or 300) overcame officers of the law by weight of numbers and carried away a large quantity of goods.[1]

During the Second World War, the site was studied by the 'Luftwaffe as they flew missions to identify potential landing sites for the invasion of the British mainland. As a result, the Army constructed a series of counter-landing defences, of which numerous pillboxes, anti-tank obstacles, ditches and tank traps survive.[2] Admiralty scaffolding blocked the inlet, but is now gone.[2] Cuckmere Haven featured heavily in the war effort: at night lights were placed to confuse bombers into thinking they were above Newhaven and an airfield was set up further inland.[3] In addition to the permanent land-based constructions, the river was heavily mined.[2]

Gravel was once extracted from the beach at Cuckmere Haven and transported to the road at Exceat on a 2-foot gauge tramway a mile long, established in the early 1930s and closed in 1964. The tramway began in what is now the car park on the southern side of the main road. The footpath to Cuckmere Haven (east of the river) follows the line of the tramway.[4]


Two hamlets, Exceat and Foxhole, are in the park, along with a small group of cottages on the cliff edge (known as the coastguard cottages) – these are mostly kept as holiday homes.

Exceat is a group of farm buildings with facilities and a café. There is also a tiny old shepherd's caravan. The name Exceat derives from an older expression for "exit": the hamlet was an exit for people sailing out to the Channel.

Foxhole is made up of another group of agricultural buildings, with a large pond at the centre. The two houses are home to the Seven Sisters Country Park rangers, and one barn has been converted to a camping barn, with an adjacent field for camping. This is known as Foxhole Campsite, and is useful for South Downs Way walkers.

Coastguard cottages

BBC Interview in February 2016

The coastguard cottages at Cuckmere Haven were built shortly after the National Coastguard Service was founded in 1822. Before this, Cuckmere Haven was an important place for smuggling.[5] The cliff face in front of the cottages has since retreated by more than 30 yards due to coastal erosion. This combined with the loss of shingle from the beach below the cottages due to wave action in storms has put the cottages in danger. A fundraising campaign has been created to protect these iconic buildings.[6]

Wildlife and ecosystem

Anglers, in mouth of the Cuckmere

Cuckmere Haven is home to a large variety of wildlife, and has a rich ecosystem. Sheep and cattle graze, keeping the fields at a constant vegetation level. Woodpigeons and rooks pick at the stubble, and aquatic birds such as oystercatchers forage in the water meadows. The result is a fertile area of land providing varied habitats. The beaches are made up of shingle and there are rock pools along the shoreline at low tide.

In popular culture

Cuckmere Haven has frequently been used as a filming location for television and films, including scenes in:

  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Atonement
  • Green Wing
  • Foyle's War
  • Mr. Holmes
  • Agatha Christie's Poirot
  • Luther


Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Cuckmere Haven)


  1. Parry, John Docwra, An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Coast of Sussex: Brighton, Eastbourn, Hastings, St. Leonards, Rye, &c. &c. &c. Worthing, Arundel, Goodwood, Chichester, &c. &c. &c. Battle, Hurstmonceaux, Lewes & Tonbridge Wells. Forming also a Guide to All the Watering Places, "Extract of a letter from a gentleman, at Stafford, Sussex, Sept. 18.", Wright & son, 1833, p. 191f
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Foot 2006, pp. 40–47.
  3. Richard Moss, WWII Coastal Defences at Cuckmere Haven, Culture24, 5 June 2005, accessed 28 February 2018
  4. Mitchell and Smith (2001). Sussex Narrow Gauge. Middleton Press. 
  5. "Smuggling". 
  6. "Cuckmere Haven SOS". 
  • Foot, William (2006). Beaches, fields, streets, and hills ... the anti-invasion landscapes of England, 1940. Council for British Archaeology. ISBN 1-902771-53-2.