We left Eastbourne and began the climb up to Beachy Head.
Half way up we were rather surprised to see a sports field, nestled in a valley between two hills. It seemed irrational to have a sports pitch on top of a cliff. If you arranged a football match here, everyone would climb up and decide they were too exhausted to play. And if they did salvage enough energy to play a game of football, what would happen if someone accidentally kicked the ball too hard and sent it over the cliff edge?
Beachy Head is a clifftop headland which stands some 530 feet above sea level. It is famous for its beauty and for its lighthouse, but infamous for its suicides. It is reported that in an average year 20 people jump to their death. This makes Beachy Head the fourth most popular suicide spot in the world. I am not altogether sure the word “popular” is really all that appropriate in that sentence. Talking about an “average year” in terms of suicides also makes me uncomfortable. Yet unfortunately, the suicide rate at Beachy Head is such that both words are commonly used in the harsh world of statistical analysis. The only places which are more “popular” for suicides are Mount Fuji in Japan (which averages 70 suicides per year); the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco (30 per year); and Niagara Falls (23 per year).
Suicides at Beachy Head are all too regular. In 2008 coastguards were trying to retrieve the body of one man who had jumped to his death, only to be narrowly missed by a car which had plunged off the cliffs above them, driven by another man who had decided to end his life.
During the week we walked over Beachy Head there had been one suicide. The Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team, a charity specialising in intervening and search and rescue, reported that during this week they were called out on 11 searches for people who were feared to be contemplating suicide, another 2 via staff from the clifftop pub, and that they came across a further 3 incidents during patrols. All in one week.
The pub staff are told to be on the look-out for customers who turn up alone and who seem to be despondent.
It is a beautiful place to be, Beachy Head, but all around it is tainted by the sadness and poignancy of lives tragically lost. The first thing we saw on arrival was a Samaritans signpost. It stood next to a brightly coloured ice cream van selling Mr Whippy cones to smiling tourists.
As we walked along the clifftop, we saw benches dedicated to people who had sat here in their old age and enjoyed the view. We also saw benches dedicated to younger people who had died in their 20’s. We drew our own conclusions. At one point we saw small crosses cemented into the ground, to mark the loss of loved ones who had decided to end their lives here.
Beachy Head is poignant for another reason. In the Second World War it was on the main Bomber Command flight path over to Germany. Over 50% of the aircrew who joined Bomber Command died serving their country. The war memorial there says of the air crews, “For many, this would have been their last sight of England“.
Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):
- Clifftop Sports Pitch: N 50° 44.770 E 000° 15.820
- Bomber Command Memorial: N 50° 44.335 E 000° 15.218
Walk #47 Statistics (of which this post forms the third part):
- Date of Walk: 2 March 2013
- Walk #47 total distance covered: 7.39 miles
- Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 382.85 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!