Posted 13 June 2015 by Andrew Gardner
The Seven Sisters Archaeology Project is something rather special. Or rather, arguably the Seven Sisters themselves are the really special part - an iconic part of the Sussex coast known to and loved by millions of visitors. But the white cliffs and green, rolling fields behind them conceal heritage and history as yet undeciphered. So much yet so little is known of the finds beneath the soil and there could be so much more to discover.
Neolithic enclosures, Iron Age field systems, World War Two defences and the Crowlink Gap Coastguard Station are among the sites already excavated, and it's a race against time before the delicate chalk cliffs erode even further. Geophysical surveys have helped to identify what's beneath the soil, such as the sprawling field systems of Gayle's Farm and the hilltop enclosure of Belle Tout, which archaeologists think might have been the largest prehistoric enclosure in the country but they're still not sure what it was used for - it could have been for stock, defence, a settlement or a trading post. Of course they will keep trying to find out and I look forward to learning more, although I'm also wistful because sometimes letting your imagination loose makes a site more atmospheric.
Further inland was RAF Friston, which housed squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires as well as more than 1000 personnel, while three Bronze Age barrows - that's burial monuments, not wheelbarrows - have already been found on Baily's Hill and there could be many more.
The old coastguard station is fascinating too, and there's more work going on there now in a bid to beat erosion. It was established in the early 1800s to guard Crowlink Gap, the only point along the Seven Sisters with beach access and therefore a favourite for smugglers, of which Sussex had many. It was abandoned in the 1930s.
Walking the Seven Sisters is deceptively tough if you haven't been out and about much yet this year, but it's well worth the effort - and anywhere you stop for a rest will afford fabulous views out over the sea or inland to the South Downs. And if you don't feel like carrying a picnic there are refreshments at Birling Gap. Time to go self-catering on the Sussex coast - if you're thinking of booking, click here and see you at our website.