Beachy Head lighthouse B&B (Belle Tout), South Downs, England

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Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Beachy Head lighthouse B&B (Belle Tout), South Downs, England

Environment

The lighthouse has a fascinating history; the building was built in 1832 after many petitions for a lighthouse were made due to a number of shipwrecks and sailors losing their lives along the dangerous stretch of coastline. The location was carefully planned so that the light was visible for 20 miles out to sea. Over the years erosion of the cliff reduced the effectiveness of the lighthouse and in 1902 it was decommissioned when the new lighthouse built at the base of the cliffs came into service. During the Second World War the lighthouse was badly damaged due to Canadian Troops using it as target practice.

In the following years the building changed hands many times, used as a home, passed onto the council and then in 1986 the BBC bought it and used it in the making of Fay Weldon’s “Life and Loves of a She-Devil”. In 1999, due to continuing erosion threatening the future of the lighthouse it was moved 17 metres back from the edge of the cliff by the impressive engineering work of Abbey Pynford. In 2007 the building was up for sale again, during this time a campaign was set up, Belle Tout Lighthouse Preservation Trust, to try and make the lighthouse available to the public so that anyone could visit and stay. Although the trust lost out to a private buyer in 2008, the building was lovingly restored to its former glory and is now open to guests as a bed and breakfast.

When the current owners carried out the renovations and converted the building into a habitable space they used local builders and tradesmen. They also exposed many of the lighthouses original features that had been hidden over the years. The reception desk is made from wood from Brighton’s west pier. In the Keepers Loft at the top of the tower the original stairs are still in place, along with the feature brick walls and fireplace. For any new additions to the building it was important to source locally and gain inspiration from the surrounding landscape. The stained glass window in the lighthouse, which is also used as their logo, was beautifully crafted by Ruth Fisher a local glass artist from Sussex.

The traditional breakfast on offer is made using locally sourced ingredients including, free range eggs, Sussex vine tomatoes and bacon and sausages from Walbrins butchers in Seaford.

Community

It took two years for the extensive renovations at the lighthouse to be completed and during that time a number of builders worked on the building. The owners of the lighthouse thought of a novel charity campaign and convinced the builders to pose naked for a charity calendar. The 2010 calendar in aid of Everyman raises awareness of testicular and prostate cancer and hopes to stamp it out altogether. The calendar was a huge success and raised a great deal of money for Everyman. Unfortunately the calendar is no longer for sale but there are a few copies still available at the lighthouse.

The team at the lighthouse have a strong ethos on keeping things local, from sourcing breakfast locally to using local artists and recommending local businesses. The B&B has connections with many local people and businesses, for example you can have a massage or treatment from a local man who lives in East Dean. Or you may want to go on a guided walk around the Cuckmere Valley, operated by a local guy named Mark. Supporting other local independent businesses is important and rewarding. There is certainly plenty of choice when it comes to local places to eat, The Beachy Head Pub is the closest and oozes rural charm. The Eight Bells in Jevington is a fabulous country pub with a large garden for those summer months. Also close by is the Tiger Inn at East Dean which is a hugely popular pub in Sussex.

If there is anything more you want to know about the lighthouse’s history or the new lighthouse still in operation then Rob Wassell is your man. He has written books about the history and story behind both lighthouses and is basically an oracle of knowledge. The Story of the Belle Tout Lighthouse by Rob Wassell includes rarely seen pictures and facts that many people will not be aware of. 50% of the profit from the book is donated to the Save the Stripes campaign. Last year it was made public that Trinity House had decided not to repaint the Beachy Head Lighthouse and allow it to slowly fade to its original grey granite colour. The news that the lighthouse would lose its unmistakable red and white stripes has caused much controversy and the campaign hopes to save the stripes.

Landscape

The lighthouse bed and breakfast is perched on the edge of the Beachy Head cliffs in East Sussex. Beachy Head is a prominent headland located between Eastbourne and Birling Gap in the South Downs National Park. The cliff at Beachy Head is the highest chalk cliff in Britain, rising to 530feet. The name Beachy Head is a corruption of the original French words ‘Beauchef’ meaning ‘beautiful headland’.

Beachy Head is considered to be one of the most beautiful locations in the entire UK. The walking in the surrounding area is second to none, the Cuckmere Valley is said to be the jewel in the crown of the stunning South Downs, Britain’s newest National Park. You can walk straight out into the countryside with miles of breathtaking views, pretty villages and plenty of warm pubs for those well earned refreshments.

Whilst staying at the lighthouse you can easily walk down into Eastbourne, where you can meander along the beautiful seafront, marvel at the flower displays and eat delicious ice cream. Close by are the pretty villages of East Dean and Jevington, both have a selection of tea rooms, pubs and restaurants to choose from. Friston Forest is a stone’s throw away and has some fantastic mountain biking trails tucked away in the beech wood. The Seven Sisters country park comprises of open chalk grassland and the meandering river valley. Seven Sisters has so much to offer the outdoor enthusiasts including bird watching and canoeing.

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