Hiking by Night
This is a guest post by Seanna Fallon from Seanna's World
Hiking, for me, is about getting away from it all. Escaping the relentlessness of noisy, bustling, crowded London, escaping the pressures of commuting, deadlines, crossing busy streets while barely lifting my eyes from my Smartphone.
It’s about finding calm – slowing down my mind and speeding up my heart. It’s about being in the moment, noticing the breeze on my face, the smell of wet earth and the plants around me.
A lot of this escape is about variety and changing up my norm. For this reason, I rarely hike the same route twice. I don’t get out into nature nearly as much as I would like, but when I do, I trawl through websites and blogs for new ideas, scan maps for paths I never knew existed, and of course, hit up my trusty best friends for their outdoor hotspots.
Repeating the same hike seems wasteful, when there are so many hikes I will never get to do in my one short lifetime.
But recently, I made an exception, retracing the steps I had taken on one glorious hike several years ago. However, I put an entirely different spin on it.
Have you ever thought of doing your favourite hike at night?
The Seven Sisters hike, in the sunny South of England, running from Seaford to Eastbourne, is one of the most magnificent walks in the whole of the UK. It captivated my heart when I found it on a whim.
On my 24th birthday, I decided I had to do something other than sit on the couch watching TV, smoking roll ups and eating microwave cannelloni, which was what my life had digressed to. Very unfit, and having spent little time outdoors for some time, I grabbed some friends and went for a little adventure.
It was a perfectly sunny but cool April day, and I won’t forget that feeling I had in my heart. I had been living a life of boredom, self-destructiveness and sadness, but suddenly I came alive again.
That smell of sea air, the sound of the waves crashing against the majestic white cliffs, and the warm sun made me smile the most genuine smile I had felt in years. Walking along the stunning coastline, chatting to friends, a posh birthday picnic in my backpack, I felt what it was supposed to be like to be young and adventurous and free.
The Seven Sisters are named as such, due to the seven small but challenging climbs over the cliff top. Back then, I didn’t have proper shoes for such an occasion. I couldn’t really read a map, but the route was easy enough to follow. Taking in the sights of the Burling Gap, Cuckmere Haven and Beachy Head, crossing streams and clambering over stiles, gazing out into the endless expanse of water, I remembered what pure joy felt like.
That’s essentially what getting outdoors and hiking is all about. Chasing a feeling and enjoying the moment. Experiencing each of the senses and truly being present. Letting go of the mundane, the upsetting, the stressful and simply being.
That day, on my birthday, with my loved ones, after much huffing, puffing and powering over the hills, we stopped for an ice cream. I remember thinking ‘I must do more of this. I need to make more of my life.’
I always cherished that day, and what time away from the city, covering the 13 miles of coastal beauty, was able to do for my wellbeing.
Fast forward 6 years, and I escape to the outdoors as much as humanly possible given my schedule. Yet, until recently, I had never done the Seven Sisters hike again. With a penchant for new things and variety, I wasn’t sure if I should go back, when there are so many fields, forests, hills and coastlines to explore in the UK.
But when the opportunity came up to cover this stretch again by night, I knew I had to jump.
What would it be like in the dark? Would I be able to appreciate the landscape’s radiant beauty without the sunshine? Would it be safe? Would I be so exhausted I couldn’t enjoy it?
Only one way to find out!
It was the perfect night for it. There was a full moon, and clear sky – perfect for stargazing.
Making my way along the seafront, and up to those striking cliffs, I could hear the reassuring sound of the waves.
Though the route there is relatively straightforward, make sure you know how to navigate in the dark when attempting a night hike. I have never learned this, so I walked with a guide and a group. It made for great camaraderie, striding up those hills and chatting to fellow hikers about their past adventures on foot.
My head torch was firmly affixed to my head, but owing to the bright moon, it wasn’t needed. There is a fence at the cliff edge, and the path is a little distance away, so it’s safe to walk at night.
My questions of whether hiking in darkness would be as wonderful as that day in the sun were quickly answered. Yes, it is very different, but having a more limited range of visual stimuli made for deeper engagement of the other senses that we often neglect.
I felt so calm, so connected with the smell of salty air, the continuous music of the sea, the feeling of the grass beneath me when I touched it and the sensation of the wind. When I stopped to rest on one cliff top, I lay on my back, delirious from lack of sleep and happiness, waiting for my heart to stop pounding, and I took some time to spot constellations in the sky.
Hiking through the night is a test in resilience, but it is so worth it. Seeing that kaleidoscopic sunrise from Beachy Head, one of Britain’s most famous nature spots. Getting to enjoy that moment where the moon and the sun share the sky, and the light changes as the day comes.
The sunrise triggers my happiest emotions, and after a tough night of walking and 13 miles of undulating terrain, seeing the fiery sun emerge made me just a little tearful.
That walk, that night, those feelings, felt like perfection.
If you hike a lot, you may be getting to a point where it doesn’t feel as adventurous as it used to. My advice – hike at night. It brings a totally new perspective to the landscape and the way you interpret it.
Of course, be safe, do your research and don’t go alone, but go with all of your heart. You won’t be disappointed.
If you want to hike the Seven Sisters, you can take the train from London Victoria to Seaford, which takes about an hour and a half. The walk will take you most of the way to Eastbourne, where there is a direct train back into London.