“You’ve got all the school groups coming through today,” Shirley, who used to work at the lighthouse, once told me as a group of hunched, listless looking teenagers snaked slowly uphill. They did not realise they were being watched.
“They just wander in, if the gate is open. You go down and say, ‘Can I help you?’ They say, ‘We’re just having a look.’ You say, ‘This is private property, did you not see the sign?’ They just go …” She shook her head.
Sometimes, the students messed about on the edge. “They don’t realise that they could be standing on an outcrop, where the chalk has gone underneath, eroded. If that goes, they’re not coming back. You don’t bounce on those rocks at the bottom, do you?”
Looking out of the window in the lounge, there is a beautiful clipper with rusty red sails moving up the coast towards Brighton, leaving a trail behind it in the still sea.
The climb to the lantern room is tight on the shoulders, a chill on your face. The light that floods in as you reach the top of the stairs is dazzling. The sun is bouncing off the sea, a burning orb of line that goes straight into your brain, and it’s almost painful. You have to turn away, look inland, look away from the sea. It feels like something huge, irresistible and overwhelmingly powerful is just behind you, and you cannot stand its gaze. No wonder they worshipped the sun here.
There is a direct view of the red and white striped lighthouse and the tall, straight white cliffs beside it. Through binoculars you can see another raggle taggle army of language students, ambling over the brow, with proper walkers overtaking them.