Beachy Head, 1939 is by the artist Eric Ravilious, who often visited Belle Tout and other areas of the South Downs. It was recently acquired for the Towner Gallery in Eastbourne which holds the best of his works. The view is from the approach to Belle Tout lighthouse or perhaps from the lantern room at the top. Here is the background as described in this excellent post by James Russell.

In 1939, as he prepared for his last major show as a civilian, Ravilious explored the region around Eastbourne (his childhood home, where his parents still lived) with renewed curiosity. His watercolours of Cuckmere Haven and the Wilmington Giant are what springs to mind whenever I hear the phrase ‘romantic modern’, since they take old provincial subjects – the kind of scenes an 18th century antiquary might have drawn – and make them new.

During this busy period the artist spent several days on Beachy Head, unknowingly rehearsing his wartime role as a painter of coastal defences. But he didn’t only work outside on the clifftop. Although known as a landscape painter, Ravilious produced a good proportion of his work indoors, and he had an eye for an interesting interior that few artists have rivalled. In his quiet, good-humoured way he easily persuaded the owners or occupiers of buildings to let him set up his easel, and so it was that he escaped the fierce breezes of Beachy Head for the calm of the Belle Tout lantern room.

‘Just now I am busy on the hills painting,’ he wrote to his friend Diana Tuely, ‘in the greatest comfort with my jacket off, and seated in a magnificent Chinese chair. That is to say I am perched in the top of the Belle Tout lighthouse (I wish you could see this) in the lantern drawing the immense expanse below with a gale blowing outside’.

The Parson’s Hole

Four hundred feet below the lighthouse, there used to be a hole dug into the chalk. More like a cave, with a carpet, table, chair and lamp. A man sat in it night after night, either saving sailors from the rocks or guiding smugglers safely home. Or both.

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The Reluctant Walkers

“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.

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The White Arse

The wheatear comes here at this time of year. It’s a small bird with a white rump, which is where its name comes from. The original English name was White Arse, but the Victorians thought that was a bit rude. Here is the story of how a White Arse pie saved lives.  Continue reading “The White Arse”