The UK isn't the first place that springs to mind when you think of some of the most glorious views in the world. As a result, it doesn't as such cultivate a hiking 'community' that other countries boast. While a handful of my friends enjoy 'hiking', I don't think they enjoy and fantasise about it in the manner I have been doing so over the last few years. For someone who wants to walk some of the most famous trails around the world, I am all too aware that I don't have enough experience under my belt and cannot possibly rely on the company of close ones to nail such expertise going forward.
As a result, a few months ago I joined Outdooraholics - a London based meet-up which takes like-minded people on some epic daily (and multi-day) hikes each week. Finally reigning supreme over my unusual work schedule recently, I found a Saturday where I could sign up for a hike and decided to spoil myself with one of the meet-up's most scenic offerings - The iconic Seven Sisters coastal hike. While I had done a scattering of hikes before, I wanted to officially ease myself into this active niche with unparalleled views that would leave me gasping for more.
On the day, I met a group of thirty fellow hikers at London's Victoria Station. Any worry I had about not getting along with others were immediately banished as I quickly realised that many were in the same boat as me - solo, nervous, and just wanting to get out there and hike. Our tour leader Elizabeth read out a list of rules and what to expect during the course of the day. Interestingly, she reiterated that the 'intermediate' 13 miles (21km) hike we had chosen came with its challenges, and as a result, gave us a chance to call it quits. We all nervously giggled. Hours later, with sweat pouring down my body and throbbing feet, I realised just why she had given us a chance to turn back.
Now, I'm not saying this hike is as difficult as trekking the likes of Everest Base Camp or the Pacific Crest Trail (future goals of mine), and I'm pretty sure others didn't see it as too much of a struggle - but oh boy, was it more difficult than what I had expected! We started from the sleepy coastal town of Seaford and had just finished our first climb up 'Sister number one' when we stopped for lunch. 'Not too bad,' I thought to myself as I fuelled up with a glistening view of the ocean on one side, and rolling rural views on the other, all underneath a laser beam of the scorching sun. However, it was only later when those rays of sun added that further bit difficulty in completing the hike.
After walking the rest of the 'Sisters', there was a further slew of immensely steep hills which took us along the likes of Birling Gap, Belle Tout Lighthouse and the infamous Beachy Head. With the highest ascent being 740 metres, the cliff tops of the South Downs provided no solace for me looking for shade. Despite downing as much water as I could, I soon found myself succumbing to dizziness and nausea - And after still feeling not quite there up to a few days later, I came to the realisation that I had most certainly been feeling the effects of heatstroke.
Despite me battling the elements and shocking my body to the utmost fatigue with the most amount of steeps hills I've climbed up and down during one day, the views were undoubtedly dreamy. 'As if this is England,' I thought to myself on various occasions. Following the end of the cliff walk, there was quite a (never-ending!) road-walk to a pub in Eastbourne (most famously known as the 'sunniest place in the UK') where we able to enjoy a rewarding drink (or two!) before catching our train back to London.
Looking back, the day was a huge eye-opener for me when it came to the varying challenges faced when hiking. Given the blistering sun, lack of shade and hilly terrain, there were a few times in the second half of the day, when I did think I wasn't able to finish the hike. I was regularly in the latter half of the group and found on various occasions that I had to leave the lovely company of my new pals and hike at my own, slow pace to avoid overdoing myself. But has it hindered my outlook on my long-term hiking goals? Absolutely not. It has just shown me the things I need to work on, emotionally and physically, to be apt and ready for my future adventures. Life is about learning, and with this particular activity instilling a much-needed sense of calm and positivity to my overall well-being, I am more than excited to keep uncovering the beauty on my doorsteps before venturing out into the world.