Legendary folk singer Shirley Collins describes her love of the Seven Sisters in East Sussex, and its link with the music from her first album in nearly 40 years, Lodestar. Interview: Alex Reece
I first started walking the Seven Sisters 40 or 50 years ago. It’s so utterly beautiful to look at, the whole sweep and curve of that coastline. I do have a particular favourite bit as well, and it is Crow Link. Whenever I’ve walked there, I can hear skylarks always – but you can’t see them, because they’re too high up – and often there’s a little biplane wandering through the sky. It feels like you’re back in the 1930s, it’s so quiet. Rabbits skitter out of the way as you walk by, then you get to the edge of the cliff and there’s a lovely little hummock where you can sit and just look at the sea.
You start the walk down to Crow Link from Friston Church, and it’s a beautiful building with an exquisite graveyard. In the churchyard there’s one little wooden cross and it’s just got the words ‘Washed Ashore’ carved on it. It was, perhaps, a sailor who’d drowned and was brought ashore by sympathetic villagers and buried there.
The song ‘Washed Ashore’ on my album perfectly summons up for me this image of Friston churchyard and that little wooden cross. It’s a traditional song, and it has a tune that rolls softly, like so many of the Sussex tunes do. They just represent the Downs to me – they rise and fall and they’re majestic and they’re beautiful.
I live close by in Lewes, but I grew up in Hastings. After the war, when the beaches were open again, my sister and I used to do the East Hill walk right through to Ecclesbourne Glen and Fairlight. I have wonderful memories of that, and of swimming off the beach. We’d go to the end where the fishermen were and sometimes they would take you out on a boat for a shilling.