Dawn Patrol

Dawn Patrol: Beachy Head, East Sussex

by James Mills
22 April 2021 4 min read
Dawn Patrol: Beachy Head, East Sussex
Photos: James Mills

What were you doing this morning at quarter to four? More likely than not, enjoying some well-earned sleep. I, on the other hand, was cranking over a straight-six, switching on the heater and rolling into the still-inky dark of the morning – and, speaking frankly, I was suffering a start at such an ungodly hour because of you.

You see, I was setting out to spread the good word of the pleasure of driving. All too often, we set the alarm clock to slavishly follow the structure of the everyday routine. Rise and shine, let the dogs out, put the kettle on, feed the pets, make the tea, fix the children drinks, help everyone get set for their day, then head to a desk or place of work for the nine to five… and repeat. Why?

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Why not rise with the lark, jump in your favourite car and head to the best stretch of road within comfortable striking distance?

We have a name for this at Hagerty – Dawn Patrol. You get the idea: Get out there, enjoy the empty roads, take in a sunrise and be home in time for breakfast.

BMW M3 E46 interior

In my part of Kent, close to the Sussex border, there’s no shortage of destinations to strike out for. But for a spectacular sunrise it’s hard to better Beachy Head. The chalky white cliffs at the southernmost tip of the South Downs are served by a fantastic road which rises and falls, twists and turns, and opens up and lets you run through the gears. Best of all, it forms a natural loop, tracing its way through Beachy Head, Birling Gap and East Dean then arcing around to Holywell.

That last point is important. I like to make a circuit, because I like to pass through several times, given it’s only a short distance. First might be on a hard charge, where you feel what the car – in this case a BMW M3 E46, which you can read more about here – has got to offer, safe in the knowledge that even the birds are still in bed, let alone all the daytrippers that descend on this part of the world for walks with views of the Seven Sisters or across the rooftops of Eastbourne. Then, I rerun the circuit, taking it easy so I can drink in the scenery, before reversing it for one final fling and a different perspective of the landscape and the road.

Z Bends at Beachy Head_Dawn Patrol

If you haven’t driven this road before and fancy a visit, permit me to share a couple of tips. One section, called ‘Z’ Bends, will catch you out if heading downhill towards the Belle Tout lighthouse. One corner in particular tightens on itself, and sure enough, I carry too much speed into it – with stability control cancelled – and suddenly find myself, ahem, struggling to manage the M3’s weight transfer, easing off the throttle but not so abruptly to upset things further still. It’s quite literally a balancing act, and those that mess things up will be shown no mercy by the high banks surrounding the Z Bend section.

My other tip is that just off the circuit lies a road that drops the down into the Holywell end of Eastbourne and the seafront. Make the effort and make a detour for this section. Or simply use it as your starting point, with St Bede’s school as a reference. Why? It is a short but oh-so-sweet section of hairpins.

Recently resurfaced, the whole of the Beachy Head route is delightfully smooth, and a far cry from the hellishly unsettling surface that you used to encounter. In fact, it used to be so bad that it would draw many road testers from the car magazines as it proved such as stern test of a car’s suspension composure.

I don’t see another car or any signs of life for the hour I’m on the road. The S54 six-cylinder sings all the way to 8000rpm. I shiver at the way the soundtrack rises and rises with the revs. It is one of the all-time great engines, a fitting part of the legacy of Paul Rosche, the engineer who lived and breathed BMW motorsport engines. And it’s packaged in a chassis that delivers what a keen driver needs: steering feel, chassis balance and a limited-slip differential that is kept busy trying to keep the, ahem, lively rear-end in check.

The views from the chalky white cliffs are the stuff of countless television dramas. I park up near the Belle Tout lighthouse and take photographs, enjoying the silence and slowly approaching dawn, then stroll toward the edge of Beach Head, shuddering at the sight of the drop.

You can stay the night at the Belle Tout and, if so inclined, play on this stretch of road to your heart’s content. As it is, I’m happy to have had it all to myself for an hour.

You see, that’s all you need. A shot in the arm of pure, uninterrupted driving enjoyment is enough to make you fall in love with driving all over again.

Dare I say it, you already know this. So how about you share your personal Dawn Patrol experience right here? We’ll gladly publish your Dawn Patrol stories and pictures, so you can share great roads with the community. Email submissions to enquiries@hagertyinsurance.co.uk and we’ll do the rest.

And heck, we’ll even throw in some Hag’ swag for those stories we publish. That’s got to be worth getting up early for. Right?

Don’t forget! Email Dawn Patrol submissions to enquiries@hagertyinsurance.co.uk

Read more

Seven of Britain’s best drives, in a Caterham Seven, in seven days
Road trip! Our favourite driving adventures, both foreign and domestic

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