Early December and after a spell of heavy rain, a lovely period of fair weather, the ground drying out and a yearly pilgrimage to Sussex for a small, group of us to get together and enjoy a short and sweet walk and chat for a few hours in a pub or two for pre-Christmas festivities in lovely Lewes.
The usual format meant meeting at Clapham Junction, getting a train to Sussex and given the short day, walking the northern spur of the SDW from the Downs above Eastbourne for a little over 6 miles to the village of Alfriston where we would get the last afternoon bus to Lewes, returning to London from there in the evening (Lewes is on the same line as Eastbourne). We bought our tickets on http://www.trainline.com and as we were travelling after 9.30 am and had booked a few weeks in advance the cost was £15.00 there and back – pretty good value.
Arriving in Eastbourne a little after 11am we stopped off at Poppy Seed Bakery on Gildredge Road around the corner from the station to buy pasties and rolls for lunch before getting one of the many buses from the bus stop on the same road that takes you east to the ‘South Downs Way’ bus stop, for us the 12 Coaster service. It’s a ten minute ride up hill before topping the downs – the view wide and open and with a wintery sun sparkling on the Channel. This felt like the beginning of a good walk.
The route is quite simple (map at bottom). Cross the road and walk north with the golf course to your left and the ridge above Eastbourne to the right and follow the SDW signs. I always use the OS app. and take a paper map – this more for the enjoyment of reading the landscape and identifying distant features and landmarks – it’s a map thing. For the first 1.5 miles the level path begins to reveal the Downs to the West and the Weald to the north before descending westward by 400 ft to the small village of Jevington (home of the Banoffi pie – who knew?) at the 2.5 mile mark with its wonderful church and 11th century tower beside which is a bench facing south – convenient as a stop for lunch.
From Jevington the SDW works it way up from the valley for a long 400ft pull to the NW as the views become ever better. To the south – dry valleys, Friston Forest, the Cuckmere valley and the Seven Sisters, to the north the Weald and west the downs rolling away with Chanctonbury Ring in the far distance. The path rises till at the 4.5 mile point it reaches the small plateau of Wilmington and Windover Hills, a fabulous place with an 5000 year old Long Barrow above the famous Long Man.
We stopped for a while here to take in the magic of place and time before following the looping path down hill SE towards the fields above Alfriston until the path crosses a small road onto the sodden floodplain (where I found out my boots leak) of the River Cuckmere where thankfully the path follows the top of a dryish Levee; turn left in the direction of the church spire and cross the first bridge over the river into the village.
I have said it before but Alfriston is tiny but wonderful. Worth a visit in its own right. We made for the lovely George pub and enjoyed the warmth of the open fire and local beer then made our way down the road to the coach park north of the village to get the last bus at 4pm for the 20 minute journey to Lewes.
Lewes was gearing up for Christmas and we made our way to the cinema cafe for a hot chocolate then shops for a bit of Christmas shopping and quick record hunt in the used vinyl shop. We had booked dinner at the Rights of Man pub which was just as well as it was late shopping evening with attendant crowds, brass band and Morris Dancers. The atmosphere in the pub and town was fabulous. The delightful Victorian station is a few hundred yards from the main Street and we left Lewes at just before 8pm getting back to London an hour later.
This is a walk that we had never done always taking the southerly SDW to take on the rollercoaster of the Seven Sisters. It is easy to do from London with decent connections and low carbon footprint! so will be a much repeated day out, solo or otherwise. A joy for us on a Winter’s day, it would be equally enjoyable at any time. We had pondered extending the walk by adding another 7 miles and walking the SDW from Alfriston to Southease station which has an hourly service to Lewes but with our late start, the light wasn’t with us. One for a longer day in May I’m thinking.