Monday, 16 February 2009

South Downs Way Day Eight Southease - Eastbourne via Jevington

Southease Station
Bizarrely the extremely cold weather that I had encountered on my last trip out on the SDW had persisted for almost three weeks. The day I had made available to go out again was the day that everything changed. It was now a couple of weeks into 2009 and although there had been a hoar frost and sub zero temperatures the day before, the temperature had increased significantly overnight meaning that it wouldn’t be long before the solid ice and frost that had persisted since before Christmas would soon melt.

Ouse Valley and Lewes
I took the train to Southease early on a Sunday morning and was the only person to alight from the first train of the day. In line with the last few stages of the walk, the first thing to do was to ascend onto the ridge and this time it was via Itford Hill. From the station the path now bypasses Itford farm and crosses the A26 via a smart new(ish) footbridge.

Itford Hill View
As I started climbing the hill I broke with tradition and followed the path which takes a rather more circuitous route to reach the top rather than walk straight up the side of the hill as I have always previously done. This practice is obviously frowned on these days as there were notices posted saying that walking straight up the side was causing soil erosion.

Firle Beacon View
Once at the crest of the hill the view all around was amazing, although a little murkier than I have been used to on the last few legs. The low winter sun shone over Newhaven Port reflecting off the mouth of the River Ouse and demonstrating how little shipping actually uses the port nowadays compared with when I grew up there as a child. In fact the most obvious activity now was the construction of the new incinerator, set to deal with rubbish from East Sussex and Brighton in the next few years.
Firle Beacon

The view north and west was less industrial and I could see Lewes Castle standing guard over the Ouse Valley, as it has done for the last 800 years or so. It’s sad that the castle is overshadowed by the 60s monstrosity of County Hall, but for how much longer? There are noises from East Sussex County Council suggesting that they may decamp to Polegate. Anyhow, the view across to Ditchling Beacon was quite clear and served as a reminder of how far I walked on the last leg.

Bo Peep
From the top of Itford Hill, I faced a reasonably level walk along the ridge all the way to Alfriston. This is one of the nicest ridge walks on the whole of the SDW, with views all the way and completely unobstructed by any trees. Just past Itford Hill to the north I passed Beddingham Landfill Site. This was almost completely filled in now and the activity below seemed to suggest that it was moving into restoration mode. A little further on I passed the television masts at Firle, which whined as the wind passed through them. The car park at the top of the lane from Firle was quite quiet although there were a few runners about, taking advantage of the still firm conditions.
View to Cuckmere Haven

I continued on the the summit of Firle Beacon, one of the most distinctively shaped hills on the whole route. At this point I was treated to a new view, with Lewes and the Ouse valley receding into the distance I now looked forward over the Cuckmere Valley, the next river to breach the chalk ridge. Particularly striking was the view of Windover Hill ahead, famous as being the host of the Long Man of Wilmington. It was another of those moments where I could see a very long way along the path ahead, which was a bit daunting.
Heading Down Into Alfriston

From Firle Beacon it was downhill all the way into Alfriston, a tourist honeypot of a village during the summer but utterly delightful today as it was devoid of people. On the way I passed a couple of farmers at Bo Peep who were ultra-scanning their sheep. This reminded me of Day 1 virtually a year ago when I encountered the same activity!

The church completely dominates Alfriston and is unusually large. The original vicarage, the Clergy House is famous as being the first National Trust property in England, when it was purchased for a mere £10 in 1896. The other claim to fame of Alfriston is that the popular hymn, ‘Morning has Broken’ recorded by Cat Stevens, was written here.

Alfriston Church
I crossed the Cuckmere at Alfriston. This is a surprisingly small river at this point given its proximity to the sea (less than six miles south). I walked along the flood plain for a short distance and began the long ascent of Windover Hill. By now the frost was melting quickly and the surface was becoming quite slippery. I found this to my cost halfway up the hill, when I went right over in the mud when I found a particularly slippery bit. My pride was hurt more than my body, especially as I did this right in front of a bunch of model plane enthusiasts. They didn’t acknowledge me as I went by either because they were embarrassed for me or (more likely) too engrossed in their flying activities.

Windover Hill View
As I climbed Windover Hill a number of interesting sights can into view. The first was very close; it was the head of the Long Man of Wilmington. You don’t get a great view of it from the SDW although up close and personal you get a sense of its scale. A little further away I could see the Priory at Wilmington, which has been reconstructed to incorporate the ruin of the original structure. Finally my eyes were drawn to a huge number of seagulls swimming on Arlington Reservoir about three miles distant. I wasn’t sure if they were all there to keep warm, or whether it was full of food.

Jevington Church
At the top of the hill I continued over the short ridge to the village of Jevington. I’ve always liked this village, probably because it is the last Downland village reached before the end of the route! I passed by a huge group of ramblers hanging about at the church and scurried on by hoping that they weren’t going my way. I don’t like being engulfed by ramblers, walking is a solitary activity for me. The Hungry Monk was full of people tucking into their Sunday lunch and probably leaving plenty of room for the original Banoffee Pie, which is claimed to have been invented here.

Jevington Hill View

From Jevington it was another climb out of the village up to Willingdon Hill. This would be the last climb for today and by the time I reached the top the conditions were surprisingly warm for January. This section of the Downs was thronged with people enjoying the winter sunshine and the views across Eastbourne. For me it was now a straightforward level walk along past the Golf Club and to the A259 where I used to finish my hiking competition all those years ago. Of course today it was broad daylight and devoid of people, in contrast to competition day when there would be a couple of other service teams and the checkpoint in operation in the middle of the night.

View to Eastbourne
I crossed the road to complete another short section I had never walked before down the hill into Eastbourne. This was a very tricky path because of the melting that had taken place, although there were still some very frosty sections where the path ran behind trees and were shadowed from the sun. I enjoyed this last little section of countryside, especially the Holm Oaks which grow in abundance here. Unusually they are evergreen and not pine trees (ie they have real leaves), which in my book makes them special as they offer greenery all year round when all the other trees are naked.
Eastbourne View
At the bottom of the hill was a large signboard declaring the start of the South Downs Way. Officially this was not my journey’s end as I would be back on the SDW next time out to explore the other section of route from Alfriston on the coastal route. However, I couldn’t but reflect on all the things I had seen en route over the last year as I trundled down into Eastbourne. For the long distance walker this is an ideal introduction, with easy route navigation and relatively easy going. Even though I had walked most of its length (excepting the first two sections) many times it felt really good to give it another go.


  1. Apart from the detour at the end (or start) where to next?

  2. I have one more day of this to post - the coastal section which I completed a couple of weeks ago. I also have a few half written ones from High Weald Landscape Trail, the North Downs Way and the Solent Way to post. I am going to try finishing the North Downs Way this year, having started five years ago!