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Sussex Scrapbook ~ Nature walks throughout the year
Green Man
Monday 14th June - Thursday 17th June 2010
Eastbourne - Ditchling Beacon (
South Downs Way) - Haywards Heath (Sussex Border Path)
~ 45 miles

OS Landranger map 199 - Eastbourne and Hastings.
OS Landranger map 198 - Brighton & Lewes

I urgently needed a break from work to relax and unwind and I definitely didn't want to watch the football either. Instead I chose to fill a rucksack with a few essentials and spend a few days slowly plodding around Sussex. My simple plan was to saunter along the South Downs Way from Eastbourne to Ditchling Beacon and see what I could see. From there I would swing onto the Sussex Border Path and head north to Haywards Heath and the train home.

Still smelling fresh at this stage.

I couldn't have picked a better time to do this walk, as the weather was just right: hot and sunny but with a fresh north-easterly breeze to keep things cool. Going during the week meant that there was a lot less people around, especially on Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, plus at this time of year the downland turf and the meadows are full of flowers and all of the wildlife is out and about as it busily raises its young.
My sparsely-loaded pack felt very comfortable from the start and the only time I noticed its weight was when going up the 45o slope to Beachy Head. Combined with the sunshine and the superb views this bit of exertion really got the old endorphins flowing and my already widened grin broadened significantly five minutes later when a Peregrine Falcon came slowly along the cliff top towards me.
For more help with this part of the SDW, take a look at our Beachy Head guide.

It's hard to understand why so many people come to this beautiful, uplifting place, just to end it all - but they do.
I wish they'd just take a long walk when they got here instead. Wouldn't that help change their minds?

Meadow Pipit.

Grub up!

The Seven Sisters. A fantastic part of the SDW and one that shouldn't be rushed.

Cuckmere Haven. On the path near here a stoat appeared from the hedgerow with a small prey item in its jaws.
It then ran off up to the brow of the hill, gave a few stoaty poses and shot off again into the undergrowth.

Foxhole Farm campsite near Cuckmere Haven.
Very basic (no hot water), but an amazing location surrounded by wildlife.

This turned out to be a good place to sit quietly at dusk. From 20 feet away I watched a fox hunting rabbits
as well as a badger walking across in a very curmudgeonly way.

Alfriston up ahead on the river.

There used to be a hikers water tap at Alfriston church, but it's been broken now for ages. There are all sorts of shops in the village to replenish your food and water supplies. The SDW continues up Star Lane, which is right next to the Star Inn, halfway along the high street.

Small tortoiseshell.

Firle Beacon was the next destination and then onward to the two masts at Beddingham Hill.

The chalk and flint paths that make up this end of the SDW are very hard on the feet. You'll find that after 3 days of it your feet will hurt like hell, no matter how much walking you're used to. Try a pain-relieving gel on them.

Firle Beacon - the windiest place in Sussex.

There's a hikers tap (more of a trough really) at Itford Farm. To find it, first cross the A26 to the western side via the SDW. When you emerge onto the farm track, turn right and walk back up the farm track towards the A26. As the track bends left, the tap is on your left. There's also a tap at Southease Church, which should definitely be on your list of places to visit along the SDW.

The temporary bridge at Southease.

If like me you want to stay at Telscombe Youth Hostel for the night, then about half a mile after Southease Bridge you need to take the turning SW towards Telscombe. Some of the signposts are missing, but you go directly through the farm there and continue down the track for about half a mile. Then there's a sharp left that you could easily miss if you happened to be tired and the light was failing, so take care not to miss it. Today it was broad daylight at 6:30 when I arrived and the warm welcome from the staff immediately made me feel completely at home. The large kitchen in the hostel is the natural congregation point for all of the visitors and I made full use of it by baking fresh bread and talking about Sussex hiking with other riders of shanks' pony.
Youth Hostels are being closed down all of the time and need your help to keep them going. They're usually staffed by volunteers and are made use of by visitors from all over the world. They offer a friendly and cheap alternative to a B&B or hotel and are a must for anyone hiking in the area. Telscombe Youth Hostel is a great one, situated as it is in a tiny, quiet village right next to the church.
From Southease you have the option of leaving the SDW and finishing at Lewes. The walk north along the river on the western bank of the Ouse can be thoroughly recommended as the farmland there is very wildlife friendly and you are likely to have some good sightings, especially around Rodmell. Another great alternative would be to leave the downs at Beddingham Hill, go through Glynde (famous for its opera house) and take the north-westerly path across wonderful Mount Caburn.

A look round Telscombe Youth Hostel.

Telscombe Church - the only place you can get a phone signal is from the bench in the churchyard.
That's 10 seconds from the hostel's front door.

The next day I'm off again with fresh, herby bread and some Sussex cheeses that I got from Alfriston to keep me going.

The major problem with this next stage of the SDW (Telscombe - Pyecombe) is water. It's a very good idea to store some extra in your pack for this part of the walk. There's everything you could possibly need (including a public convenience) just below the downs at Ditchling and at Keymer. There's a service station on the A27 where you can get some water, and there's a pub and another service station further on at Pyecombe.

Poppies around a Linum field.

A typical hiker's view of a Sussex downland track.

Bird's Foot Trefoil.

A Common Shrew that was having a little sleep on the track.

Coming down off of the downs near Ditchling Down on an access path.

If you're continuing along the SDW then consider taking a small excursion to nearby Wolstonbury Hill (TQ 284 138). It's not far out of your way and the view is great.

Common Spotted Orchid.

Time to bid farewell to the South Downs once again...

... and head off north through meadows, agricultural land, horses, chickens, goats... you name it!

Out of the way Trigger!

Excellent weather for making hay.

Finally, some well-needed shade.

Ferns and Foxgloves and lush woodland means that I'm nearing home.
Time to start planning for the next wildlife expedition in darkest, deepest, Sussex.