I’m not surprised the Sussex Downs has now joined the hallowed list of the UK’s fifteen National Parks. Now it is part of the South Downs National Park Authority which spreads across East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire.
Personally, the heritage coast between Eastbourne and Seaford is the part I know and love best. It’s the only stretch of coast in the south-east of England that remains totally unspoilt. Here, there are no icecream vans, no ‘kiss-me-quick’ entertainment booths, no high-rise developments. Instead, there’s miles of stunning countryside punctuated by tiny inland villages and hamlets. And here you can swing along on soft springy turf, the wind in your hair, fluffy clouds whizzing overhead, the only sound that of the skylark soaring above.
The Sussex Downs are poignant for me, as I grew up there and have early memories of our (now very grown-up) children enjoying happy times there. Naturally, this was where we chose to organise the first ever Country Walks guided weekend break back in 1996. We had started offering day walks in Surrey the year before and had developed quite a following. Such was the enthusiasm of those walkers that we embraced wholeheartedly the suggestion that we should take a group off to walk our favourite Sussex paths. And what fun we had. Little did we know then how many more guided holidays and now self-guided holidays would follow, not only in the UK but all over Europe!
Back then we stayed in the town of Lewes, using minibuses to drop us off at Seaford. Cameras clicked, click after click, especially as we enjoyed the classic view of all views: the coastguard cottages above Cuckmere Haven, framed by the chalky white cliffs of the famous Seven Sisters beyond. Crunching across the pebbles of Cuckmere Haven, south-east England’s only unspoilt river mouth, we told stories of smugglers and shipwrecks. And, of course, there was the obligatory poem – something of a Country Walks trademark. And now we include those stories in our self-guided walking packages.
We followed the meanders to Exceat, concentrating on staying upright in the mud that followed the recent rain. By now we were looking forward to a coffee break at the farmhouse – in the sunshine. Our next stop at the impossibly-idyllic village of West Dene enchanted everyone. Standing beside the village pond, it was hard to believe that King Alfred back in the late 800s actually had a palace here. On to a high spot on the downs to tuck into delicious picnics among the buttercups, admire sweeping panoramas all around us and snatch a quick snooze!
Everyone’s favourite downland village, Alfriston, nestling in a fold in the Sussex Downs was the next highlight. Of course we sought out the best tea shop for a cream tea! We visited the ‘Cathedral of the Downs’ and the beautiful Clergy House, the first property ever purchased by the National Trust for the grand sum of £10. .
Now, over twenty years later, we reviewed our Sussex Downs walking routes, accommodation, food, transport and commentaries so they are up-to-date and suitable for our self guided holidays. We hope you will enjoy them too! And, we are sure, you will then understand why I love walking the Sussex Downs!
For details of our self guided walking breaks in Sussex, click here.