Stormy South Downs and Sussex Coast

With summer flying by 6 of us decided on a few Anerley Away Days on the sunny south coast. It was just under a 50 mile cycle to a Premier Inn at Newhaven, mainly along quiet country lanes – more scenic but more hilly than along the major roads.
But we didn’t expect 50 mile an hour winds and torrential rain in August, but that was what the weather forecast was showing for the next day, after we arrived at Newhaven.

We had planned to cycle west along the coast to Brighton and then head inland up the climb to Devil’s Dyke, and then cycle through some of the quaint and ancient hamlets along the South Downs ridgeway. But the weather forecast put paid to that!
Instead, the most suitable option seemed to be to go for a hike in Friston Forest up to Alfriston. We hoped that this would provide a bit of shelter from the wind and rain, and it was only a bus ride from Newhaven to the forest and Seven Sisters Country Park.

The next morning, when we were ready to set off, it was windy but no rain – yet – the worst of the weather was due from about midday. However another problem arose. There had been a major road accident on the A259 coast road and it was closed to all traffic. Fortunately there was a train from Newhaven along the coast to Seaford, and Tom Tom provided the photos.

And from Seaford it was only a short bus ride to our destination

On arrival, a look at the map on the Information board showed a complex network of forest paths and tracks. We decided to get a map from the Visitor Centre to avoid getting completely lost. With this, it showed that all we had to do to get started, was to follow the South Downs Way/Vanguard Way through the forest, past West Dean. The initial bit of this route was a climb up a grassy hill to a stile over which we entered Friston Forest. From here we had a spectacular view over the River Cuckmere meandering into the English Channel

Continuing along the ups and downs of the signposted route we came out onto a country lane – The Street – at the ancient little hamlet of Litlington. This country lane is part of NCR 2 (which starts at Dover and ends after 360 miles at St Austell in Cornwall) and hence caters well for bikers and hikers. Our first sight was the welcoming pub, centre below.

Followed a short distance further on by a lovely old tearoom, and then another one run by the Cadence Cycle Club! See the map section below which also shows the South Downs Way joining the lane at centre bottom.

But it was too early for a tea stop so we carried on along The Street with it’s lovely old houses, church and farm – whose buildings now provide premises for a brewery and the Cadence C.C tearoom.

Continuing a short way along NCR 2 we came to a signposted footpath which took us over fields. Here we had our first rain shower, so it was jackets on, and at which point we re-joined NCR 2 on a bridleway to a small bridge over the Cuckmere River. You can see Alfriston at the end of the bridge, behind the hikers, below.

This took us to the lower end of the high street of this interesting and historic village. We were now ready for lunch and the rain showers prompted a stop, so we continued up the high street to the old village square.

Here we found a perfect place, “The Singing Kettle”, to get out of the rain showers, and admire a vintage bike!

Whilst we had been feeding our faces, the wind and rain, as forecast, had got worse so we had to cut short our exploration of historic Alfriston. But we didn’t have to look far for, “Ye Oldie Smugglers Inne,” which like “The Singing Kettle” was also on the village square. It would appear that this pub really had been used by smugglers, as also was the George Inn just down the road.

The history and stories of smuggling along the Sussex coast would fill a book, but we did not have time to dwell. Our walk down the High Street took us back in history, to the 14th century Alfriston Clergy House. It was the first property acquired by the National Trust in 1896 – for the sum of £10. Yes ten pounds – how property prices have changed!

Adjacent, and next on our list, was St Andrews parish church. The original Saxon church was extensively modified and extended in the 14th century so that it is now known as the Cathedral of the South Downs. And our visit to this beautiful old church showed that it’s new title is fully justified.

Exiting the church, the weather had worsened so we headed back, south, along a riverside path on a high embankment. This had been built to confine the river and create an extensive area for the grazing of sheep and cattle on the flood plain. And one last bit of local history, up on the hillside above the Cuckmere Valley – The Litlington White Horse.

But in hindsight this choice of route was not a good idea – we should have taken more note of the mid-day weather forecast – “Torrential rain and 50 mph wind gusts” – which turned out to be correct!
The narrow footpath along the top off the embankment, shared by sheep, cattle and walkers, and now with heavy rain, soon became a slippery, muddy quagmire. This was made much worse by the gale force winds – with each step trying to blow us off the path into the river below!

A view on a sunny day – not on our stormy day!

It was a long return walk following the lengthy meanders of the Cuckmere River, but finally we made it to the main coast road with a welcoming pub. Here, dripping wet we managed to get a table, some food and a hot drink before venturing out in more heavy rain on our walk to the nearest bus stop and warm transport back to our hotel at Newhaven.

Fortunately the next day was hot and sunny! See https://anerleybc.org/newhaven-tour-road-side-bike-fixes/