Walk: Beddingham Hill, Alciston and Firle Estate, East Sussex

Hike along the chalk footpaths of the South Downs hill tops, passing through woodlands, meadows and rolling fields

4th September 2018
The Chalk paths that zigzag their way over Ditchling Beacon and the rest of the South Downs were a source of inspiration for Eric Ravilious
Difficulty
Challenging
Distance
9.5 miles
Duration
6 hours

Enjoy scenic views from the outset on your climb to the peak of Firle Beacon, then wander through forest, farmland and the pretty village of Alciston towards 15th-century Firle Place. 

Fire Beacon
Sunrise from Firle Beacon ©Getty

1. To the Beacon 

This walk begins with stunning views from the wind-buffeted summit of Firle Beacon. From the car park, turn your back to the road, head left through the gate to pick up the South Downs Way (SDW). Keep straight on until you reach Firle Beacon, where the sea at Newhaven shimmers on the horizon to the south.

2. Rolling paths

After another, smaller, hill, turn left at the gorse bushes and follow the bridleway sign through a wooden gate and down a steep descent. The white scar of the disused Bopeep chalk pit sits far below.

Bopeep chalk pit
Bopeep chalk pit ©Simon Carey, Geograph

The path becomes shady and deeply rutted before emerging on a chalk track. Turn right through pleasant fields until you reach a triangular seat. Turn left here towards Alciston with its chocolate-box cottages and enormous tithe barn (there are 50,000 tiles in that roof). 

3. Woodland ways

Continue through the village passing an impressive restored dovecote, once part of a 14th-century monastery. Shortly after on your right is the undedicated church with its list of vicars dating to 1353. 

Refreshment beckons at The Rose Cottage Inn, after which continue on, turning left opposite No 53 onto a footpath that passes through a swing gate into a paddock. Continue over the plank bridge. In the next meadow, follow the bend of the path through a gap and up along the right-hand side of the meadow beyond. Climb a stile onto the lane, turn left, then right at the concrete drive marked Firle Estate

Firle Estate
Firle Estate ©Derek Voller, Geograph

At the end of the drive, continue on into the unmown grass. Pass Tilton Wood, then follow the path through a series of gates and across a drive, coming to Charleston House.

4. Trail art

Charleston was the Sussex home of the Bloomsbury Set, the famous group of writers, artists and intellectuals that included Virginia Woolf and EM Forster. Now a museum, its interior, decorated by the artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, is a feast for the eyes. Art spills into the dreamy walled cottage garden, too: mosaic pavements, tile-edged pools, and life-sized sculptures by Quentin Bell. 

Continue ahead through the metal gates with Firle Tower, a 19th-century gamekeeper’s lookout, ahead of you. Take a left, then a right into the next meadow, and in the meadow beyond that, keep slightly left until you come to a small wooden gate in the centre of the hedge leading into a crop field. 

Follow the path, cross the track by the Firle Estate sign and pass through the trees. Ahead of you, the trees’s branches form a majestic frame for the 15th-century French chateau-style Firle Place to your left and Glyndebourne, the famous opera house just visible to the right. Turn right, then left down though the field, through a gate and out onto a lane. Cross over and into Firle’s sheep-grazed parkland.

15th century Firle Place, near Lewes
Nestled within the folds of the South Downs, Firle Place, near Lewes, was built in the late 15th century and is surrounded by an estate that covers 300 acres. It has been home to the Gage family for over 500 years.

5. Through the trees

Three wooden posts show the way before you pick up the track to the drive. Visit Firle Place to take in its old masters, furniture and porcelain, or continue along the drive and left into trees. A gate leads on to a wide track between walls, then into Firle village (the church with its John Piper-designed stained-glass window is worth a brief detour). Turn right on the lane, then along a path to the right of the 500-year-old Ram Inn. 

South Downs
Looking towards Firle Beacon and Firle village ©Getty

6. Meadows and fields

Bear left before the playground, through a footpath into the grazing meadow. Make diagonally right for a gate in the shady corner and leave Firle Estate through the white gates.

Cross over to the track marked ‘Private Road’. Continue on, skirt the barn and follow the path left through the field. About a third of the way down, the path sinks through thick undergrowth to the right (aim for Preston Court Farm). Pass the farm and follow the path onto a track that becomes tarmac, leading eventually to Littledene. Turn left here to begin the climb up to the top of Beddingham Hill.

7. Artist’s cottage

Pay a visit to the ‘The Furlongs’ at Beddingham, the cottage of the painter Peggy Angus. At the fingerpost, go left on to the SDW and continue on to return to the car park. 

Map

The 9.5 mile South Downs chalk path routeMain image: ©Getty

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