First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cool, windy morning over the South Downs, with the village of Rodmell dreamlike in muted colours, its flint and weather-boarded houses lining the lane down to the River Ouse.
Looking out on the lane is Monk’s House, a modest building of weatherboard and brick, bought by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in 1911 and loved by them as a country retreat for themselves and their Bloomsbury friends. Virginia composed most of her best-known novels – Mrs Dalloway, To The Lighthouse, Orlando, The Waves – in her writing lodge in the garden.
From Monk’s House we followed a stony lane across a flat floodplain of rough cattle pasture to the banks of the River Ouse. Here Virginia came on 28 March 1941, distraught at a recurrence of her mental illness, to drown herself in the river, having filled her coat pockets with heavy stones to weigh her down.
Melancholy overhangs the spot, but we felt it lift with the clouds and the landscape as we passed the church at Southease with its Saxon round tower and climbed into the higher countryside of the downs.
It’s all Bottoms around here, dry valleys that wriggle into the flanks of the chalk downs. A rushing mighty wind blew through Cricketing Bottom, where a ramshackle farm displayed a hundred and one varieties of ancient cars, buses, tractors, lorries and harvesters. Looking back from the far ridge, it was a pure Eric Ravilious scene – white chalky tracks, a twisted thorn tree, long curves of dark flinty ploughlands and green corn.
Through tiny, tucked-away Telscombe where the hedges were a-twitter with sparrows, then up and away on breezy downland tracks. Up here the lonely marble monument of Harvey’s Cross marks the spot where John Harvey of Bedfordshire was killed in a fall from his horse on a June day in 1819.
A kestrel went flapping over a cornfield, struggling to rise against the wind and the weight of the prey it had pounced on. At last the raptor let go its prize – a partridge poult, one of a trio that had been scuttering along the South Downs Way ahead of us. We stepped out the last blustery mile, under a blue sky scoured of clouds, to Mill Hill and the sloping lane to Rodmell.
Start: Abergavenny Arms, Newhaven Rd, Rodmell, BN7 3EZ (OS ref TQ 418060)
Getting there: Southease station (500m from walk); Bus 123 (Newhaven-Lewes)
Road – Rodmell is signed off A27 at Lewes
Walk (10½ miles, easy, OS Explorer OL11): Left down lane (‘Monk’s House’). Beyond Monk’s House (421063), follow stony lane to River Ouse (432068). Right to Southease Bridge (427053). NB For Southease railway station, left across bridge. To continue walk: Right from Southease bridge past Southease Church to road (422053). Right (‘South Downs Way’/SDW); in 50m, cross road (take care!); up Gorham’s Lane. Immediately right through gate; follow SDW. At foot of slope, left (421055, SDW). In ⅔ mile SDW turns right(413049), but keep ahead past farm. In ⅔ dogleg left/right across Cricketing Bottom (407042); up slope to road (406038); right through Telscombe. Where road ends at cattle grid, right on track (403031, ‘St Michael’s Landour’). At cattle grid by fancy gate posts, right (399033); in 50m, through gate and on. In 1½ miles, pass Harvey’s Cross monument (386052); in 200m fork right for 1¼ miles to SDW (391067). Right for 1½ miles to Mill Hill (413053); left (‘To the Pub’) to Rodmell.
Picnic: Above Cricketing Bottom.
Monk’s House: 01273-474760, nationaltrust.org.uk (phone for opening update)