It’s a rare pleasure to find a place as well set up for four-seasons walking as East Dean. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The immaculately kept East Sussex village lies just inland of the Seven Sisters cliffs at the heart of superb coast-and-countryside landscape. Walkers know they’ll be welcome at the cosy old Tiger Inn and the Hiker’s Rest teashop on the village green, the hub of a network of footpaths. I chose a circuit that would thread woodland, downs and cliffs together, and set out early from the Tiger into a red dawn.
‘Morning!’ said a woman by Friston duckpond, her breath smoking in the cold air. ‘Saw you yesterday up on the downs, didn’t I? Hope you enjoy your walk.’ Down in the valley below, ancient Friston Place lay low, pink-faced and many-gabled among beech trees where rooks were cawing lustily. Building low, I noticed, portent of a rainy summer.
Friston Forest sighed gently in the morning wind. A great spotted woodpecker rattled a hollow tree, a pair of racehorses went drumming by like ghosts in the mist on Friston Hill. Sunk in the woods, the medieval rectory and church at West Dean gleamed in dew-wet flint. A long flight of steps, the crest of a hill, and I was looking down over one of England’s classic views – the extravagant snake bends of the Cuckmere River sinuating its way seaward through a dead flat littoral between great curves of downland. Coastguard cottages stood isolated at the brink of the Cuckmere Haven cliffs, their tall chimneys silhouetted against a pale wintry sea.
Foxhole Farm, all flint walls and brick-red roofs, lay tucked into a fold of the downs. Beyond the farm the South Downs Way ribboned east along the furrowed brows of the Seven Sisters. Far ahead, the promontory cliff of Belle Tout displayed an elliptical grimace of white chalk like the baleen plates in the mouth of a right whale. At the feet of the cliffs fresh falls of chalk lay scattered, staining the shallows a milky white.
It was hard to tear myself away from this captivating stretch of coast, but my way lay inland, funnelling up Gap Bottom past the old farming hamlet of Crowlink. A last trudge over the downs through a stolid crowd of curly-faced sheep, and I was dipping down the steep slope towards East Dean with a pint of Tiger’s Claw in my sights and a head full of wonders to sort through.
Start: Tiger Inn, East Dean, near Eastbourne, East Sussex BN20 0DA (OS ref TV 556978).
Getting there: Bus 12, 12A (buses.co.uk), Eastbourne-Brighton.
Road: East Dean village is signposted off A259 Eastbourne-Seaford.
Walk (8 miles, easy/moderate, OS Explorer 123):
From Tiger Inn, right up side of village green; cross road, up path opposite (556979, fingerpost). At Friston church (551982) cross A259; take path just to left of Jevington road (yellow arrow); cross stile; right (‘footpath’ post) along woodland edge. Cross field (551985); cross lane by stile and gate (550987); cross next field, into woodland (550989). Left on path parallel to lane (‘West Dean’ post). Follow lane where it bends left around Friston Place (548990). In 100m, opposite entrance to Friston Place, right (547989; blue arrow; ‘West Dean’) on bridleway through woods. Keep straight ahead, following red arrow posts for a while, then cycleway signs, but always in same direction, ignoring all side tracks. In just over a mile, cycleway turns left (531996), but keep ahead down slope, past white house and on to West Dean. Right past church (525997) to T-junction; left along South Downs Way (SDW), over track, up 200+ steps to cross wall stile at top (521996; superb view over Cuckmere Haven!). Follow SDW down to cross A259 by Visitor Centre (520995).
Through gate (SDW); bear left up slope through another gate (SDW). Follow SDW for 2½ miles along cliffs. By National Trust sign ‘Crowlink’ (538968) bear inland to pass Crowlink hamlet. Opposite laneway on left, go right through open gateway (545975). Up to cross stile; keep same line up to brow of hill; pass clump of thorn trees, then on (car park 200m on your left) to go through kissing gate (551976). Aim down right side of triangular woodland; keep ahead (not right!) across stone wall stile (554977); down field slope to path by wall; left down to field; right through gate by NT ‘Crowlink’ sign into East Dean.
Lunch: Tiger Inn, East Dean; Golden Galleon, Exceat (01323-892247)