Berwick station to Exceat: 14.0km (8.7 miles)
Berwick station to Seaford: 20.0km (12.4 miles)
a) Alternative start: reduces walk by 1.8km (1.1 miles)
b) Berwick Circular: 13.8km (8.6 miles)
c) Ending at Birling Gap... 19.8km (12.3 miles)
...or East Dean 21.4km (13.3 miles)
d) Reverse walk: Seaford to Berwick station: 16.8km (10.4 miles)
OS Landranger 199; Explorer OL25 (formerly 123)
7 out of 10: two extended hill climbs, otherwise flat or gently undulating
5 out of 10 for a) & d), 4 out of 10 for b), 8 out of 10 for c)
This walk crosses over the South Downs to the sea, linking Berwick, Wilmington, Alfriston, Exceat (pronounced Ex-seet, though Ex-ee-at is a widespread mispronunciation), Cuckmere Haven and Seaford.
The highlights are climbs up two of the most beautiful hills in the South Downs, both of them affording panoramic views. The first of these is Windover Hill behind Wilmington, on which is found the chalk figure of the Long Man of Wilmington – seen at close quarters on this walk. The second is High and Over, a dramatic vantage point above the Cuckmere River, with views down towards Cuckmere Haven and the sea.
Before and between these two hills are two fairly flat sections – one approaching the South Downs ridge from the north, and the other along the pretty valley of the Cuckmere River south of Alfriston. Both Wilmington and Alfriston have wonderful pubs for lunch, though in the latter village you may prefer to sample one of its two tea rooms. An alternative start from Berwick also takes in a popular pub in the village of Alciston and another near Berwick church, which was decorated by members of the Bloomsbury Group.
The walk ends at the Cuckmere Inn by Exceat Bridge, from where there are very regular buses back to Seaford - or you can walk to Seaford via Cuckmere Haven and the over the cliffs of Seaford Head, a beautiful 6km (3.7 miles) extension, with stunning backward views of the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters. Alternatively if you are feeling energetic you can walk over the Seven Sisters to Birling Gap and East Dean.
Note that this walk is perfectly practical in winter – the lowland areas can be muddy, but no more so than anywhere else. However, it is worth noting that from October to March the sun shines into your eyes more or less constantly from Berwick to Exceat – perhaps not a great hardship if the weather has otherwise been grey and bleak.
A) Alternative start: Berwick station to Alfriston via Alciston. This shorter start bypasses Wilmington, the Long Man and Windover Hill, but takes you through the pleasant village of Alciston - which has an idyllic pub as a possible early lunch stop - and on via Berwick church, decorated by the Bloomsbury Group, to Alfriston. From Berwick station to Alfriston, this route is 6.6km (4.1 miles), making a total walk from Berwick station to Exceat of 12.2km (7.6 miles) and from Berwick station to Seaford of 18.2km (11.3 miles).
B) Berwick Circular. After following the main walk directions to Wilmington and Alfriston, you can then use these directions to return to Berwick station via Berwick Church. Note that this route is similar to, but not quite the same as, option A) above, taking a shorter 4km (2.5 mile) route from Alfriston to Berwick station. It makes a total circular walk of 13.3km (8.3 miles). Directions for this option can be found at the end of the main walk text.
c) Ending at Birling Gap or East Dean From Exceat it is not much further - but definitely more effort - to finish the main walk by going over the wonderful undulating cliffs of the Seven Sisters. When the 13 bus is running (see Transport) you can then finish the walk at Birling Gap, 5.8km/3.6 miles from Exceat, making a total walk from Berwick station of 19.8km (12.3 miles): otherwise it is a 1.6km (1 mile) further walk inland to East Dean from where you can get the 12 bus to either Eastbourne or Seaford for the train home. This makes a walk of 21.4km (13.3 miles) from Berwick station.
d) Reverse walk: Seaford to Berwick station In this direction you start with the fine cliff walk over Seaford Head, with magnificent views of the Seven Sisters, and then head inland over High and Over Hill to Alfriston. After tea there you head across the fields to Berwick church and on to Berwick station. This makes a walk of 16.8km (10.4 miles).
All walks apart from option d) start at Berwick station (in Sussex), which you reach from Victoria via a change in Lewes. You usually have to wait 20 minutes there for the Berwick connection, so journey times from London are as much as one hour 40 minutes. (Ignore suggestions on the online timetable to change at Polegate, which confers no advantages and is less pleasant).
For d) Reverse walk: Seaford to Berwick station you also change at Lewes (usually with a tighter connection) for the branch line to Seaford (trains every half hour).
In either case catch the first train after 9am from London to get to lunch in time. A day return to Berwick will usually be accepted from Seaford and vice versa: if not you will only have to pay a single fare as far as Lewes.
To end the walk at Exceat, at the Cuckmere Inn, you simply take the very regular 12 or 12a bus to Seaford (every 10-15 minutes seven days a week: more like every half hour after 7pm: check times on www.buses.co.uk). Get off at the library stop and carry on along the road for 200 metres or so, keeping right at the roundabout, to find the station. Trains go every half hour and it is usually best to change for London at Lewes, though in some cases Brighton has a better connection.
On option c) East Dean is served by the same 12 buses that serve Seaford. You can either get the bus to there to get the train or go the other (shorter) way into Eastbourne, in which case your train ticket needs to be a day return to Eastbourne. On Sundays year round there is also a limited (three a day) 13x bus service to Birling Gap: in the summer months this operates hourly at the weekend, with a three a day service on weekdays. Check on www.buses.co.uk.
It may also be possible to start or finish the walk in Alfriston using the Cuckmere Community Bus, whose services serve both Seaford and Berwick station. See www.cuckmerebuses.org.uk.
The Giant's Rest in Wilmington (01323 870207), 4.5km/2.8 miles into the walk, is a deservedly popular pub with a Bohemian atmosphere and a menu to match
The George Inn in Alfriston (01323 870 319) 9.3km/5.8 miles into the walk, or 6.6km/4.1 miles by Option A) the Alternative start, is one of several pub options in this picturesque village. This characterful pub has a charming garden, which makes it popular in summer
Alfriston Village Stores also has everything you would need for a picnic, including a wonderful delicatessen selling pies and flans
On Option A) the Alternative start only, you can also stop for an early lunch at the Rose Cottage pub (01323 870 377) in Alciston village. Only 3km (1.8 miles) into the walk, it is a charming country pub, with outside tables and an interesting menu, and is less busy on hot summer days than the pubs in Alfriston. It serves food from 12-2pm daily. Also very charming, and with a lovely garden, is the Cricketer's Arms (01323 870 469) in Berwick village, 5.2km (3.2 miles) into the walk, which serves food from 12pm to 9pm daily, except Monday to Fridays October to March when it serves food from 12pm to 2.15pm and from 6.15pm to 9pm.
The Singing Kettle Restaurant and Tea Room in the main square of Alfriston is one of two very pleasant tea options in the village.
The Badgers Tea House in Alfriston (01323 870 849) has both a charming courtyard, full of chirping sparrows in the summer, and inside seating. It is open till 4pm Monday to Friday or 4.30pm at weekends.
Alfriston Village Stores also sells a selection of homemade cakes, and does takeaway tea and coffee.
The Cuckmere Inn in Exceat (01323 892 247) is a busy and efficient chain pub, which serves tea, coffee and food all afternoon and evening. It has a large area of outside tables in the summer, and makes an excellent place to finish the walk, or refresh yourself for an evening walk over Seaford Head
If you get to Seaford, The Trawlers near the station is regarded by many walkers as the best fish and chip shop in the south east. There is also a pleasant pub just before the church, which serves food.
On Option b) Berwick Circular and d) Reverse walk: Seaford to Berwick station, there are two pub options towards the end of the walk. The Cricketer's Arms (01323 870 469) just past Berwick church is a pleasant place for a drink or tea or a meal on a summer's evening, with a fine garden to sit out in: see Lunch Places above for details. The Berwick Arms next to Berwick station has also been revamped and is now a comfortable tea stop: it has both a normal pub section, open daily, and a coffee shop, open Monday to Saturday till late. In summer you can sit in its garden and wait for the level crossing barriers to come down before dashing across to your train.
On c) Ending at Birling Gap or East Dean, the National Trust tea room at Birling Gap is situated right by the sea, if you can get there before it closes at around 5pm. East Dean has the atmospheric Tiger Inn with outside tables on its village green. Next door to the Tiger Inn, and seemingly run by it, is the Hiker’s Rest tea room which is open till 4.30pm in winter, 5pm in summer, but closed in early January.
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Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
National Rail: 03457 48 49 50 • Travelline SE (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (12p/min) • TFL (London) : 0343 222 1234
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Full directions for this walk are in a PDF file (link above) which you can print, or download on to a Kindle, tablet, or smartphone.
This is just the introduction. This walk's detailed directions are in a PDF available from wwww.walkingclub.org.uk