The flat, open Ouse valley to Rodmell and Kingston, then an open chalk ridge to Rottingdean and Brighton.
Southease to Rottingdean: 15.3km (9.5 miles)
Southease to Brighton: 23.2km (14.4 miles)
Southease Circular (short): 15 km (9.3 miles)
Southease Circular (long): 23.7km (14.7 miles)
Starting in Lewes: shortens all walks by 3.8km (2.4 miles)
|Toughness||4 out of 10: one steep hill climb (5 out of 10 for the long Southease Circular)|
|OS Maps||Explorer OL11 (formerly 122), Landranger 198|
This walk takes in the morning along the beautiful (and entirely flat) valley of the River Ouse, firstly along the banks of the river itself, and then through the pretty village of Rodmell (summer home of Virginia and Leonard Woolfe) and out across farmland (potentially very muddy in winter).
Lunch is at a popular pub in the peaceful village of Kingston, nestling in the South Downs near Lewes. Afterwards you get your main real exercise of the day in the form of a steep, but exhilarating, climb up onto the downs. After a walk along the escarpment with magnificent views, you cross the lonely heart of the downs to the village of Rottingdean, with fine sea views in the latter stages.
You can end the walk here (after 15.3km/9.5 miles) by taking the very regular bus into Brighton, or carry on along the seafront to Brighton Pier (6.3km/3.9 miles from Rottingdean) and then on up to Brighton station (another 1.6km/1 mile). There are regular opportunities to shorten this exentsion by taking a bus, but if you do the whole of it, this makes a total walk from Southease of 23.2km (14.4 miles).
a) Short Southease Circular: This option reduces the walk to just 15km (9.3 miles) by following the main walk directions as far as paragraph 47, and then following the South Downs Way back to Southease station, with the option of diverting to Rodmell to the Abergavenny Arms for refreshment or to visit Monk's House. The YHA cafe at Southease is a possible tea stop at the end of this walk.
b) Long Southease Circular: This 8.4km (5.2 mile) extension to the main walk takes you from Rottingdean eastwards along the seafront to Saltdean and back over the downs to Southease station. It makes a total circular walk of 23.7km (14.7 miles). The YHA cafe at Southease is a possible tea stop at the end of this walk, though you may also have time to visit the Abergavenny Arms in Rodmell.
c) Starting in Lewes: You can start any of the walks described here from Lewes - not a bad idea in winter when the low-lying fields on the morning of the main walk may be very muddy. From this start the following walks are possible:
- Lewes to Rottingdean, 11.5km (7.2 miles), with no mid-walk refreshment stops.
- Lewes to Brighton, 19.4km (12 miles), lunching in Rottingdean.
- Lewes to Southease, 11.2km (7 miles) using the Short Southease Circular directions: there are no mid walk refreshment stops on this walk.
- Lewes - Rottingdean - Southease, 20.9km (13 miles) - an interesting exploration of the heart of the downs, lunching Rottingdean.
Trains to Southease are hourly via a change at Lewes. Recommended train at time of writing 9:16 from Victoria to Lewes Mondays through Saturdays (arrive Lewes 10:22; depart 10:28; arrive Southease 10.34). On Sundays the recommended train is the 9:47 from Victoria (arrive Lewes 10:58; depart 11:03; arrive Southease 11:09). Returns to Southease should be valid for return via Brighton.
From Rottingdean there are very regular buses to Brighton along the coast road. The bus stop is on the far (seaward) side of the coast road, about 50 metres to the right of the intersection: Buses you can get include the 12 and 12A, the 14, the 27 and the 47 (or 57 on Sundays). All but the 12 go all the way to Brighton railway station if you wish, and all pass Brighton Pier. Note that certain 27 and 47 buses do a detour to Brighton Marina, which adds a bit to journey times. If you use contactless to pay your fare, note that Brighton buses are now "tap in, tap out": you tap in on the reader by the driver, while the exit readers are on the left by the door.
Trains back from Brighton are extremely frequent, going to both Victoria and London Bridge. From Southease trains run hourly until 11pm
A very early lunch would be possible at the Abergavenny Arms (01273 72416) in Rodmell after just 2.6km (1.6 miles). This is a popular pub with walkers, serving good hearty food, and has some outside seating. Lunch is served from midday to 2.30pm Monday to Friday, to 2.45pm on Saturday and to 3.30pm on Sunday. The pub is also open in the afternoon for drinks.
The Juggs (01273 472523) in Kingston, (7.5km/4.6 miles into the walk) is a popular and very pleasant country pub in a peaceful location. Seating inside is limited though there is an additional ‘inside-outside’ area which is covered and also has gas heaters for cooler days; there are quite a few tables in the front garden although these can fill up so it makes sense to arrive fairly early for lunch, especially on sunny days. Food is served from 12pm to 9pm Monday, and 12pm to 7pm on Sundays..
There are numerous options in Rottingdean. The nicest tea place from April to October is the Grange Tea Garden, behind the library, open to 5.30pm daily. Otherwise, The Trellis Restaurant and Tea Room on the right just before you reach the coast road has fine home-made cakes and outside tables, even if they are next to a noisy road, and just before it there is a Costa Coffee, open till 7pm Monday to Saturday and till 6pm on Sundays.
There is also a cafe at the top of the beach in Rottingdean, just to the left of the ramp which you descend from the road. This is Molly's and it is open till 5.30pm daily, possibly later if busy.
Pub choices in Rottingdean include White Horse – a modern pub, but with sea views (there are some tables at the back overlooking the beach) - and opposite it on the short road down to the beach the more traditional Coach House.
If you are doing the extension of the walk into Brighton, there is also a tea kiosk 1km along the cliff-bottom walk at Ovingdean, open daily in summer and often on fine days in winter too. It offers homemade cakes and serves tea in proper china mugs (no plastic cups) and has outside tables to sit at. Otherwise there is a pleasant Weatherspoon's pub, the West Quay, in Brighton Marina, whose upper floor has fine views over the yacht harbour.
Once at Brighton Pier, there are numerous food and tea options, of which the best, if you want fish and chips, is the Palm Court restaurant half way up the pier. An even better idea, however, is to carry on into the town, where the route described passes the wonderful Mock Turtle tea room, which is open till 6pm Tuesday to Sunday (ie closed Monday). There are many other cafes, alternative eateries and snack places in The Lanes and North Laines areas.
On the Southease Circular walks, tea options include the Abergavenny Arms in Rodmell and the YHA Courtyard Cafe 200 metres beyond Southease station (go across the level crossing and carry on up the road). The latter is open only from 10am to 4pm daily, but after these hours you may be able to get a hot drink in the YHA reception.
Rottingdean has a gently shelving shingle beach which is perfectly swimmable so long as the tide is reasonably high. However, at lower states of the tide, be careful of the underwater platform of sharp chalk rocks. The beach immediately opposite the ramp by which you descend to the seafront promenade is relatively free of these, but does have an underwater obstruction about two thirds of the way at a point indicated by signposts at the top of the beach
|Points of interest||
Monk's House, Rodmell (tel 01892 890651) was the summer home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf from 1919 - later their only home after their London house was bombed in World War II. In March 1941 Virginia was staying here when she committed suicide, filling her pockets with stones and drowning herself in the River Ouse: her body was found against the piers of the bridge you cross in paragraph 2. Her ashes are buried in the garden. Leonard remained here until his death in 1969. Visitors to the house during the years they spent here included Vita Sackville-West, Lytton Strachey, E. M. Forster, Maynard Keynes, T. S. Eliot and Roger Fry. The house (National Trust-owned) is open to visitors on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, April to the end of October 2pm to 5.30pm.
From the top of the downs just after lunch, you get a fine view back over the town of Lewes. Note how the castle dominates a gap between the downs, a key communication pinch point in times gone past. The castle was one of five built by William the Conquerer shortly after his invasion of England in 1066 to control key supply routes between London and his Normandy home. The other castles were Pevensey, Hastings, Bramber and Arundel.
Rottingdean was a remote village until the coast road was built, and is one of those places that supposedly was a hotbed of smuggling. These days it retains a quaint air, but this is somewhat spoiled by the enormous quantities of traffic that shoulder their way through its narrow streets. It was the home of Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and – from 1897 to 1902 – of the writer Rudyard Kipling (The Kipling Gardens, passed on this walk, are the gardens of his former house). Kipling had a very productive time in Rottingdean, writing his children’s works Kim, Stalky & Co and the Just So stories there, as well as Recessional, a surprisingly downbeat poem considering the fact that it was written for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In it, he worried about the imminent decline of the British Empire:
Far called, our navies melt away
On dune and headland sinks the fire
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre.
Judge of Nations, spare us yet
Lest we forget - lest we forget
The fact that “Lest we forget” often appears on war memorials is not a coincidence. After the First World War Kipling was given the job of coming up with appropriate texts for war graves, and used his own line. It was an interesting choice, as it was the same concern about the possible decline in British power that is expressed in this poem that led Kipling in the run-up to the First World War to campaign vociferously for an increase in the size of the British army and navy to counter the growing power of Germany. One consequence of this was that when war finally broke, he vigorously encouraged his son Jack to enlist, despite the latter having terrible eyesight which would normally have disqualified him from active service. After Jack was killed and the horrors of the Western front became known, Kipling was wracked with a terrible guilt, from which he never quite recovered.
Brighton Pier might seem an unlikely spot for nature observation, but towards dusk you can see immense flocks of starlings wheeling about here – - many of them having come here from the continent to enjoy our milder winter climate. Literally tens of thousands of these birds gather in great flocks, which swirl and swoop in unison in the sky, before roosting for the night under the pier. Groups will settle and then take off again, and there an immensity of chattering. It is quite a sight.
Brighton Royal Pavilion evolved from 1787 onwards as a holiday home for King George IV, who first popularised Brighton as a resort. The current building was created by architect John Nash from 1815 to 1823. Its somewhat ludicrous oriental style is a good guide to the interior decor, which nonetheless somehow contrives to be breathakingly beautiful. One key innovation of the Pavillion was the siting of the enormous kitchens right next to the dining room – normally in palaces, the kitchens were far away from the state rooms, but George was a gourmet (he became enormously fat) and hired the best chef of his day to cook for him. The Pavillion fell out of royal favour after Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, however. Not only did she have a very low opinion of the disreputable George IV, but after the coming of the railways in the 1840s Brighton became too busy with the lower classes. In any case the Pavillion was unsuitable for Victoria and Albert’s large family. They eventually built their own holiday home at Osborne, on the Isle of Wight. The Pavillion is now owned by Brighton Council and is open to the public.
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Out (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