Cycling from Guildford

Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day


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Representative weather:




Stanmer Park



SDW heading East from Ditchling Road



From Jugg's Roads track looking N over A27



On Jugg's Road



Track down Iford Hill



Track into Southease



Red Lion Pond trig point, looking to Beddingham Hill Transmitter



South Downs Way descending to Alfriston



Alfriston Church



On Windover Hill



Towards Wilmington



Deep Dean



South Downs Way descending towards Eastbourne Downs Golf Course



Beachy Head



Route 10D: South Downs Way: Ditchling Beacon to Beachy Head

Representative weather:




Stanmer Church



South Downs Way Part C



On Jugg's Road



South Downs Way Part C: looking SE to Newhaven Gap



Track down Iford Hill



Bridge over the Ouse, Southease



Heading towards Alfriston



Entry to Alfriston



South Downs Way ascending Windover Hill, Arlington Reservoir in distance



Above Wilmington Long Man



Above Wilmington



Ascent from Jevington



Pond near B2103



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Summary This route is designed to make use of the train service between Eastbourne and Falmer. It starts by parking and unloading your bike at Stanmer Park near Falmer station, climbs to the South Downs Way at Ditchling Beacon, then progresses in an airy ride to Beachy Head. This is the SDW at its best, with open downland, good tracks and views all round. Alfriston is a quaint village to stop for refreshments, and Beachy Head makes a dramatic finale to this final, most demanding and most satisfying stage of my SDW ride. Descend rapidly to Eastbourne station for a train direct back to Falmer.
Distance/time: 35 miles; whole day (including train travel)
4409 feet of ascent, 4583 feet of descent.
Start: Stanmer Park Load your bike in/on your car and drive down the M23 and A27, then follow the red route on the Google Map to enter Stanmer Park. There is a car park immediately to the right, or several parking bays further along in the park itself. Parking is free the last time I did this (2009), and on weekdays at least I have had no difficulty finding a space. There is also a free car park on the Ditchling Road, but this closes at dusk, so you would have to be sure to be back by then. Or you could park at Ditchling Beacon, though this would mean a long ascent at the end of the day from Falmer station.
Finish: Eastbourne Station


Transport:

Typically there is one direct train between Eastbourne and Falmer per hour, plus several more with a change at Lewes. Journey time about 30 minutes.

Check train websites for bike carriage constraints: since you are going against the flow of commuters, there should be no problems. The trains usually have one or two carriages with dedicated bike spaces: look for the bike logo. Always check for disruption due to engineering works, especially at weekends.
Conditions under the tyre: The Way itself is mainly a well defined but rough series of tracks, some pleasantly firm grass, other with a surface of loose stones, with many ups and downs. Great care is needed especially on down hill sections: don't be ashamed to get off and push. I have only done the route in summer and have found that it is then not too muddy: I suspect in winter that would not be the case. A mountain bike with a good range of gears is pretty well essential. All that said, once you're in the groove, it is possible to bowl along at a fair pace.

The Trail is shared with walkers and horse riders. Don't creep up quietly on a horse from behind. Give a friendly shout or ring your bell so the horse and rider know you're coming.
Reverse route: The prevailing direction for the wind and weather is from the West, so the route is best done west to east. If there is a strong easterly wind, there is merit in reversing the route. Park at Stanmer Park as above, but take the train direct to Eastbourne. There is a pretty stiff climb up to Beachy Head.
Route variations:
You could shorten the ride by omitting the Ditchling part of the ride and cycling direct from Stanmer Park along the cycle track beside the A27 to join the SDW at the bridge over the A27.
Route description: Cycle through Stanmer Village then take the road out to the Ditchling Road, from which climb to its summit, where Ditchling Beacon is to your left. The SDW starts on the right. Once on the Way, navigation is relatively straightforward. The SDW is signed by 'acorn' signs, but there are several other tracks crossing and joining, so if in doubt check your map and GPS carefully to ensure you are not heading off piste.

After about 2 miles, having crossed 'Plumpton Plain' on the OS map, watch out for signs showing where the SDW turns sharply South South West, and again where it turns SE down Balmer Down. Proceed through Bunkerhill Plantation (there is a short steep uphill stretch here) and down to cross the A27 on a bridge.

Follow the A27 east on a cycle track, then go under the railway, then a long uphill to reach the track called Jugg's Road on the 1:25K OS Maps. This is a fine stretch overlooking the Ouse Valley as the SDW bears SE along Iford Hill and meets a good concrete road which is a great downhill. At Mill Hill the path descends a very steep grassy slope (CARE) to the valley which runs down to the minor road. Cross this, and go on through the village of Southease, crossing the Ouse and the railway (on a level crossing by Southease Station), and the A27 on a dedicated bridge.

Now there is another long uphill to Red Lion Pond and another fine stretch of riding past the Beddingham Hill Transmitters and Firle Beacon before descending to Alfriston: the descent is on a very stony track so take care.

After R&R in the village, make your way down River Lane then over the Cuckmere on a footbridge, left along Lullington Road then right up a track to a car park, to make another ascent up around Windover Hill. A short diversion from the route at the top will take you down to overlook the location of the Wilmington Long Man: however, I could not see it as it is masked by the grass; but its a good viewpoint anyway.

Then onward SE skirting a spectacular dry valley and across wonderful open downland and into a wooded valley which descends past the village church and into Jevington. On this path it is easy to miss the point where the path bears SW direct to the village, but if you miss this you come down a short way up the road.

In Jevington turn right on the main road then left down Eastbourne Road (make sure you use this road not the earlier Willindon Road: this leads on to a footpath with no simple exit for bikes.) Now the final ascent takes you to a cross roads with the Wealdway path, where there is a milestone, tumulus and trig point, before bowling down the track across Eastbourne golf course to the A259. (actually this track is quite rutted, be careful.)

Cut the corner between the A259 and B2103 by crossing the grassy plateau to the point where the road to Beachy Head takes off. Either ride along this road or on the grass verge beside it to the Beachy Head Pub. It's well worth carrying on a bit, down to the Beachy Head viewpoint, from which the lighthouse can be seen.

Now return to the B2103 and head down to fork right onto Upper Dukes Drive which hairpins down to Eastbourne seafront. Turn left down Devonshire road and make your way the station. Well done, you've reached the end of the South Downs Way.

On arriving back at Falmer Station, go under the A27 via the subway, and follow the cycle track back to the gates of Stanmer Park.
Refreshments:

There is a tea room and public toilets in Stanmer Village.

Otherwise you must wait till Alfriston, which has several shops and eateries. Try Badgers Tea House and the George Inn, both of which have nice gardens.

There is a tea garden by the SDW in Jevington, but it hasn't been open when I've been by. There is also a pub, the Eight Bells.

Beachy Head Pub is a busy chain pub in a touristy spot, but their food and drink will be welcome.

There are plenty of places to eat and drink in Eastbourne.

Points of Interest The main attraction on this ride is the South Downs Way itself. The 160 kilometre long trail follows the old routes and droveways along the chalk escarpment and ridges of the South Downs.

The downs on this part of the trail are more open than those of route A. The area is traditionally grazed so much of the ride is over relatively smooth grassland with wide views all round, to the sea to the South and to the North Downs to the North. Here are some representative high points (going west to east):

  • Ditchling Road summit (757ft)
  • Swanborough Hill (578ft)
  • Firle Beacon (708ft)
  • Windover Hill (600ft)
  • Wieldway Crossroads (624ft)
  • Beachy Head Pub (529ft)
Stanmer Park is a pleasant 200 hectares of Grade 2 listed parkland. It includes Stanmer House (1722 - Grade 1 listed), Village and Church (1838) which were originally part of the estate of the Pelham family, but which were bought by Brighton Council in 1947. Next door is the campus of Sussex University which obtained its Royal Charter in 1961. The Campus was designed by Basil Spence and caters for 10,000 students. On the other side of the railway, ie south of Falmer Station, is the Falmer campus of Brighton University, a post-1992 university catering for 21,000 students.

From the high Jugg's Road south of the A27, the town of Lewes is seen across the Ouse Valley. Imagine if you will the scene on 14 May 1264 when the forces of Simon de Montfort and Henry III clashed outside the town. De Montfort's forces occupied the Downs to the West of the town (north of the modern A27), whilst the King's forces defended the town. De Montfort carried the day and imprisoned the King, thus becoming the de facto ruler of England. Just north of the route the village of Rodmell in the Ouse Valley is the location of Monk's House (NT, occasionally open), an 18th-century weatherboarded cottage which was the country retreat of Leonard and Virginia Woolf from 1919 to 1941. When their London house was bombed in August 1940, this became the Woolfs' permanent home, close to their fellow Bloomsburies Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell at Charleston House, Firle. A prey to bouts of depression, one day in 1941, Virginia weighted her coat with stones and drowned herself in the nearby Ouse. Her ashes were scattered in the grounds of Monk's House.

On the scarp slope above the village of Wilmington the Long Man of Wilmington is a huge figure of a man clutching two staves etched out in the grass. In fact I have not been able to see it from above, though you can see it from the train on the way back. Its origins are uncertain. Only in the nineteenth century was it marked out by yellow bricks, before that it was only visible in certain conditions. It was painted green in WW2 to prevent it being used as a navigation marker, then restored with pre-cast concrete blocks in the 1960s. It seems unlikely that it is prehistoric: maybe it is medieval, created by monks from the nearby friary, or maybe just a bit of eighteenth century fertility-related japery.

Alfriston is a very pleasant village with several half timbered houses, with a venerable church on an attractive green, next to which is the Clergy House (NT) a rare 14th-century Wealden 'hall house' which was the first building to be acquired by the National Trust, in 1896.

At Beachy Head, the chalk downs end in the 500ft high cliffs overlooking the lighthouse on the beach. Stretching to the west, the cliffs continue as the Seven Sisters. The area can get very busy with visitors at times, but the walk around the trails to take in the vertiginous views is well worthwhile.

Finding your way Good maps are recommended for this ride ie OS Explorers: 122 (Brighton and Lewes) and 123 (Eastbourne).