Cycling from Guildford

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


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Route F: Brighton to Eastbourne

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Summary This relatively short ride forms part of my complete circuit of the south east coast. This part of the coast is rather built up, but this route attempts to make the most of such coastal access as there is, including the Brighton Undercliff, the Greenwich Meridian Monument at Peacehaven, Newhaven harbour, the site of the tide mills near Seaford, Birling Gap and Beachy Head. Combining my route to Brighton using the Downs Link, with the stretch of this route from Brighton to Newhaven ferry port provides the ideal jumping off point for Donald Hirsch’s route to Paris from Dieppe.

Distance/time: Approx 29 miles, about 4 hours cycling.
Start: Free car park on the cliff top near Roedean School
Finish: Eastbourne Station
Get the train back to Brighton and cycle back to the start.
Transport: This route is most efficiently done using a combo of car and train. Drive to Roedean (M25, M23, A27, B2123; at Woodingdean, right onto Warren Road; left onto Wilson Avenue, left onto B2066 Roedean Road). Park in the free car park overlooking Brighton Marina, where the B2066 meets the A259, overlooked by Roedean School.

Follow the route to Eastbourne station, then get the train back to Brighton trains approx. 2 direct trains per hour, journey time about 40 minutes. Then cycle back to Roedean via the sea front.
Conditions under the tyre: Generally good roads or roadside cycle path. There is a short stretch of grass along the clifftop at Peacehaven. The Highway between Peacehaven and Newhaven is a rough track, and the sea front route between Mill Creek and Seaford is also quite pebbly.The track through Friston Forest is OK, but a bit stony in parts.

The A259 between Exceat and Eastdean is a rather nasty busy road (hence my recommendation to use the route through Friston Forest). The climb to Beachy Head is quite a slog.
Reverse route: It should be straightforward (and desirable with a Easterly wind) to reverse this route: cycle from the start to Brighton station, get the train to Eastbourne, and cycle back.

Route variations: Between Newhaven and Seaford, whilst I prefer the route beside the beach passing the tide mills, I also show the official route of NCR2 beside the A259. On some older Explorer OS maps, the route is shown following the Vanguard way footpath, but this is apparently an error, and should not be taken.

The A259 between Seaford and Eastdean is a nasty road with heavy traffic: I recommend an alternative from the Exceat Visitor Centre using the Family Cycle Trail through the Friston Forest.

Route description:

These route directions should be used in conjunction with the Google map at the head of this web page (it can be opened in a new window).

On leaving the Roedean car park, cross the main road and head right (West) along the cycle path to reach the ramp down to the Undercliff Path. The situation here with regard to cycling was ambiguous. Following campaigning by local cyclists, the authorities have made the route "a pedestrian priority shared use route with cycling restrictions [on a short stretch] near the café at Ovingdean Gap", and it is signed accordingly.

The Undercliff Path is a broad concrete road perched dramatically between the sea immediately to the right and the chalk cliff to the left. The surface is strewn with chalk boulders which must fall regularly from the cliff, so take care: a cycle helmet will come in handy!

When you reach Saltdean, you climb a ramp to rejoin the roadside cycle path: you could follow this all the way through Peacehaven. This is not very pleasant. However, a nicer alternative is shortly to access a cliff-top route via the car park of the Telscombe Tavern, following the rough access roads for the houses facing the sea, with intermittent stretches across firm grass, and passing the Greenwich Meridian Monument on the way. (NB At Steyning Avenue, a ramp descends to the sea wall: if it is low tide, take this for an interesting 1.5 mile round trip diversion to view the giant ammonite fossils, see Points of Interest.) This route runs out at Cliff Avenue, via which you return briefly to the A259, then branch off on The Highway, signed NCR2. This takes you via a very rough access road to the outskirts of Newhaven, and then right onto Gibbon Road via an alleyway.

NCR2 carries on down Gibbon Road to the Harbour, then follows the harbourside and crosses the Ouse on the A259 bridge (here you could branch off to get the ferry to Dieppe if you are doing Donald Hirsch’s Dieppe to Paris route). The official NCR2 now follows a very good dedicated cycle path beside the A259 to Seaford. A more bracing but rougher alternative is, upon crossing the railway, to turn right onto Railway Road and follow this down to a footbridge over the railway. Carry your bike over this, then immediately turn right to cross the Mill Creek on an obvious bridge and head down to the shore, where a rough path following the course of an old railway (still in parts complete with sleepers) will take you all the way to Seaford. Do stop to examine the information boards at the site of the tide mill which was powered by the tidal pool created by the vestige course of the River Ouse, before pressing on along Seaford sea front, much of it on a roadside cycle path.(NB Older OS Explorer maps show a cycle route following the Vanguard way footpath beside the railway between the Mill Creek and the Tide Mills. This is a mistake: there is no dispensation to cycle on this footpath, which in any event is narrow and has a style, so don't use it.)

At the end of Seaford sea front, past the Martello Tower, the NCR2 takes minor roads out of town, and eventually turns up a track north, then pleasantly crosses fields to emerge beside the Cuckmere Inn next to Exceat Bridge. (For this last bit you could instead use the A259, but this is a nasty busy road.) Now you have to use the A259 for a few yards (CARE) to cross Exceat Bridge and reach the car park for the Seven Sisters Country Park on your left. You could continue to East Dean on the A259, but this is a difficult climb on a busy road. Instead, take the track through the woods almost immediately to your left and you should pick up signs for the 'Easy' family cycle trail (a green bike), which takes you first to the hamlet of West Dean then on through Friston Forest on a good if shingly road. The family trail eventually turns left, but carry straight on until, just before a water pumping station, branch left to join a metalled road which passes "Friston Place" then turns right to climb to meet the Friston-Jevington road. Here, turn right and climb to rejoin the A259 to Eastdean. At Eastdean, turn right (south) down Gilbert’s Drive which takes you via Birling Gap and a steady climb up to Beachy Head. Now descend (rapidly) to the sea front at Eastbourne, and make your way to Eastbourne station for the train back to Brighton.

From Brighton station, head down Queen’s Road to the sea front and follow the cycle track forking off onto Madeira Drive. Head through the Marina shopping complex to the far side, where you can ascend back up the ramp to the Roedean car park.

Refreshments:

There are snack bars and cafes in Brighton Marina, on the Undercliff Path at Ovingdean and Saltdean, and in Peacehaven and Seaford. There is a café at the Seven Sisters Visitor Centre at Exceat, a café/tea room at Birling Gap and a pub at Beachy Head.

Points of Interest The Undercliff Path between Brighton Marina and Saltdean was initially built in the 1930s as a concrete bulwark to protect the cliffs from erosion. However, chalk blocks still fall regularly onto the wide concrete pathway. The chalk cliffs are dazzling on a sunny day, and at high tide, with a high sea, expect to get wet.

Peacehaven was founded in 1915 by property developer Charles Neville. He bought the land on the cliffs here and encouraged interest by offering some of the plots as prizes in a competition to name the new town. The winning name was New Anzac on Sea, which clearly did not stand the test of time. On the cliffs stands a monument dating from 1935 and dedicated the then late King George V, and marking the point where the Greenwich Meridian ‘leaves’ England. At low tide, a large eroded chalk 'bench' is exposed on the foreshore, and here a number of extraordinary giant ammonite fossils can be found, on 'pedestals' (see diversion in the route description. Its worth returning here with expert guidance on one of the fossil hunting trips run by Discovering Fossils).

Newhaven was a flourishing port from the seventeenth century, based on a cutting created as a flood control measure to carry the River Ouse to the sea. As well as cross channel trade in goods, with the coming of the railway in the 1850s passenger traffic flourished as the Newhaven-Dieppe route provide the shortest link from London to Paris. In the 1860s a defensive Fort was built on the Eastern headland, which can be visited by a short diversion of the route. The port was a major supply port during the First World War, and in the Second was the point from which the ill-fated Dieppe raid was launched. A memorial to the Canadian Forces killed in the Raid is passed where the route nears the head of the harbour on South Way. The port declined as Dover and Folkestone became the main cross channel routes, but the ferry still runs to Dieppe, and the rest of the harbour has been developed for the inevitable marina.

On the coast by the village of Bishopstone is the site of an unusual tide mill built in c1760. The ruins of the workers’ cottages and sluices can still be seen. It operated producing flour until 1901. Also on this site are the few remains of Chailey Heritage Marine Hospital, where children suffering from various ailments were brought to recuperate, buoyed the bracing sea air. The hospital was served by a halt on the railway. It was founded in the 1920s but closed when the area became part of Britain’s coastal defences in WW2.

At the western end of the sea front in Seaford is a Martello Tower: this was tower number 74 and the last (most easterly) of the coastal defence system built in the Napoleonic Wars. It is now the local history museum.

At Exceat is the Seven Sisters Country Park Visitor Centre opposite which is the Cuckmere River Valley (off limits to cyclists), and behind it is the Friston Forest (which has several cycle trails). The Seven Sisters are the line of chalk cliff headlands between the Cuckmere and Birling Gap. At Birling Gap, stairs lead down to the beach. The soft rock in the Gap is eroding rapidly, as the abandoned and ruined cottages testify. At the next car park, it is possible to walk up to Belle Tout Lighthouse. The current lighthouse ceased operation in 1902 and became a private home when the lighthouse was established at the base of Beachy Head. In 1999 the building was moved back from the eroding cliff edge in a major engineering operation. It now operates as a B&B.

At Beachy Head the chalk downs end in the 500ft high cliffs overlooking the lighthouse on the beach. 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.

Protected by massive artificial walls Brighton Marina was built in the 1970s and claims to be the largest in Europe. In the 1980s, to try and recoup the huge costs, a shopping complex and apartments were added. It is well worth strolling out along the sea walls, and the board walk overlooking the marina is a good place for a bite to eat.

Finding your way

Between Brighton and Exceat, the route broadly follows the well signed NCN2, but with variations along the Undercliff Path and the coastal roads in Peacehaven.

The route is covered by Ordnance Survey Landranger 1:50K maps 198 and 199, and/or Explorer 1:25K maps 122 and 123.