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East Dean Circular

South Downs Walk

Nat Park - South Downs

County/Area - East Sussex

Author - Jean Blemings

Length - 11.0 miles / 17.9 km    Ascent - 1550 feet / 470 metres

Time - 7 hours 0 minutes    Grade - moderate

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Walk Route Description

Photo from the walk - East Dean Circular
Click image to visit gallery of 9 images.

This is a meandering East Sussex walk between the village of East Dean the fringes of the larger conurbation of Eastbourne along a very busy part of the coast. In an effort to avoid the crowds the route uses lesser walked paths. A stretch of the Weald Way (WW) and South Downs Way (SDW) is used before heading back to East Dean via secluded valleys inland.

The walk starts at the free car park in the middle of East Dean village (Grid ref. TV558978). You can also use the no. 12 bus service that runs between Brighton and Eastbourne fairly frequently and walk to the car park from the bus stop on the main road (see end of walk description for details).

Exit car park from western end opposite to where you drove in and come out on the village green with the Tyger Inn to your left. Do not walk past the pub but turn sharp LEFT to walk along the southern edge of the green heading towards the delicatessen. You will come to two roads - take the higher of the two, signposted 'No Through Road'. This road eventually leads to a bridleway first cutting across a field populated by a slightly over-friendly sheep the day I walked it and then climbing gently through scrubby woodland. When you reach the crest of the hill continue in a southerly direction following the top edge of the tree line. You will see a flint building - aim towards this and slightly to the west of it to pick up a grassy sunken track going towards the sea. This will take you down to Birling Gap. As you walk down you will have good views over to Belle Tout lighthouse and Eastbourne. After passing through a couple of gates you pick up the route of the South Downs Way and follow the stony track east down to Birling Gap where there are toilets, a pub and a café. From the outside seating area of the café there are views along the Seven Sisters cliffs. There is also access down to the beach here if you fancy a paddle or are brave enough for a swim.

To the east of a row of coastguard cottages and main car park, there is an overspill car park. Ignoring the SDW signpost and steps leading up onto the cliff top, walk through the car park and pick up the bridle way running alongside the bottom of the inland side of the cliffs heading towards Horseshoe plantation. Pass through the plantation walking parallel with the coast road and when you are about opposite Belle Tout lighthouse looming above you, turn left, cross the road with care and head up the concrete track towards Cornish Farm.

Ignore two waymarks to your right but just before you reach the farm buildings as the track bends right, go through double gates to your right the second of which informs you that you are entering open access land. Pass to the south of the farm buildings and a concrete dew pond and follow the fence line along passing through another gate until just shy of a straggly line of scrub where you will find another gate to your right, which you pass through. Now heading back in a southerly direction, you traverse a dry valley with a steepish climb out the other side. At the top of your climb maintain broadly the same direction but passing around a field edge and through a couple of areas of scrub. Pass through another gate following the direction signed 'Beach Head'. The coastal road and Beachy Head Hotel are now visible over to your left plus a strange concrete platform possible the foundation of an old farm building? This area is very good spot both to see and hear skylarks. They seem to be in evidence whatever time of the year.

Drop down to cross another shallower valley and tackle the gentler climb back up ignoring the footpath sign heading off to your left at the bottom of the valley. After cresting the brow of the hill but before dropping down to reach the coast road, which is now quite near again, turn left to follow a bridleway running along the fence line parallel to the road, which is now about a quarter of a mile to the south. Where there is a T-junction of fences, just before a clump of gorse bushes, strike out diagonally half right across an unfenced field heading to the right of the Beachy Head Inn and to the left of a chalky depression that becomes visible in the field to your right. Keep on this heading and you should come to a seating area and parking spot by the road where the path you have just walked, although invisible on the ground, is marked by a bridleway sign pointing back the way you have come. If you are lucky there may even be an ice cream van parked here!

Cross the road with care and walk south 20 yards or so to pick up the coastal path heading east. Here, so near Beachy Head, are the crowds we have been striving to avoid. Pass a small stone plinth with biblical quotations a round brick-built circular seating area to follow the yellow footpath SDW marker to cross a steep little depression in the cliffs. If you would like to see the traditional view of the Beachy Head Lighthouse from the cliff top, divert along the concrete path loop following it round to rejoin the SDW again. Shortly afterwards you approach a seat by the side of the path, just beyond look for some steps leading down to a steep descent to the grassy ledge of the undercliff. Follow this path down and at the bottom join the wide inland grassy path to contour across the hillside towards Eastbourne, which is now visible ahead.

Note - more adventurous souls can take the more seaward path on the top of the lower cliffs where there is access to the shore at Cow Gap. There is the possibility of a four hour rocky scramble back toward Birling Gap along the base of the cliffs past the lighthouse. This should only be attempted at low tide allowing sufficient time else you will become cut off.

There is now a pleasant stroll along a wide obvious path following the base of the hills. When you reach the improbably sited sports field at Whitebread Hole keep following the track as it climbs sinuously up the hillside. Anyone who has chosen to use the more southerly path and passed on the scrambling opportunity can rejoin the main route at this stage by walking back up across the playing field to join the other track.

As you climb higher above the playing field so you almost have a grandstand view of the pitches. However watch out for a faint but wide winding unmarked grassy path between two trees on your left, the second of which has memorial bench bearing the motto that 'a light that burns twice as bright burns half as long'. Take this track and climb even more steeply upwards ignoring all crossing paths (one of which is our old friend the SDW) until you reach a finger post straight ahead that gives the option of following a bridleway to Willingdon & Jevington along the Weald Way (WW).

Take this option and follow the path staying out of the woodland as bend round the outskirts of Eastbourne on the wooded hills above the town. On reaching a complex junction of roads cautiously walk across the one leading down into Eastbourne and follow the bridleway markers walking parallel with the B2103 with occasional clumps of scrub screening out the worst of the traffic. Pass by a dewpond and trig point and shortly afterwards the inland leg of the SDW joins the WW both continuing on in the same direction to cross the A259. Note - this is also your last chance to catch a bus back to East Dean if you need to curtail the walk for any reason as there is a bus stop right beside the crossing point.

From here our route crosses the Eastbourne Dows golf course still on the same heading and is well waymarked. Continue on past the end of the golf course keeping to the wide track. By another dewpond with a large concrete block and wind blown tree guarding it, watch out for a stile on your left that gives access to Eldon bottom and our route back to east Dean. Take this footpath and wind down into a series of quiet valley bottoms past a ruined barn. There are several sign posts marking the way and providing you keep to the valley bottom there are no route finding problems. Eventually you will see the houses of East Dean perched on the hills above.

Continue on the path underneath them until you get to a junction of paths and bridleways marked by a fingerpost at the head of the final valley. Here you should take the footpath on the right which leads over a stile into a narrow fenced path between gardens. Take the first right, which brings you into a residential road with large houses, no pavements and several little grassed roundabouts. Turn left and follow the road keeping in the same general direction as it merges with another road. Ignore a footpath sign off to your left but as you approach a flint stone wall bordering the road you will see a sign 'To the shops' Bear left to follow this sign and walk past a small parade of shops and PO. As you come to a private parking area you will notice a footpath sign to the left. Take this and you will shortly emerge by the bus stop on the A259. Cross the road using the crossing and turn right and walk a little way up the road where you will see another footpath sign going off to the left. Follow this path which will lead you back to the car park entrance by the village green and pub where the walk started.

Other walks nearby

Walk 1357 The Seven Sisters from Exceatmoderate14.0 miles
Walk 3516 Eastbourne to Alfriston by the South Downs Waymod/hard12.5 miles
Walk 3575 High and Over White Horseeasy2.0 miles
Walk 3120 Alfriston to Rodmell by the South Downs Waymoderate9.0 miles
Walk 3574 Firle Beacon & Cuckmere Valleymoderate10.4 miles
Walk 1015 Ouse Valley & Beddingham Hillmoderate12.0 miles
Walk 1633 Charleston Farm & Firle Beaconeasy/mod4.6 miles
Walk 2419 Southease, Ditchling Beacon & Lewesmod/hard18.3 miles
Walk 1038 Firle Beaconmoderate13.3 miles
Walk 1770 Southease or Rodmell to Falmereasy/mod6.8 miles

Recommended Books & eBooks

Walks in the South Downs National Park

Walks in the South Downs National ParkGuidebook with 40 circular walks throughout the South Downs National Park, exploring the beautiful chalk hills between Eastbourne and Winchester. The walks range from under 5 miles to 11 miles, including Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, Ditchling Beacon and hundreds of prehistoric sites. Accessible all year, but wild flowers best in spring.
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The South Downs Way

The South Downs WayGuidebook to walking the South Downs Way National Trail, a 100 mile (160km) route between Winchester and Eastbourne through the South Downs National Park, described in both directions over 12 stages. Easy walking on ancient and historical tracks, taking in wooded areas, delightful river valleys and pretty villages. With 1:25K OS map booklet.
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