Thursday, 30 May 2013

4 Pubs, 4 Churches, 1 Tower, 6 eggs and a few kilo of Spuds !

So the question came " Do you fancy a little walk my love ?"
I should have been prepared, I have been here before and due to the glass or two of wine and maybe my desire to get up onto the Downs, I replied to swiftly with " That will be nice"
From then, that very point I was domed ! Having not been on the ground for a while due to a few niggling health issues, my body and more to the point, my legs were about to regret this "Little walk".
The Explorer's Vehicle .
We parked the 25 year old girl up just below the Long Man of Wilmington as we had discussed a walk up over the chalk figure and dropping back down into Alfriston for a sneaky pint, a route of no more than 5 miles and I was happy with this. However as we exited the old girl i heard the sentence I dreaded " I fancy going over to Firle" What !! I pointed out that if we had wanted to walk around the beautiful village of Firle, we could have parked there!!  Now, I like a walk or two, but was now facing the prospects of a walk with double the mileage. She could tell by the look on my face that i was hesitant and threw the gauntlet down " Are you not up for it then?
Not being one ever to decline any form of challenge and with a daysack, map and and some gentle banter, we set of down a bridle path towards Alfriston. As we descended the old chalk drovers road, my mind drifted back to the days of a 14 yr old lad, for I once use to move cattle from high above the long man on Windover Hill down this very track to drive them over the valley to Kingsride. This was fraught with danger as the cattle moved fast and without do care or concern to young boys as the farmer rode behind them bibbing the horn of the Land Rover and laughing as we scurried along dodging the waste product of the enormous quantities of wild garlic that seemed to leave the cattle as fast as it was taken in !!
Monsieur Frenchman

My mind was brought back swiftly as the mutterings (if not swearing) of a frenchman as he pushed and sweated his way up towards us And as he past he said in a very french way " These dam hill's why are they so step and slippery!! .... To stop you invading us I replied as he struggled on up the hill. We might not be the peak district, but hell we do have some step climbs to test the best down here. !!

Dropping down and joining the road that leads over the River Cuckmere, we pushed on and up milton Street on the outskirts of Alfriston, the sun was out and the skies were a brilliant blue but I still had a long distance hanging over my mind. Turning left we picked up a restricted by-way and broke out into open downland facing towards the little hamlet of Berwick. The views back towards the long man and Windover hill are stunning and you get a real sense of openness. The hamlet of Berwick is small, with a lovely Downland church and a fab inn The Cricketers Arms, was worth a pint, but I was directed on and we headed west along the foot hills of the Downs that were looming high into the sky to our left. As we proceeded along the paths our next stop was the Hamlet of Alciston now please note: Alciston and not Alfriston. Some pronounce them as AL-cistion and ALL-friston and there is a great account in Arthur Becket's wonderful book on the downs "The Spirit of the Downs" of a time he asked a labourer if he knew of a man called Mr Pocock from alciston and was told "he had never heard of such a place so couldn't know the man in question" ... it turned out the man was said Mr pocock but he pronounced his name palk from alston strange folk and dialogue back in them days. 

Berwick to Alfriston
The hamlet it's self boasts a stunning church and another tindy inn that you would think was someone's house "The Rose Cottage" as you pass down towards the A27 before turning left to pick up the footpath still heading west.  Now if your into your art, this route will take you pass Charleston Farm House and was the home and country meeting place for the writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury group. Next comes the the impressive estate of Firle with it's Folly Tower known as the GameKeepers Tower and the village of Firle it's self.Firle Place is a manor house that was first built in the late 15th century by Sir John Gage, who made Firle Place his principal home. He held many high offices, including Constable of the Tower and was an executor of Henry VIII's will. The house is open for part of the year, but today's walk was not allowing time to think about it and a move through the park, past the prettiest cricket pitch in Sussex and you pop out at the village pub The Ram Now this is a stop worth taking, great food, great location and a fine pint of Harveys Best Bitter, brewed down the road at Lewes. 

The View towards Long Man and Windover Hill

It was at this point that the lady spotted a local produce stall in the village and decided to purchase a few kilos of fine potatoes and half a dozen fresh eggs, they were then placed into my day sack... what ??? "Have you seen that hill we are about to climb??" .... "Don't break the eggs" was all I was told Climbing up from the village of Firle onto the top at Firle beacon is no small feet ! In fact it's around 712ft and then another seven miles back to the land rover and all with 5kg of spuds and enough eggs to make a mess ! Once on top you truly get the impression that you are on top of the world, stunning views both north over the high weald and into the distance Ashdown Forest and south out to sea .

View North from Firle Beacon with Gamekeepers tower
A place for all on top of the world
with the wind at our backs, we were now heading East along the top of the downs and on the South Downs Way, the suns warmth on the low ground was being chased away by the height we are at and it became a fast pace, well as fast as the weight of the local produce would allow towards the city of the downs Alfriston.
Dropping down the track at Kingsride we were greeted with a fantastic view of the low spring sun lighting up the hills on the other side of the valley. Alfriston is the home of the Downs and it's always a welcome sight to any traveller as the SDW passes down it's high street and onto to Beachy heads , it's end. Alfriston hosts some lovely inns, the olde smugglers being one of them built in 1358 with a great warm welcome . Tea shops are a plenty and a real ye olde village stores.The Church is just off the main street on the tye, and is called the  Cathedral of the Downs, this is well worth a visit. 
So we left the village and crossed the river via the white bridge and with a simple stroll through the fields, we were back and the old landy. Just a small walk then ... nearly 12 miles, but one worth doing. 

Cycling the South Downs Way

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