Crowlink - Seven Sisters - Exceat - Friston - Crowlink

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This route is one of our favourites, not only because of its varying landscapes, but also because it begins so secretively! The National Trust car park at Crowlink is not signposted from the road, so it is rarely crowded and the path from here slips towards the sea, between the green, enfolding sides of a combe, gradually falling away to reveal an ever-widening horizon.

Where the South Downs meet the sea, dissolving at their foot into the milky waters of the English Channel, Seven Sisters, arrayed in green and white and blue, call out to all who long to be enticed! They also offer the opportunity for a breezy yomp along four of their number, between National Trust land at Crowlink and the River Cuckmere – much beloved of geography teachers for its iconic meandering journey towards the shingle bar which almost confines it. From the aptly (though not imaginatively) named 'Cliff End', the walker not only catches his first welcome glimpse of the Cuckmere, but finds himself suddenly engulfed in a rising tide of history. Just below the cliff, near the shingle bar is an animal watering trough, reputedly dating from Roman times, while close beside it can be seen a Second World war gun emplacement. A little further on, at Point 5 on the walk, the pattern of First World War practice trenches can be discerned on the ground. The trenches were used to give authenticity to target practice, as guns were fired from the other side of the estuary.

One of the glories of this neat little walk is in its contrasts. Strolling through the haven of the Cuckmere, originally an area of natural salt marsh but for many centuries now, artificially confined and controlled in order to serve the various interests of man and nature, it offers a complete change of tempo. Look out for areas of wiry glasswort and other salt-seeking plants, as well as the many wading birds which make these parts their home. Where the river meets the A259 coastal road (take care crossing it!), there is an opportunity to visit The Seven Sisters Countryside Interpretation Centre, before entering the red-tiled village of West Dean, crouching sleepily in a fold of the hills beside Friston Forest. If you noticed the remains of salt pans by the Cuckmere, you won't be surprised to hear that this sleepy hamlet was once a busy centre for fishing and salt production. Even before that, it was a 'seat of kings', where Alfred the Great is said to have had his own country palace.

The rich beech-wood landscape of Friston Forest deserves to be slowly appreciated rather than 'zipped past' on a mountain bike. You'll see a few of these before diverting onto greener, quieter paths. Perhaps, by now suffering from information overload, you may prefer simply to enjoy vibrant spring green foliage or the bronze tints of autumn as you wander. If so, you won't wish to know that the forest was originally planted to provide trench planking in the First World War, or that in the 1950s, pine trees were interspersed with beech to provide protection for the latter as they grew; you might not be interested in looking out for the occasional orchid in early summer; and you'll definitely avoid the darting, multi-hued fritillaries that used to be prolific, but now are sadly less apparent. If that's the case, you can always skip that last sentence!

England - South England - East Sussex - South Downs

Features

Birds, Butterflies, Cafe, Church, Flowers, Good for Kids, Great Views, Industrial Archaeology, National Trust, Public Transport, Restaurant, River, Sea, Tea Shop, Toilets, Wildlife, Woodland
14/09/2012 - Lucy Matthews

This was our first walkingworld walk and great introduction. The instructions were perfect and we really enjoyed the variety of landscapes. Busy on the coastal stretch as it was a lovely day but much quieter inland.

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