List of walks in section order, with links
Date Walk Distance
05 February 2011 Croydon to Oxted 19.8 km (12.4 miles)
05 March 2011 Oxted to Edenbridge 21.8 km (13.6 miles)
12 March 2011 Lingfield - Forest Row - East Grinstead 21.9 km (13.7 miles)
02 April 2011 Forest Row to Blackboys 23.8 km (14.9 miles)
23 April 2011 Blackboys to Berwick 19.0 km (11.9 miles)
30 April 2011 Berwick to Newhaven 20.9 km (13.1 miles)

05 February 2011: Croydon to Oxted

19.8 km (12.4 miles)

East Croydon Station
East Croydon Station - the start of the Vanguard Way

Having completed my Meridian Walk, I was wondering what project I should start next. I had nothing original on my future projects list that was sufficiently well developed to start on. Eventually I decided to re-walk the Vanguard Way, for much the same reason I'd walked the Tandridge Border Path around this time last year - it's close to home.

Badger Sett
Badger Sett, Littleheath Woods

There was one other minor reason. I'd read Will Self's PsychoGeography, reprinted pieces from his walking column in the Independent. Psychogeographers incline to the portentous, and Mr Self is no exception. He wrote:

"... thence up and on to the North Downs, where, at a curious feature called the Norr Chalk Pinnacle, I could see the entire lower valley of the Thames spread out before me: the flybuzz of aircraft circling over Heathrow, the tiny minarets of the city, the Jew's harp of the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, vibrating at Dartford.

I plodded on, down into the Surrey weald, up into the Ashdown Forest, down into the Sussex weald and up again on to the South Downs. I didn't stop until I reached Newhaven, three days after I'd quit the Thames. I've been doing this for a few years now: stepping from my London house and stalking a hundred miles or so into the hinterland. In middle age I no longer want to know where I'm going only where I've been all these years."

Farleigh church
Farleigh, church of Saint Mary the Virgin

Never mind not wanting to know where he was going - he was just following the Vanguard Way. But the thing that caught my interest was the reference to the 'curious feature called the Norr Chalk Pinnacle'. I could recall no chalk pinnacle when I'd last waked the Vanguard Way, and was curious to find out what I'd missed.

I therefore walked to East Croydon Station to start the walk. There is nothing to mark the start point (though waymarking thereafter is generally good).

Coal post
Coal post, Chelsham

The first four or so kilometres of the Way lie through the suburbs of south London - never the most interesting walking. However, the route is well chosen and surprisingly green. I paused briefly at Coombe Wood (the former garden of Coombe Wood House), which is now a pleasant looking park.

The suburbs end at Selsdon Wood, owned by the National Trust but maintained by London Borough of Croydon. It was saved from development after a fundraising effort in the 1920s. From here on, the Way keeps away from built-up areas.

Chalk pinnacle
The Nore Hill Chalk Pinnacle

At Farleigh (a hamlet), I stopped to look at the church of Saint Mary the Virgin. The car park was full, and some cars had ribbons, so not wanting to disturb a wedding, I limited myself to a look at the outside, and then I ate my sandwiches in a corner of the churchyard, which was thoughtfully (if slightly oddly) supplied with picnic benches amongst the graves. Pevsner describes the church as simple village-Norman, fairly gently restored.

Longhorn cow
Longhorn cow, Woldingham

At Chelsham, another hamlet, I found a coal post (on the corner of Harrow Road). It had a film canister taped under the cap, which I think must be a geocache. The village pub was the Bull, but someone is spending money to transform it into the Coach House. A fairly dull local, Green King IPA.

North Downs (top)
Approaching the top of the North Downs

One and a half kilometres beyond the pub I came to Nore Hill. This time I found the 'curious feature called the Norr (sic) Chalk Pinnacle'. It is, to be candid, a crumbling pimple inside a pit in a restored landfill site. The reason I'd missed it on the earlier visit was that the pit had been filled with scrub. This had been recently cleared, exposing the pinnacle in all its glory. It's the smallest Local Nature Reserve in the country, managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. However, if the pinnacle is unspectacular, the views from Nore Hill are rather fine.

From Nore Hill the way brushes past Woldingham (where I found a field of longhorn cattle, a breed that seem to be becoming rather fashionable), and climbs to the top of the North Downs just to the west of Botley Hill, a Marilyn (267 m). Near the top it passes a water tower and radio masts.

North Downs (scarp)
View eastwards along the scarp of the North Downs

The Way then drops very steeply down the rabbit-cropped scarp of the Downs to briefly join the North Downs Way. There are wonderful views over the Weald from the scarp.

At the bottom of the scarp I left the Vanguard Way to join the Greensand Way link path to reach Oxted. I'd walked this path in the other direction on 11 December, as part of the Meridian Walk.

In Oxted I stopped for a coffee, and then went to look at the Secondhand Bookshop on Station Road West, near the station. It was just closing, but I had time to find and buy a copy of A guide to the London Countryway by Keith Chesterton. It will form the basis of a future project.

I then took the train home. As a walk, this section of the Vanguard Way is a curate's egg - though I enjoyed it, and there are interesting things to see along the way. The weather was dull, dreary and very blustery. But at least it stayed dry.

Snail shell

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05 March 2011: Oxted to Edenbridge

21.8 km (13.6 miles)

Titsey Place
Titsey Place

To walk the next stage of the Vanguard Way I took the train back to Oxted and then followed the Greensand Way link path to join the Vanguard Way (and the North Downs Way) where I'd left it on 05 February 2011.

At Titsey Park the Vanguard Way and the North Downs Way diverge. The Vanguard Way heads south, crosses some fields, and then runs parallel to the M 25 (a noisy experience). The Way crosses the M 25 by a farm bridge just west of Clacket Lane services. Approaching the bridge there was a surprising quantity of debris from various road accidents bumpers, hubcaps and miscellaneous unidentified bits of plastic.

Sand pits
Moorhouse Sand Pits

Once across the M25 the Way heads south along a farm track, up onto the greensand ridge. At Broomlands Farm the Way passes the rather spectacular Moorhouse Sand Pits, still in operation. At the entrance to the pit are a couple of large sandstone boulders, beautifully coloured in shades of orange and rust.

The Way then crosses the Westerham Road (A 25) and continues to head south to reach Limpsfield Chart. The village has the feel of a genteel version of a Forest of Dean village (if such a thing is possible). As it had turned twelve, I stopped in the pub for quick pint (Black Sheep, not one of my favourite beers, but well kept). The pub is very much a basic locals' pub, and no worse for that.

Church
St Andrew's church, Limpsfield Chart

After the pub I went to look at the church, St Andrew's, dating from 1895. It has a large square tower with a small steeple. The local ladies were just finishing cleaning the church and scrubbing the porch, so I thought it best not to venture inside with my rather muddy boots.

View
View over the Weald from the greensand ridge

From the church, the way heads steeply down the scarp of the greensand ridge, passing a number of fine large houses with spectacular views to the Weald. At the bottom of the ridge the Way passes Trevereux Manor, a substantial Grade II listed manor house dating from the Queen Anne period. The house was rebuilt in the 1990s after having been gutted by fire in 1987 or 1989 (there are different dates offered on various websites).

From Trevereux Manor the Way crosses flat fields, on which a flock of geese were grazing, to cross Kent Brook, the boundary between Surrey and Kent.

View
View back to the greensand ridge from Guildables Wood

There is a stile on each bank of Kent Brook, nicely reflecting the different counties' approaches to footpaths (which probably comes down to money). The Surrey stile comes complete with a dog-gate and is well maintained. The Kent stile has no dog gate and is rather basic.

Once over the border the Way continues south to Troy Town. The map shows the Way running along the eastern edge of Guildables Wood, but the path on the ground actually enters the wood, emerging about half-way through the wood to take the route shown on the map, involving an easy-to-miss turn.

Sheep sculpture
Sheep sculpture, Shingle Barn Farm

At Gaywood Farm I looked out for the trig point (TQ 432 487), but failed to spot it (again). TrigpointingUK reports the trigpoint as being in good condition, but difficult to spot, hidden between two parallel fences and covered with dense scrub. Still, I'm surprised I missed it.

At Troy Town the Way crosses over two railways (to Tonbridge and to Uckfield), one above the other. I stopped to eat my sandwiches on a bench next to the bridge, where a largish collection of track maintenance equipment had been left, waiting for the weekend's work. This included tool vaults and sets of 'Ironman' rail lifting equipment.

View
View from Dwelly Lane

Wikipedia suggests that the name Troy Town relates to a lost turf maze, a labyrinth made by cutting a convoluted path into a level area of turf.

Many turf mazes in England were named Troy Town because, in popular legend, the walls of the city of Troy were constructed in such a confusing and complex way that any enemy who entered them would be unable to find his way out.

A little way beyond Troy Town, at Ash Farm (not named on the 1:25 000 OS map) a young lady was searching a muddy field for a lost horseshoe. Apparently when the mud is particularly sticky, the shoes get sucked off the horses' hooves.

Haxted Mill
Haxted Mill

The Way then follows Dwelly Lane to Haxted Mill (described by Wikipedia as 'a much-restored watermill in Surrey') on the River Eden. The Way crosses the Eden a little further on by a newish footbridge and continues to Cernes Farm, where it meets the Eden Valley Walk.

As when I was walking the Tandridge Border Path, I followed the Eden Valley Walk into Edenbridge to catch a train home from Eden Bridge Town Station.

Some of this section (and the next) of the Vanguard Way is coincident with, or closely parallels, the Tandridge Border Path. On balance, I prefer the Vanguard Way route.

On the whole, a good day's walking, in dry, if undistinguished, weather.

River Eden
Bridge over River Eden, south of Haxted Mill

Flood mark, Haxted Mill

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12 March 2011: Lingfield - Forest Row - East Grinstead

21.9 km (13.7 miles)

Meridian marker
Meridian marker, just outside Lingfield

I ended the second section of my walk along the Vanguard Way (on 05 March 2011) at Cernes Farm, and then I followed the Eden Valley Walk into Edenbridge for the train home. As I have walked between Cernes Farm and Edenbridge a few times over the last couple of years, I thought I'd make a change and start the third section of the walk at Lingfield Station. The walk-in to Cernes Farm is a little longer than from Edenbridge Town Station, but it's perhaps pleasanter.

Fields
Fields, St Margaret's Hill near Lingfield

From Lingfield Station, I took the footpath at the south end of the platforms, heading east. This crosses the railway by a footpath level crossing, crosses the Eden Brook (a tributary of the River Eden) by a footbridge and then skirts round St Piers School, run by the National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy (NCYPE), a national charity providing specialist services and support for children and young people with epilepsy and other neurological conditions.

Fields
Fields, near Skitts Farm

Approaching Starborough Farm I found a notice on the stile asking walkers coming from the opposite direction to tie up a yellow Labrador if it was following them (on the basis it had escaped from the farm yet again, and someone would soon notice it was missing). A length of rope was provided for the purpose.

View
View north from Dry Hill

At Starborough Farm I briefly headed north before turning east again to reach the lane leading to Haxted Mill. A short way along the lane I rejoined the Vanguard Way and crossed the fields to Cernes Farm. From Cernes Farm the Vanguard Way heads due south, passing Starborough Castle. This section coincides with the Tandridge Border Path, and in my log for my walk along the Border Path I noted that only the moat remains of the original castle, but in the eighteenth century a gothic style ornamental pavilion was built on the site re-using medieval material.

The top of the pavilion can just be glimpsed from the path. This time I took a short diversion along the footpath heading east to Marsh Green, to see if I could see anything of the pavilion. I could glimpse the moat (complete with small canal boat), but I couldn't get a view of the building through the surrounding vegetation.

Llama
Llama, on Dry Hill

From Starborough Castle the Way climbs up to Dry Hill, and today (unusually for my visits to Dry Hill) the weather was dry. I rather like Dry Hill - it's not particularly distinguished, but there are good views northwards over the Eden Valley, and it boasts an Iron Age Wealden type multivallate hillfort ('multivallate' is a term used to describe a hillfort with three or more ditches - so the 'Exploring Surrey's Past' website tells me). It also boasts a trig point.

As Dry Hill is very near the points where the Surrey, Kent, West Sussex and East Sussex borders meet, I tend to think of it as the hub of my walking territory.

Trig point
Trig point, Dry Hill

Just over Dry Hill, Beeches Farm displays signs at its entrance and exit forbidding photography. I've no idea why, nor do I understand the legal basis for the prohibition, so I took a photograph - of the signs.

There is a rather fine Wealden house where the Vanguard Way joins Smithers Lane (not named on the OS map). Just before Gotwick Manor, I left the road by the footpath used by the Tandridge Border Path and stopped to eat my sandwiches in the field. In my log for the Border Path I noted this field gave an odd impression of remoteness.

Wealden house
Wealden house, where the Vanguard Way joins Smithers Lane

After lunch I returned to the Vanguard Way and continued south. In Wet Wood there was a jumble of abandoned barbeques and kitchen sinks (without taps) that looked as if it must be the remains of some scout camp. The Way then crosses a tributary of the River Medway in a picturesque valley, and continues on a recently repaired bridleway to reach a very neat, very long, factory farm.

From there the Way continues along a lane to skirt Ashurst Wood, and then drops down into Forest Row, passing a field that was once home to free range pigs - only their sties remained.

Bridleway
Bridleway, leaving Wet Wood

In Forest Row the Way passes a new office block built on pillars, to avoid flooding by the Medway - anticipating global warming perhaps.

I stopped off at the Chequers Inn Hotel for a pint - 'a 15th Century Old English Pub complete with Inglenook Fireplace'. The Harveys was good.

From Forest Row I took a footpath to have a look at the remains of Brambletye House - well worth the visit. The house was built by Sir Henry Compton in 1631, though only parts remain as a ruin. The west tower is surmounted by an ogee-shaped cupola.

Brambletye House
Remains of Brambletye House

From Brambletye House I followed a footpath (passing some very contented looking free range chickens in an orchard) to pick up the route I'd taken into East Grinstead when walking the Greenwich Meridian on 03 October 2009. This time the obstacles placed in the way by the council had been removed, as their repair works were complete.

In East Grinstead I followed Harwood's Lane then Hermitage Lane (partly in a rock cutting) into the town centre, where I stopped for coffee before walking to the station for the train home.

A good day's walking, starting in really beautiful spring weather, though turning dull later.

Cockerel

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02 April 2011: Forest Row to Blackboys

23.8 km (14.9 miles)

Golf course
Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club - Old Course

I'd been looking forward to walking this section of the Vanguard Way, as it crosses the Ashdown Forest. I had planned to walk it on 19 March, but there were no train services that day to either East Grinstead or Uckfield. One rail replacement bus service I can cope with, but two is one too many. I therefore walked the first section of my project to follow the semaphore line from London to Portsmouth instead. Today was my first opportunity to resume the Vanguard Way.

Cricket pavilion
Cricket pavilion, Ashdown Forest

I took the train to East Grinstead, and then caught the No 291 bus to Forest Row to pick up the route where I had had left it on 12 March. I liked Forest Way - nothing distinguished, but it looked a pleasant little town. The Vanguard Way emerges from the town on the edge of the Old Course of the Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club. The club, established in 1888, has two courses - the Old Course and the West Course. The course is laid out on common land, and is open access. I don't like golf courses, but this is one of the least offensive courses I've come across, as it is a 'lay-of-the-land' course without sand bunkers.

Trig point
Trig point at Gills Lap (204 m)

The Vanguard Way skirts the edge of the golf course, and eventually crosses the road between Coleman's Hatch and Wych Cross. It then passes a roughly hexagonal cricket pitch, with a simple wooden pavilion, and continues a short way across heathland to emerge onto Kidds Hill road. The route of the Vanguard Way between Forest Row and Kidds Hill is not very clear on the map, but navigation is not difficult on the ground (with a little care), as the Way follows broad tracks well used by horses.

Memorial
Memorial to A A Milne and E H Shepard, with view north

The Way follows Kidds Hill southwards to reach Newbridge, where a side road crosses a ford over a tributary of the Medway. This is where the Way really gets onto open heathland. I followed the route of the Way marked on the map, but rather than aiming directly for the car park at the junction of Kidds Hill and the B 2026 I continued on a clear track to the top of the ridge, and then headed north to touch the trig point at Gills Lap (204 m). I noticed that there was a 'meml' marked on the map a couple of hundred metres further on, so went to see it out of curiosity. It commemorates A A Milne and E H Shepard - this is deep in Winnie-the-Pooh territory. But the view was good.

Kings Standing Clump
Kings Standing Clump (pillow mound)

I returned along the ridge to regain the route of the Vanguard Way at the car park. The Way then runs parallel to the B 2026 for a kilometre or so (crossing the Wealdway), then crosses the B 2188 (which branches off the B 2026) and climbs to Kings Standing Clump (a clump of fir trees). This is marked 'Pillow Mound' on the OS map, in the gothic script used to indicate a non-roman antiquity. I always assumed a pillow mound was some sort of grave mound, but I now find that they were artificial warrens ('coney garths') built to house rabbits!

View
View towards Crows Nest Clump

The section of the Way between Kings Standing Clump and the edge of the Forest at Poundgate is wonderful - open heathland dotted with pines, gorse and tall yellow grass where the heather had been burnt. I was rather reluctant to leave the Forest, but needed to press on.

Panorama
Panorama looking back from near Poundgate

At Poundgate I stopped at the Crow and Gate Inn for a pint of Harveys. It was good to be able to sit in the sun and feel warm whilst drinking it. A friendly pub.

Horse
Horse and view south, Newnham Park Farm

I'd walked parts of the next section of the Way, passing through High Hurstwood, when walking the Sussex Diamond Way (31 July and 07 August 2010). It's pleasant Weald countryside, though some of the paths were still very muddy. In High Hurstwood I again passed Holy Trinity church, the church that was missing from my edition of the OS 1:25 000 map. There was a wedding in progress, and a white vintage car was waiting outside.

From High Hurstwood the Way continued southwards, crossing Fowly Lane, passing under the railway to Uckfield by a brick arch bridge and skirting the eastern edge of Buxted.

Railway bridge
Bridge under railway to Uckfield

I checked the time when I got to Buxted, as the last bus from Blackboys (my intended destination) to Uckfield was at 16:13, and my fallback plan was to get the train from Buxted if necessary. As there was just over an hour to go, I decided I had plenty of time to get the bus and so I pressed on.

Allotments
Allotments at Blackboys

The countryside between Buxted and Blackboys is very pleasant, but there is nothing of particular note. Scantlings Farm is a classic example of one of those farms where the lanes approaching it have become linear rubbish tips of abandoned vehicles, machinery and building materials that might just come in useful one day. At Tickerage Mill the Vanguard Way very briefly joins the Wealdway. It is a nice spot, with a big mill pond, although Tickerage Mill itself has been unsympathetically extended into a large house.

On the edge of Blackboys, the Way passes through one of most enjoyable sets of allotments I've come across when walking, a wonderful jumble of vegetables, sheds and chicken runs. The Village hall is next door, with a sign that is considerably grander than the building.

Bus stop
Bus stop at Blackboys

I got to the bus stop with 15 minutes to spare, so I didn't have time to visit the pub after which the village is named. 'Blackboys' is said to refer to the colour of the boys who emerged from the woods after burning charcoal. I have been there in the past, and remember it as a good pub.

The No 318 bus arrived absolutely on time, giving me 10 minutes in Uckfield before my train home. It had been an excellent walk on a beautiful warm spring day, and all the spring flowers were out - wood-sorrel, cuckoo flowers, celandines, wood anemone, primroses, violets and a few early bluebells.

Cuckoo Flower (Lady's Smock) Wood-sorrel

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23 April 2011: Blackboys to Berwick

19.0 km (11.9 miles)

Blackboys Inn
Blackboys Inn

Blackboys is not well served by buses, so when I checked the timetables I was please to see the train to Uckfield arriving at 09:23 met the 09:32 departure of the No 318 bus to Blackboys. However, as a precaution, I took a list of local taxi contact details with me (from Yell.com). I didn't need it, as everything was on time.

Path
Path between Hollow Lane and Bushbury Lane

At Blackboys I set off down the road to the eponymous Blackboys Inn - but it was far too early to call in. The Vanguard Way then meanders south through very pleasant countryside, albeit without any particular distinguishing features. The late spring flowers were in full bloom - ground ivy, stitchwort, lords and ladies, vetch, hedge garlic (Alliaria petiolata) and bluebells were particularly plentiful.

View
View from near Moat Farm

Not far out of Blackboys, the broad path between Hollow Lane and Bushbury Lane was particularly pleasing, lined with fine oak trees and having good views.

Approaching Moat Farm, crossing one of the streams that feed the Cuckmere River, I found a hydraulic ram pump. Hydraulic rams are elegant devices, requiring no power supply and having only a couple of moving parts, making them very reliable. They take in water at one hydraulic head (pressure) and flow-rate, and output water at a higher hydraulic head but lower flow-rate. This particular pump wasn't working - when operating, the pumps have a very characteristic clacking sound at one or two second intervals.

View
View approaching Chiddingly

From Moat Farm, the Vanguard Way sticks to lanes for a couple of kilometres before returning to paths. The Wealdway runs parallel a little further westward, avoiding the lanes. At Broomfield Farm there is a very neat touring caravan park, already doing good business with holiday makers.

Six Bells
Six Bells, Chiddingly

The spire of Chiddingly church can be seen a long way before reaching the village. The Six Bells at Chiddingly is a real country pub. The front rooms look as if they haven't changed in years. I stopped for a pint of Harveys, which I drank in the garden. I then went to see the church and eat my sandwiches in the churchyard (which I've done before - it is very peaceful, overlooking the cricket pitch). The church is well cared for, and well used. A lady doing the flowers told me that they regularly get 50 people for a Sunday service.

Jefferay Monument
Part of the Jefferay Monument (Sir Edward Montagu, 1st Baron Montagu of Boughton)

The church contains a remarkable funerary monument, the Jefferay Monument, installed in 1612. It is made of marble and alabaster, and is unusual in having two standing figures (two members of the younger generation, he in crinkled robes, she in a preposterous costume - Pevsner). There is an excellent description at the Public Sculptures of Sussex website. With the pub and the church, Chiddingly is well worth a visit.

Bluebells
Bluebells, outside Chiddingly

South of Chidingly there is an unusual crossing of two footpaths in the middle of a large field, marked by a new fingerpost (with stubby fingers, just long enough for a waymark disc). Perhaps the fields were once smaller, and the crossing point marks a lost field boundary.

At Brickfields Farm (a 'Mohair Centre') there is one of those absurd phone masts disguised as a tree - but designed by someone who has seemingly never seen a tree, with some downward pointing branches, and some upward pointing branches. There may be a technical reason for the absurdity of the design, but I'd prefer an honest mast.

Mays Farm
Mays Farm

Approaching the drive to Limekiln Farm I passed a wonderful field, pimpled with ant-mounds and full of early purple orchids. I was tempted to trespass to get a photograph, but the Way runs along the drive, and there were a few orchids scattered amongst the daffodils (now over). Limekiln Farm is delightful, clearly owned by somebody with taste and money.

From Limekiln Farm the Way heads south-west along a long straight lane that turns into a by-way (recently re-surfaced) and then back to a lane at Chalvington.

Southdown lambs
Southdown lambs, Ludlay Farm

At Mays Farm I missed the turning and wandered up towards the house. The yard contains some lovely old brick pig sties. The house is Georgian, in grey brick, two and a half stories high (as Pevsner puts it). At Ludlay there appears to be a choice of routes, but the Way politely takes the route which avoids the going through the gardens of the house. Just beyond the house the field was full of Southdown sheep with young lambs, still wrinkly, their banded tails not yet dropped off.

Between Ludlay and Berwick the OS map is misleading, as it shows the Way continuing along Ludlay's driveway to the road into Berwick, whereas the Way actually takes a path that cuts off the corner, emerging in Berwick just north of the railway. This path has fine views of Wilmington Hill ahead, the Long Man just faintly visible.

In Berwick I had half an hour to wait for the train, so I had a shandy in the Berwick Inn.

The weather had been hot and sunny all day - more like summer than spring. The ground was very dry, and I suspect it won't be long before we get drought warnings. But back in Croydon, there has been a thunderstorm, and the gutters of the station were overflowing.

Approaching Berwick
Approaching Berwick, Wilmington Hill behind

Lords and Ladies Early Purple Orchid

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30 April 2011: Berwick to Newhaven

20.9 km (13.1 miles)

Firle Beacon
Firle Beacon, approaching Berwick

I took the train to Berwick to and set off to complete the last stage of the Vanguard Way. I've walked the section from Berwick Station, through Berwick village, to Alfriston many times before, and was glad to find the path was comparatively dry - it can get very muddy. There are good views towards the Downs from this section of the route.

Crucifix
Crucifix, approaching Alfriston

Coming into Alfriston the Way follows a lane. On the roadside is a largish crucifix, carved from oak and rather un-English. A small plaque says it was erected by Alice S. Gregory 28 April 1919, and quotes John 3.16: God so loved the world.

The Clergy House
The Clergy House, Alfriston

In Alfriston I paused to look at the church (Pevsner says '... the sedilia and piscina very odd indeed and rather perverse') and the Clergy House, the first building bought by the National Trust. The Clergy House is a timber framed thatched house dating from the fourteenth century, with a lovely garden. Unfortunately I somehow lost my sun hat whilst walking around the property, and was compelled to by another from the National Trust shop, as it was a very sunny day and I burn.

Alfriston church
Alfriston church, from banks of the Cuckmere

A chapel near the village green carries a small blue plaque saying 'United Reformed Church Built in 1801 as Alfriston's first non-conformist chapel. The scene of a fracas on 11 December 1831 when Charles Brooker, senior trustee of the Congregational Church, used supporters to depose a rival Minister and re-instate the Revd. George Betts'.

Litlington White Horse
Litlington White Horse

Leaving Alfriston I fell in with a lady walking her dog - a very bouncy labradoodle (labrador / poodle cross) and we kept company along the river as far as Litlington, where I planned to have a pint in the Plough and Harrow. My companion clearly didn't think much of the pub, and having visited it, I'd agree it's not one of the best.

Cliff End
Cliff End, Seven Sisters, from near Cuckmere Haven

From Litlington the way climbs over a ridge to Charleston Manor (not visible from the path) and then climbs another wooded ridge to reach Westdean, in Friston Forest. I'd not eaten my sandwiches, so I decided to stop for lunch in the shade before reaching Westdean. As I sat down I noticed an orchid, not yet in flower, and then realised I was surrounded by them. A few were flowering - they were white helleborines, the first I've ever seen.

Rock pool
Rock Pool, near Cuckmere Haven

From Westdean the Way climbs over another small ridge to Exceat, giving the classic view over Cuckmere as it meanders to Cuckmere Haven. It's the subject of a fine painting by Eric Ravilious. The decision has been made to restore the area 'to a naturally functioning estuary which will be self sustaining, reducing the need for engineered solutions and increasing the flood storage capacity of the flood plain'. This seems to be progressing well.

Cliffs
Cliffs between Cuckmere Haven and Seaford Head

The Way crosses the Cuckmere by the A 259 bridge, then follows the western edge of the flood plain to reach the coast at Cuckmere Haven. The Way then follows the coast over Seaford Head. A little way beyond Cuckmere Haven there are steps down to the sea. As the tide was out, I took some time to look at the eroded chalk plateau below the cliffs, rough and full of small rock pools.

Gulls
Nesting gulls, Seaford Head

From Seaford Head there are great views along the coast and over Seaford. Dropping down into Seaford I spotted a flock of twitchers on the large groyne on the edge of the town, looking out to sea through large telescopes. I also found a couple of lost cyclists who clearly had difficulty reading a map - they thought they could cycle along the coast at sea level to reach Eastbourne. After I explained where they were, they decided to try the road - they didn't fancy tackling Seaford Head.

Looking back to Seaford Head
Looking back to Seaford Head

Seaford is, it has to be said, a remarkably uninteresting seaside town - it's far too decorous. There is a Martello tower containing a museum, but I'd not the time to look round it. From Seaford the Way follows the old route of the River Ouse, before it was diverted through Newhaven Harbour, passing the ruins of a tide mill. It's not the most attractive section of the Way, but there are some interesting plants growing in the shingle.

From Newhaven Harbour Station I walked to Newhaven Town Station for the train home.

An excellent, interesting day's walking, in beautiful (if occasionally windy) weather, with the bonus of finding the white helleborines outside Westdean.

This is the second time I've walked the Vanguard Way, and it's a really good long distance path. Combined with the Wandle Trail I think it's the best way of walking south from London to the sea. Recommended.

White Helleborine

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