To Lewes

Lewes, a very pretty town nestling in a gap in the South Downs, is an almost perfect walking destination.  More interesting than Arundel, its more staid west Sussex cousin, Lewis has a defiant radical history.  The famous revolutionary Tom Paine wrote his first pamphlet in Lewis and 19 Protestant martyrs, refusing to accept Mary's Catholic restoration, were burnt there at the stake.  The spirit of non-conformism (and burning) is sustained with a unique annual firework display, claimed as the largest of its kind in the world, when the Guy Fawkes effigy is updated with more modern villains.   Perhaps more importantly, if you've just finished a long walk, is the excellent selection of pubs and restaurants, including those serving 'bitter' from the oldest independent brewery in Sussex, Harveys, located right in the centre of the town. With a direct train route from London and Brighton and buses back to Brighton every 10 mins, it's also very accessible.

There are lots of different ways to walk from Brighton to Lewes and no doubt I'll be blogging about some of the other variants in the future.  This one is 19kms long and took me a shade over 4 hours to complete.  It's a lovely walk that, despite being close to Brighton, takes you almost immediately into the countryside and classic South Downs scenery.  If you want to download the route, follow the link.

My walk took place towards the end of the February.  The weather was cold and blustery with a wind from the northwest bringing in dark and threatening clouds.  It didn't rain, but the light was poor and with spring still a long way round the corner wintery washed out colours dominated.  It had been raining off and on all week, but most of the walk across the chalk of the Downs was dry and easy going and mud was only a problem amongst the trees.
 1 - Looking west across Brighton and its racecourse
2 - Looking down into the Castle Hill Nature Reserve
The walk starts at the southern end of East Brighton Park (No 1 Bus to Whitehawk) and climbs up the eastern side of the Sheepcote Valley to the end of the Brighton Racecourse (the track is in the shape of a horseshoe) with great views across the city to the west.  After crossing the road it follows what is often a muddy lane immediately NE of a line of houses.  After about 1500m it crosses a road and starts its journey across the South Downs proper.
 3 - Views north above Castle Hill
After climbing along a hard chalky road up to a communications tower the going improves and track follows a lovely grassy trail east.  There are great walking choices in all directions with the route directly ahead across the tops of the Downs a particularly tempting one.  600m beyond the communications tower, and at the entrance to the Castle Hill nature reserve (a lovely place easily incorporated in an alternative route to Lewes), our route turns north, heads through a fence and across and field to another green lane.  The little hollow in the hillside below, 'Loose Bottom', was yellow with flowering broom. 

 4 and 5 - Views east along Downs to Swanborough Hill
After following a green lane east the route arrives at a coppice and joins the South Downs Way (SDW). Keeping to the east of the coppice the route follows the SDW NE down the hill and then leaves the green lane heading down through trees to the Brighton/Lewes railway line.  After passing underneath the line it heads west (which feels like the wrong direction) above a dual carriageway, crosses a footbridge, heads east along the other side of the road and then north back onto the Downs.
 6 - A bull (on the other side of a fence) 
Now back in the countryside proper the route climbs a hill to another coppice. Always, whenever I've walked this route there is a contented looking bull, a Simmental I think, sitting happily in the field on the other side of the fence.
7 - Swanborough Hill in the distance
Walking through the Bunkers Hill plantation the route drops into a classic dry South Downs valley and after emerging from the trees presents a great view SE to Swanborough Hill. After climbing out of the dry valley, and still on the SDW, the route heads NE across open Down.  The terracing to the west on the hillside (Buckland Bank) is a remnant of an Iron Age field system and a reminder of the fact that until the middle ages cultivation rather than sheep dominated the Downs.
 8 Buckland Bank
After following a fence NW for about a kilometre the route turns sharp right and heads SE down into a hollow and trees at Ashcombe Bottom.  This a lovely place and presents a different face everytime its visited.   Full of old oak, hazel and of course ash there is a lot to see even in winter.
9 Hazel catkins in Ashcombe Bottom
Emerging from Ashcombe Bottom my route to Lewes climbs onto the National Trust owned Blackcap.  On a warmer day this would be a great place to stop, lie in the sun and enjoy the views to the south but not in February.
 10 from Blackcap south
Now on the final leg the route heads east past the old Lewes racecourse, still used for training purposes and down a narrow occasionally muddy chalky path, past the grim Victorian prison and into Lewes.  If you're cold, as I was, and want to get back to Brighton quickly than you get a bus at the first bus stop you reach.
11 - a well used path

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