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Friston Forest and Cuckmere Haven

Three wonderful contrasts: the Cuckmere river, as it meanders its way to the sea, the tranquil greenery of Friston Forest, and the sweeping views from the top of the South Downs.

 

Minimum time 4h00

Distance 12 miles (19.3km)

Difficulty Hard

Suggested map  OS Explorer 123, South Downs Way: Newhaven to Eastbourne

Start/finish  Seven Sisters Country Park pay car park (on north side of A259; grid ref: TV 518995

Trails/tracks  well drained, compacted earth and forest tracks, level concrete track to Cuckmere Haven; short downhill road section, steep rough tracks and two stony descents on the long ride

Landscape  forest, riverside, shingle beach, open chalk downland

Public toilets  at the start

Tourist information  Eastbourne, tel: 01323 411400

Bike hire  The Cuckmere Cycle Company (by Visitor Centre), tel: 01323 870310; www.cuckmere-cycle.co.uk

Recommended pub  The Plough and Harrow, Litlington

Notes Cycle carefully and give pedestrians on the track to Cuckmere Haven priority at busy times. The full ride on the South Downs Way is unsuitable for younger children

 
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© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

Getting to the start

From the A259 between Eastbourne and Seaford, turn off at Seven Sisters Country Park, behind the visitor centre, and immediately turn right for the car park.

1 From the car park go down towards the vehicular entrance, and just before the road turn right on a track signposted 'public bridleway to Westdean'. Look out for the bicycle symbols in green, which denote the bike trail you will be following for the first part of the ride.

2 At the first house at Westdean keep forward on the track (signposted Exceat Hill), following the green bike symbols. After 1 mile (1.6km) reach a junction marked with five tall red-and-white posts.

3 For a short return to Westdean, fork left almost immediately after, and continue following the green bike symbols, turning right at the hard forest road (to the left you can see the tall red and white posts), then soon left at another bike symbol. The track rises (at the top a short path leads up right to a viewpoint over the forest and to the sea) and then falls. Leave the waymarked trail at a three-way fork, keeping right downhill, past a barrier and houses, then turn right at a road junction into Westdean. Pass the church and rectory and drop to a T-junction by Pond Cottage, then go ahead towards the flight of steps, where you turn right along the track you were following earlier and retrace to the start.
For the main route, continue ahead at Point 3 and fork left near some power lines. Go past a barrier, and forward again on joining a metalled road, which becomes less surfaced (ignore side turns). On reaching a road, turn left along it to Jevington. Note the blue plaque on the
Hungry Monk restaurant, informing you this was the birthplace of banoffee pie in 1972.

4 Turn left at Jevington and take the track signposted South Downs Way and church: inside there is a 1,000-year-old stone carving of Christ stabbing a beast (ad 950), the triumph of Good over Evil. Continue uphill on the South Downs Way, which steepens through the woods (too steep for cycling). Ignore side turns.

5 At the top, emerge from the woodland, ignore the South Downs Way to the right and keep forward. There are wonderful views inland and towards the sea from this track, and just to the left is Lullington Heath Nature Reserve, where there is an unusual combination of plants because of the acidic conditions on the chalky soil. The track later drops steeply and then rises up to a junction by a small flint pillar on the left. Slightly hidden to the right is Winchester's Pond, a small pond that is the haunt of dragonflies. Carry on ahead and downhill, forking left later to Litlington, where the track twists left and then right by farm buildings.

6 At the road, turn left through Litlington, past the tea gardens and The Plough and Harrow pub. As you continue along the road you can see the figure of a white horse etched into the hillside across the valley. The road leads back to the turning to Westdean and the car park at Exceat. To extend the ride, wheel your bike between the restaurant and visitor centre on a brick path to the main road. Cross very carefully and take the gate opposite, near the bus stop. The concrete track leads towards the sea. Keep right at two forks, following a bicycle route to the beach. Return the same way.

The winding Cuckmere River ends at Cuckmere Haven, the only undeveloped estuary in Sussex, where there is a glorious view along the bottom of the Seven Sisters to the left and the cottages on Seaford Head to the right. The beach is shingle and shelves quite steeply, so this is for stronger swimmers only. During the war, a mock town with lights was built here to mislead enemy bombers into raiding this instead of Newhaven; there are still fortifications here, including concrete 'dragon teeth' tank traps seen to the right, just before the beach. The meadows, reed beds and ponds are important habitats for wildlife. As you approach the beach you will pass an artificial lagoon, made in 1975, and a nesting and feeding area for birds.

The forest was planted in the early 20th century over an underground reservoir: at some points on the route you can see the waterworks and water tower. Westdean is a secluded village surrounded by the forest. Next to the church stands a rectory dating from the late 13th century.

Why do this bike ride?

On this route you will find deep, varied forest laced with cycle paths, and a level, easy ride to the shingle beach at Cuckmere Haven for a famous view of the Seven Sisters.

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