Visit a picturesque village famous for its artistic and literary associations on this exhilarating coastal and downland walk.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 305ft (92m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Busy village streets, downland paths and tracks, 6 stiles
Landscape Rolling downland extending to the sea
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 122 South Downs Way - Steyning to Newhaven
Start/finish TQ 347032
Dog friendliness On lead in Rottingdean. Under careful control in places
Parking Free car park at Roedean Bottom, at junction of A259 and B2118
Public toilets Rottingdean village and the Undercliff
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1 From the car park cross the A259 and turn right towards Brighton, following the path parallel to the road. Look for the path on the left and follow it down to the Undercliff. Head east towards Rottingdean, passing a café. Continue on the path until you reach some steps and a sign for historic Rottingdean on the left.
2 Make for the village and pass the White Horse pub on the left. Cross the A259 into Rottingdean High Street. Pass the Black Horse, Nevill Road and Steyning Road and continue along the street. As you approach The Green, look for The Dene on the right.
3 Follow the road round to the right and make for the junction. Keep right and head back into Rottingdean village. Pass the war memorial and the village pond and look for the church on the left. Pass the Plough inn and walk back down to the High Street. Turn left, then right into Nevill Road. Climb quite steeply and bear right into Sheep Walk. Look to the right here for a good view of the village and its church.
4 Keep the windmill on your left and follow the bridleway over the Downs. Woodingdean can be glimpsed in the distance and the buildings of Ovingdean are seen in the foreground. The outline of Roedean School is visible against the horizon. Continue to Longhill Road, turn left and walk down to the junction.
5 Cross over to a stile and then head up the slope to a second stile in the right-hand boundary. Bear left and keep going up the hillside. Pass a private path to Roedean School and continue beside the wire fence to a stile in the field corner. Turn right and skirt the pasture to the next stile. Descend steeply towards Ovingdean church, cutting off the field corner to reach a stile. Cross into the field and keep the churchyard wall hard by you on the right.
6 Cross a stile to the lychgate and walk down to the junction. Turn left and when the road bends right, go straight on along a wide concrete track, following the bridleway. Keep left at the fork, then immediately left again at the next fork, a few paces beyond it. When the track swings quite sharply to the left, go straight on along the path. Pass a path and stile, and the car park by the A259 looms into view now. When you reach the road, by the entrance to Roedean School, cross the grass to the car park.
I love seaside towns and villages and one of my favourite coastal places is Rottingdean, to the east of Brighton. I like it because it's a picturesque village with a green and lots of flint houses. But there's a stronger, more personal reason why I'm drawn to the place. My parents worked and met there, beginning their married life in this village.
Rottingdean is one of seven Saxon settlements on this stretch of the Sussex coast, all ending in 'dean.' The word 'dean' or 'dene' means hollow or valley of the South Downs. The Deans is the collective name for them and, apart from Roedean, the famous public school for girls, Rottingdean is probably the most well known. Despite expanding development over the years, the village still retains the feel of an independent community. But there's a lot more to Rottingdean than historic buildings and landmarks, as a tour of the village will reveal.
Start the walk by following the scenic Undercliff, with its close-up view of the sea, then look for a comprehensive information board at the junction of the High Street and the A259, which helps you to identify what's what and who lived where as you explore the village streets. For example, the Black Horse was said to have been a meeting place for smugglers, while Whipping Post House was the home of Captain Dunk, the local butcher and a renowned bootlegger.
Rudyard Kipling lived at The Elms in Rottingdean until driven away by inquisitive fans and autograph hunters. He wrote Kim and the Just So stories here - among other works. Kipling loved the South Downs and he found these hills a great source of inspiration. 'Our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs', he wrote in his famous poem Sussex.
Some of Kipling's relatives had local associations and it was here in the village that his cousin Stanley Baldwin met and married Lucy Ridsdale, whose family lived at The Dene. Baldwin was a Conservative statesman who, as Prime Minister, secured three terms in office during the 1920s and 30s.
The flint church at Rottingdean is noted for its impressive stained glass windows designed by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones who lived at North End House on the west side of the green. Enid Bagnold who wrote the famous novel National Velvet was also a local resident.
From the green, the walk climbs up to Beacon Hill above Rottingdean. The views are breathtaking as you make your way over this high ground, down to Ovingdean church and back towards Roedean.
Along the Undercliff, you'll find a café open at weekends throughout the year. The historic Black Horse in Rottingdean is one of five inns in the village and has a snack menu which includes soup, sandwiches, ploughmans and baguettes. Rottingdean also boasts several tea rooms.
As you descend to the Undercliff, look for the extensive apartment buildings of Brighton marina. Opened in 1978, this is Europe's largest purpose-built yacht harbour, with moorings for several thousand boats. Founded in 1855, Roedean School moved to its present site in the late 1890s from Sussex Square in Brighton. During World War II the school relocated to Keswick in the Lake District to avoid any threat of enemy attack. At various stages along the walk there are small stones to be seen beside the path, bearing the initials RS and the date - 1938. There is no record of these stones in the school archives, though they might be some form of boundary marker.
Visit Rottingdean Grange Museum. Originally the vicarage, the Grange used to be the home of the artist Sir William Nicholson, who lived here prior to the First World War. The building was enlarged by Sir Edwin Lutyens and now includes a gallery and museum. Among the exhibits is a reconstruction of Rudyard Kipling's study. The story of the Coppers, who have done much to preserve the tradition of Sussex folksongs over the years, is also recorded. In 1950 Bob Copper traced Hilaire Belloc's journey on foot across Sussex from east to west.