2 Day walk exploring the Eastern Downs

If you want to experience the famous open wale-backed downs and the iconic white cliffs of the Severn Sisters and Beachy Head, but only have a couple of days to spare, this 2 day trip is for you.

Staying entirely on the South Downs Way this circular walk uses the eastern loop of the National Trail and is easy to follow. It is 19 miles in total, but with a fair bit of up and down.

Day one is 8.5 miles.

Starting at Eastbourne (You can catch mainline trains from London or Brighton or catch bus 12/13 from Brighton) head to the seafront and walk west. At the end of King Edwards Parade you’ll find the end post of the SDW. From here follow the South Downs Way bridleway route signposted to Jevington. You pass one of many ‘Dew Ponds’ near the top of the first hill. These were used to water sheep before piped water was available. Take time to stop after the golf course at the top of “Bourne Hill” and take in the 360 degree views before you start to drop down to Jevington.

Jevington is the famed birth place of Banoffee Pie and a Blue Plaque marks its birth place. Jevington is also the place Sir Winston Churchill came to view and sign off on the design of the Churchill Tank following trials on the hills around the village. You could stop for lunch here at the “Eight Bells” This is just a hundred yards north up the road from the SDW.

After lunch continue up the hill past the Church. You can fill up your water bottles here from the free drinking water tap. The views as you walk towards Windover Hill are amongst the best along the Trail. If you have the time and energy take a short detour down Wilmington Hill to see the famous “Long Man of Wilmington”. This chalk figure is still a mystery and no-one really knows how old it is!

Continue into Alfriston crossing the White bridge over the river Cuckmere.

There are many accommodation and food options here. It’s well worth exploring this traditional Downland market village. The Clergy House next to the St. Andrews Church was the very first property purchased by the National Trust.

On day two which totals 10.5 miles, cross back over the White bridge and then turn immediately right heading south along the banks of the River Cuckmere until you reach the small village of Litlington. Continue to follow the SDW footpath route. Near Clapham Barn you’ll get great views to the white horse carved into the hill side across the valley. This is a Victorian chalk horse allegedly carved by a couple of brothers in just one night. You’ll continue through Friston Forest passing the hamlet of Westdean before entering Seven Sisters Country Park, where you can start to smell the sea! Tea rooms are usually open here, or you can wait until you reach Birling Gap for lunch.

The Cuckmere is the only remaining undeveloped river estuary along the south coast. From here the seven sisters start. As the name suggests there are 7 hills (well actually there are 8 to climb before reaching Birling Gap).

At Birling Gap there is a National Trust café, toilets and a visitors centre which is well worth popping in. From here continue up the hill again towards Belle Tout light house. Sitting right on the cliff edge this building has actually been moved back once and still sits on great beams to allow it to be moved back again. After Belle Tout you’ll get the first views of the iconic red and white stripped Beachy Head Lighthouse.  Yes you’ll have one more hill to climb. Beachy Head is Europe highest chalk sea cliff. A pub, toilest and visitor centre can be found at Beachy Head. From here on it’s down hill all the way to your starting point.

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View from SDW at Windover Hill looking west - A. Gattiker
Approaching Beachy Head from the east - A . Gattiker
The Cuckmere meanders - A.Gattiker
Alfriston Clergy House - National Trust