If you’ve been following our recent posts, you’ll know we’re a big fan of Eastbourne. And it’s not just the town that we love, because the surrounding area is a veritable feast of beautiful places and quirky things to do. So this week, we grabbed our trainers and our sense of adventure and we headed to the triangle of treasure in between Beachy Head, Cuckmere Haven and Wilmington to see what we could find in terms of things to do near Eastbourne.
The Long Man at Wilmington …
If you love strange things, local folklore and folk art, then you have to visit two local landmarks, the first of which is the Long Man at Wilmington. The Long Man is 235 feet tall, holding two “staves” and is cut into the grass. His provenance is not entirely clear, with historians disagreeing about how old he is, who created him and what he symbolises.
The Long Man is easy to find. Just turn off the A27 at Wilmington, pass through the village and park at the car park next to the remains of Wilmington Priory (sadly not open to the public). From there, the Long Man is visible and there is a footpath straight to his feet and then up and beyond across the South Downs. Whatever the truth about his origins, there is something very charismatic and benign about his presence.
And the White Horse
Head three miles south west and you’ll find another local landmark, the White Horse at Litlington, a chalk horse, situated on Hindover Hill (known locally as High-and-Over) on the South Downs. Once again, the history of the horse is unclear and it is thought that a previous horse was cut into the hill here in the early to mid 19th century. The current horse was cut in 1924 by John T, Ade, Mr Bovis and Eric Hobbis in just one night and is 93 feet long and 65 feet high. The horse has been owned by the National Trust since 1991.
You’ll find the Hindover Hill car park just south of the entrance to Rathfinny vineyard. From here, you can walk down to the horse, although to get the best views of it, you need to walk the steep path all the way down to the valley below. Regardless of whether you have time for this, you will still enjoy the most amazing views of the Cuckmere River and Friston Forest. You may also be lucky enough to chat with the folk from the National Trust who cling precariously to the hillside keeping the horse clean and respectable!
The Clergy House, Alfriston
Alfriston Clergy House is a Grade II* listed building next to St Andrew’s Church. It was the first property to be acquired by the National Trust in 1896 for which they paid £10. It is thought that it was built by a local carpenter and purchased in 1403 by John Carlton, the first priest appointed by Michelham Priory to Alfriston. The house is built in the style of a Wealden Hall house and recent research has shown that the trees used to build it were felled between 1399 and 1407.
You can visit the house and gardens. Nearby, you’ll also see a WWII mine that washed up in the River Cuckmere in 1943!
Motoring madness at Filching Manor Motor Museum
On the road from Friston to Wannock, you’ll pass the Filching Manor Motor Museum. This is a privately owned collection that is not generally open to the public but you can book tours of 10+ people. There are two parts to a visit here. Firstly, the main house itself is Grade II listed and dates back to 1450. With a high vaulted hall, it has lots of original features and a large motor-related collection of assorted items.
From the house, you walk up to a series of large sheds which are packed to the rafters with motoring and speed boating memorabilia. Amongst the collection is Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Bluebird K3 world record-breaking boat, a Bedford van that appeared in a Beetles’ film, several Bugatti cars, a 1904 chain-driven Mercedes racing car and more. So much more. Definitely one for the petrol heads.
A smuggler’s trail
It’s no surprise that this area was awash with smugglers in centuries past and the gangs of Alfriston (led by Stanton Collins) and the Jevington Jig (led by James Petit) have left their mark on the area. The smugglers would land their goods at the Birling Gap or Crowlink (now inland but once home to E Nesbit of The Railway Children) and then make their way via the valleys and footpaths to Alfriston or Jevington. And if you’re looking for things to do near Eastbourne, you could follow roughly in their footsteps.
From the Birling Gap to Alfriston is between 10 and 12 km depending on which way you travel and will take you via Friston Forest, Cuckmere Valley and the South Downs Way. And of course, finish your walk with refreshments at Ye Olde Smugglers Inn in the centre of Alfriston which had six staircases, 48 doors and a maze of passageways and tunnels by which smugglers could escape.
It’s a shorter walk of 6 or 7 km from Birling Gap to Jevington where you can visit the Saxon church that was used by the smugglers and have lunch at the Eight Bells which allegedly had a tunnel to nearby Thorpe Cottage (now renamed) and the church. If you have visited Filching Manor on the way to Jevington, ask about their tunnels and the hidden cupboard. For a more ambitious circular walk of 20 to 25 km, you could try from Birling Gap to Jevington, on to Alfriston, and back to Birling Gap, taking in some of the best scenery and history in the area. Alternatively, as part of the Eastbourne Walking Festival, there is an organised Smuggler’s Trail.
Go on a booze cruise
There are some first-rate, boozy hot spots in this area that include Rathfinny vineyard. You’ll see the vines standing proud on the South Downs on the road from Seaford to Alfriston and if you drive up the long concrete drive, you can enjoy tours, tasting or just relax with refreshments from their new horsebox in deckchairs overlooking the vines. When you’re ready, head on over to Long Man Brewery, Church Farm in Litlington, where they offer brewery tours and tastings (although you need to pre-book).
Friston Forest and the South Downs Way
Runners, walkers and cyclists should head to Friston Forest which is between Lullington Heath National Nature Reserve and Seven Sisters Country Park. You can hire barbeques, there are two cycling routes and a number of orienteering challenges that you can pick up from the car park. Look out for Friston Place which is occasionally open to the public and is an early-16th century manor house with surviving elements of garden and landscape features from that period. The South Downs Way almost completely encircles this entire area so you can choose which aspects of it you’d like to enjoy.
A foodie experience
If you have visited Jevington, you will pass some cottages which were formerly The Hungry Monk Restaurant and the birthplace of Banoffee Pie! Sadly, the restaurant is now closed but there are plenty of fine places to eat in this area which include The Star and Deans Place at Alfriston, and Rathfinny’s restaurant and tasting menu.
The market at East Dean
East Dean market is a great local market held every Wednesday where you can buy local produce, arts and crafts. It’s almost next door to an old church with a Saxon tower and an unusual Tapsel gate.
Cuckmere Haven and Birling Gap
I cannot fairly send you to this corner of the county without inviting you to visit Cuckmere Haven and Birling Gap before going on to Beachy Head just outside Eastbourne and in fact, this stretch of road has to be one of the best in the county. If you don’t fancy walking or cycling, what about canoeing up the stunning and winding Cuckmere River (the Visitor Centre in the 18th century barn has more information)? Then head along the coastal path and Seven Sisters to Birling Gap for rock-pooling and cake!
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For more information about things to do in Eastbourne, visit: https://www.visiteastbourne.com/tourism/