Distance: 16 km. Elevation: 219 m. Difficulty: Hard.
This 16 km loop takes in the South Downs and the River Ouse, with views of Lewes Priory and the castle. An Ordnance Survey Explorer map (number 11 Brighton and Hove) is recommended and easy to follow for this route. I’d also recommend you bring some refreshments, it’s quite a hike with not much on the way apart from The Abergavenny Arms, in Rodmell at about halfway. It took us just over 3 hrs walking at a reasonable pace although with plenty of stoppage time for photos. There are no public toilets en route part from the pub.
Kingston near Lewes
You could start this walk in Lewes, Rodmell or Kingston, but on this occasion, we took the Ashcombe Hollow road off the A27 just south east of Lewes. Jugg’s Road (more of a track to be fair), crosses the road at the top of a hill about a kilometre from the A27 and this is the start of your walk. Parking is limited. Take the track south west and you will see the very sharp incline of the South Downs ahead of you. This is by far the steepest climb of the walk and will warm you up nicely. My top recommendation would be to walk this way at sunrise on a clear day because, as always, the experience that the South Downs delivers as you climb is spellbinding. Look back at the way you’ve come, with the ridged slopes beneath you and you can see Lewes, the Ouse Valley, Mount Caburn, and beyond laid out before you like a feast. As you conquer the crest, there is Woodingdean, Rottingdean, Peacehaven and the sea. With no one else about, it’s magnificent.
The South Downs Way
Once at the top, you quickly pick up the South Downs Way and head east. It’s well-marked and majestic, and you follow it all along the ridge for about 5 km. There are sheep, views, and splendour to enjoy here all the way.
As you approach Rodmell, there are a couple of points where you can drop down into the village. The first is where you find yourself walking through a narrow passage with a fence to your side, and as you emerge, at Mill Hill, you can take the lane down to the village. Alternatively, you can push on a bit further along the South Downs Way until it meets the road just west of Southease. Take a left here into Rodmell village.
Arthur Stanley Cooke did parts of this walk in 1911 and recorded his travels in Off the Beaten Track in Sussex. He notes that although the village is definitely called Rodmell (not Rodmill) it means “the road by the mill” and that the road through it from Newhaven to Lewes is one of the oldest in the county, originally a track and made into a road by the Romans. The author also describes the church here as, “There are many richer, but I can conceive no worthier House of God than Rodmell Church”. I’m ashamed to admit, slightly pushed for time, we didn’t stop to visit it but you may wish to. Cooke goes on to describe Rodmell as one long street ending in a marsh with Lewes always in sight. It’s certainly a pretty village with thatched cottages and flint stone walls.
At this point, we deviated from Cooke’s route as he headed west to Iford and we headed north passed the stunning Rectory and Monk’s House (the 16th century cottage owned at one time by Virginia Woolf and now operated by The National Trust as a writer’s house museum).
Sussex Ouse Valley Way
Across the marshes, you pick up the Ouse Valley Way which you take north back towards Lewes. It’s worth looking back at where you’ve been because all the way along the riverbank, you can see the crest of the South Downs you have already traveled. You can even see the steep path you climbed at the beginning of your walk and Ashcombe windmill both of which seem far away in the distance. And of course, you can see Lewes Castle proudly ahead. It’s a flat marshland, criss-crossed with canals and plenty of wildlife and a real sense of a place that time forgot. But the walk does feel long at this point, as your legs are starting to tire.
As you pass under the A27 south of Lewes (with a slight sense of relief) you have a choice. Potter into Lewes itself, grab a coffee and a cake and enjoy some of its many delights, or take the shortcut via The Cockshut route which runs alongside the A27 for a short time and looks back on the town. If you take the shortcut, you will pass close to the Lewes Priory ruins and then across fields and alongside a little canal before back to Kingston. The long route takes you alongside the railway for a short while before spitting you out on Jugg’s Road once more. As you climb the crest triumphant that your 16 km is nearly complete, you’ll get a view of the privately owned windmill as one last treat.
Of course, there are many superb walks along the South Downs. However, this one, in particular, seems to give you a sense of perspective of both time and space. Fringed with history all along the route, in many different shapes and forms, and with far-reaching views, you get a real sense of the past and the present and your own small contribution as you follow in the footsteps of the many others that have walked this way before you over hundreds of years.
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