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Stunning Firle South Downs Circular Walk

South Downs circular walk

Distance: 8 km. Elevation: 191 m. Difficulty: Medium 

This is a stunning South Downs circular walk from Firle to the edge of South Heighton and Denton and back in a loop. It’s quite a straightforward route but not well-signed at certain points, so I recommend you take Ordnance Survey Explorer OL 11. To get to the start, take the Firle turn off the A27, and drive up the lane to the top of the Downs. This is the Firle Beacon car park (with the most amazing views) but it is paid parking. They take credit cards.

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Once parked, take a moment. There are stunning views all around. You can see across to Mount Caburn and Glynde to the north and to Newhaven, Seaford Head, and the sea to the south. It’s a special spot.

South Downs circular walk

Head west

When you’re ready to start, follow the South Downs Way west towards the radio station and the distinctive pylons. There are fabulous views on your left all the way. You pass the pylons and keep going to the next fence and gate. Here you turn left and almost double back on yourself as the footpath goes diagonally across the Downs towards the sea in a slightly south-easterly direction. You are on a bridlepath here and the turn is signed as you leave the South Downs Way.

South Downs walk

A solitary path

I love the South Downs Way. It has a life of its own and a unique ebb and flow like a busy river. But as soon as you leave it behind, the Downs change. For the next 7 km, I didn’t see a single soul and just had gentle birdsong, the sound of the breeze, and the occasional sheep for company. There are few places these days where you can enjoy such complete solitude. With the sea ahead of you, just follow the path through the rise and fall of the Downs. You’ll see a mound ahead and at the first fork in the path, you bear left up and around it. You are heading for Fore Hill and Snap Hill. The shifting colours of the landscape and the blue fringe of the sea are your constant companions.

South Downs circular walk

Denton, a post, and a field

After about 4 km (from the start), you’ll reach the crest of a hill, with a decorated post and a pile of stones. This is the last signage for a while and it points you (sort of) into a field.

South Downs walk

In high summer this was a field of corn with a narrow path through the middle. You can see the distinctive crescent-shaped ridge of housing in Denton in the distance and you head roughly for that. Unhelpfully, halfway across the field, the path splits into a number of different directions. I just kept heading towards the houses. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to be able to get out of the field but you do eventually come out on a narrow chalk bridlepath. The signage isn’t brilliant here either but turn left.

South Downs walk near Firle and Denton

Sump Bottom

After a short while you come to Sump Bottom (to your right is the fabulously named Poverty Bottom). You’ll see a gate and a Glynde Estate sign explaining that Sump Bottom is a Chalkland Grassland Restoration project. You turn left through the gate. Again, it’s a bridlepath but there is no sign to say so.

South Downs circular walk

Blackcap back to Firle

You’re now on the path back to the car park but it’s quite a long, steady climb (about 3 km). The wildlife is stunning here as the path takes you through a valley before you start your ascent. Blackcap Hill is particularly steep so stop and look back often. Eventually, you come to Blackcap Farm and the tarmac road back to the car park.

South Downs walk

Refreshments and fodder 

All walks deserve refreshments, so head to The Ram Inn in nearby West Firle or to The Singing Kettle in Alfriston. Alternatively, stop at Middle Farm on the A27 (a little east of where you are) which has an amazing farm shop.

The Singing Kettle Alfriston

If you’ve enjoyed this stunning South Downs circular walk, you may also like:

Pitts-Stop at The Singing Kettle Teahouse, Alfriston

Pitts-Stop at The Star at Alfriston

Forgotten East Sussex Village: Tide Mills

East Sussex Walk: New England Coast Path

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