Who doesn’t love a good Sussex sunrise? OK, granted they do involve getting out of bed achingly early, often (in my case) at the weekend, when all sensible people are still tucked up under the covers. But a good sunrise is always worth it. Sussex is blessed with some amazing sunrise destinations, the main ones being on the coast or on the South Downs. And yes, if you’re more of a night owl than an early bird then most of these destinations double up equally well for a sunset. But there’s something magical about being up high on the Downs at the very first break of day. The air hangs soft, still silent from the night’s slumber, and the moment is always full of promise. Better still, on my travels around Sussex, I often have to share a sunset with others, but it’s rare indeed that I find anyone else up at the dawn of day.
So, having gallivanted around a fair bit in the early hours during the last year, here are four fabulous locations to watch night turn to day and the best sunrises in Sussex.
Turn off the A27 at Wilmington just west of Polegate and park in the car park next to the old Wilmington Priory. The Long Man of Wilmington and the footpath are straight ahead. It’s a steep climb up and past the Long Man but oh, it is worth every step. The views get better and better as you climb. At the top is Long Barrow which is a convenient mound (probably from the Neolithic period) from where you feel like you really are on top of the world. Soak up the views of Sussex spread beneath you and when you’re replete, head to Alfriston for breakfast and coffee.
Park at the Washington car park, just off the A24 (north of Findon). This is better than the other car park because although there is a long steady climb, it’s not wooded and therefore has more light. The cluster of trees at Chanctonbury has something mystical about them and there’s a wonderful silence up here as you enjoy views north. If you know what you’re looking for, you should be able to Leith Hill (the North Downs) from here. Another spot for one of the best sunrises in Sussex is Cissbury Ring just south of Chanctonbury although I find this one gets busy. From Chanctonbury head to Steyning for breakfast.
This site is so popular that on a recent visit, as I descended just after sunrise, the first visitors were making their way up. There is, however, a small car park at the bottom just on the side of the A285 (south of Petworth and on the outskirts of the village of Halnaker). This is the easiest of the climbs so far, because it’s not far to the top, and apart from the amazing views, you have the delights of the windmill too.
I know, Leith Hill is over the border in Surrey (gasp) but it has amazing views of Sussex and you can see right across to the South Downs. To get here, drive south from Dorking or from Sussex, drive north up the A29 to Ockley where you turn left onto the B2126. After a couple of miles you take the first right and start the steep narrow drive up. Follow the lane (bearing left at the small junction) until you come to a parking area on your left and right. The good news is you have driven up the steepest part of the hill. From the car, there is a footpath up to the top although it can be a little spooky in the dark. This is the most popular sunrise spot I have visited but again, it’s spellbinding and a great way to start the day. They do sell coffee at the tower at Leith Hill but they don’t open until 9 am, so I would head back to The Milk Churn just outside Rudwick and on the edge of the Downs Link.
More of the best sunrises in Sussex that I have loved have been in Hastings, where you can climb the steps to the east of the old town and up East Hill, Rye Harbour in the far east of our county, and Thorney Island in the far west.
Before you set out, don’t forget the following:
- Check the weather as you really want a clear day. Pouring rain makes for a dull start.
- If you’re walking up the Downs, it will be dark when you set off so care and a torch will be required.
- Take a flask and something to sit on (I always forget this). It can be very cold at the top of the Downs so wear something warm so you can sit and enjoy coffee as the magic begins.
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