A Walk From Seaford To Berwick Station

With my gardening enthusiasm washed away by heavy rain, here’s a post about something else.

On a sunny Saturday in September, I walked into Seaford to meet my friend Tracy for a day’s walk.   Whereas I prefer walking alone, Tracy is sociable.  Not only has she recently joined The Ramblers but she now leads their walks too and, having plotted a new route on the map, she invited me along to check its suitability for a large Goretex phalanx.  (On the big day, a few weeks later, she led 36 people on this ten-mile walk.  36!!).

Seaford Head

We climbed the springy turf of Seaford Head at the east end of the beach and, swivelling, gazed over the town, Newhaven and, on the left-hand horizon, Brighton.


Despite this beautiful coast lying on my doorstep, I haven’t featured it on my blog before.  Which is odd given that one of England’s finest views is about an hour’s walk from my front door.

Seven Sisters (1)

The Seven Sisters

And here it is.  The Seven Sisters – a line of eight (!?) chalk hills abruptly sliced by the sea.

Seven Sisters (2)

The Seven Sisters aren’t as famous as their Dover cousins but they’re whiter, far more striking and less built up.  As such they are often used as a cinematic and photographic stand-in for the (not as) white cliffs of Dover.  They also mark the beginning of the end of the South Downs Way, which hugs the cliff-tops for an exhilarating finale before Eastbourne.

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Haven Brow, the first sister

It does worry me if visitors get too close to the precipice though – like those two on the crest of Haven Brow.  The cliffs are blindingly white simply because of repeated land-slip, collapse and bashing from Atlantic storms.  The cliff-edge is crumbly and fatalities, not all suicidal, are quite common.

Seven Sisters (4)

The Sisters begin at Cuckmere Haven where the Cuckmere River cuts through the chalk to reach the sea beside a row of Coastguard Cottages.  No wonder it is a scene I have photographed before.

Seven Sisters (5)

In November 2011, I took a series of photos on an afternoon dog walk.

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For whatever reason I didn’t use the photos then.

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But when I came across them recently

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I thought you might like to see the cliffs under a softer light.

Cuckmere Valley (2)

Tracy’s route lay inland after Cuckmere Haven and we avoided the ups and downs of the Seven (or Eight) Sisters.   Turning our back on the English Channel, we followed the west bank of the Cuckmere River north toward Alfriston.

Cuckmere Valley (3)

Off to our right, on the far side of the valley, is enormous Friston Forest – a favourite haunt for me and my dogs over the years and where, as I have learnt, it’s all too easy to become embarrassingly lost.

Cuckmere Valley

Tracy planned a detour for her walk, off the river and up High and Over Hill – a steep climb followed by an immediate return to the river.  As I had seen the view from the hill countless times, I suggested it might be an unnecessary, arduous addition and muttered mutinously when she insisted.   Grudgingly, I conceded she was right as we gained height to slowly reveal the meandering river

Cuckmere Valley (5)

and ahead to Litlington.  I hate it when Tracy is right and I’m not.

Cuckmere Valley (4)

The view back to the Haven wasn’t half bad either.

Rathfinny Estate

Before we dropped back to rejoin the river we glimpsed the impressive Rathfinny Estate vineyard.  This is brand spanking new but, I think, a welcome addition to the South Downs.  Rathfinny is continuing a long tradition of Sussex wine-making but nearby Breaky Bottom Winery has the better name.


Litlington, which we now aimed for, wasn’t on our itinerary today – and that’s always a regret.  There’s a decent pub, The Plough and Harrow, a great tea garden as well as an independent plant nursery.  I used to work in the gardens of a Manor House in Litlington owned by a well-known musician – but I’m not going to tell you who. Irritating, huh?

Alfriston Church and Clergy House

Now on the east side of the river we by-passed Litlington and reached Alfriston opposite St Andrew’s Church with, next door, the National Trust’s first acquisition, The Clergy House.


A handy bridge led is into the centre of the village.  Alfriston is as pretty a place as you could wish for – with the resultant crowds you might imagine.  But on a warm Saturday lunchtime it was surprisingly quiet and we grabbed a table in the beer garden of my favourite Alfriston pub:

The George Alfriston (1)

The George, of course.  Unusually, my food wasn’t up to much but, after three hours hot walking, I was happy enough with a pint of cold shandy.

Alfriston Village Store

As if Alfriston isn’t quintessentially English enough, the Village Store underlines the point.  (I had to restrain myself from automatic weeding mode).


The Cuckmere valley winds through the north escarpment of the Downs and after leaving the village, with no more big climbs ahead, most of our walk was done and the remainder easy-going.


The ground flattened as we approached the tiny village of Berwick.

Berwick Church

We paused at the church and tried the door for a peek at Duncan Grant’s famous paintings.  Sadly it was locked (and remained so however much Tracy rattled).  I was disappointed as I wanted to see his murals again.  From a previous visit, I remember being underwhelmed but I wanted to check whether I hadn’t been mistaken.  (Duncan Grant was one of the Bloomsbury Group from nearby Charleston Farmhouse).

The Cricketers Berwick

Near the church is another favourite pub, The Cricketers Arms.  I say favourite but I haven’t visited for years and even though I demanded beer, held my breath, turned red and stamped my feet, Tracy grasped me firmly by the scruff of the neck and frogmarched me away.  Oh, well.  It was worth a try and it’s good to have an excuse to walk this way again and see those Grant murals.  (And visit The Cricketers).

The last couple of miles were fairly tiring across muddy fields, following a sometimes elusive path to the station.  Trains are once an hour and, if you arrive early like we did, there’s another pub The Berwick Inn next door.  It’s OK, I suppose, just not as nice as The Cricketers, Tracy.

(Trains to Seaford run from Brighton and Lewes; from Berwick, services are to Eastbourne or Lewes and Brighton.  Change at Lewes to return to Seaford).

Grass Cutting – Again

(I’ve written about cutting the two meadows before but as it is such a big part of my working life at this time of year you might forgive me for revisiting the subject).

Meadow Cutting (1)

Cutting the Priory meadow is a job that looms large from late-summer onwards.  Cut it too soon and I lose late flowers and attractive long grass; cut it too late and I risk autumn rain turning the ground to mush and too sodden for mighty machinery.


We’ve had a glorious few weeks here in Sussex (and as I type we still haven’t had a frost) but after anxious nail-biting, I finally blinked and phoned my mowing man, Sam, a couple of weeks ago.

Meadow Cutting (2)

I’ve featured Sam’s amazing apparatus before but I haven’t actually seen him for three years.  Like a mowing pixie he has swooped down on the meadow over a weekend, trundled around and been long gone by the time I return on Monday morning.

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Having twice cut the meadow myself (which is a hell of a job – if better than the raking), I watch Sam going about his business with enormous satisfaction.  And relief.

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What would take me several days, Sam does in about an hour.

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I’ve made life more interesting for Sam with anti-deer fruit tree cages

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and, of course, various large trees.  Having collected all the mowings in that drum, Sam dumps it all at one end of the meadow where it will rot down over the winter.  Not an ideal solution but the easiest, cheapest I’ve come up with.

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Withdrawing to the north lawn, I watched contentedly as he passed back and forth before, waving goodbye, I left him to it and drove home for my tea.

Meadow Cutting (8)

The following morning the meadow was stripped bare.  But the job wasn’t quite done.  I spent about a day tidying up: strimming all the bits Sam couldn’t reach and cutting the grass shorter still with the Priory ride-on.

Meadow Cutting

Since when I’ve cut it once more and will continue doing so until either the grass stops growing or the ground is too boggy.  Even so you can see how wet it is already … but those muddy tracks make good strips for sowing flower seed.

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Meanwhile, several miles away at The Old Forge – ‘my’ other garden – I’m faced with a similar task.  Here the area of uncut rough grass is huge; the ground far less even.

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Various old humps and dimples (ancient field boundaries, I think) make it difficult for Sam’s tractor.

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And so, I cut it myself.  It is a full day’s job but an annual chore I rather like.

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Especially on a beautiful October morning.

Etesia Attila (1)

I hire a remarkable machine called an Etesia Attila.  I’m not too bothered with machines.  I mean, they’re just machines right?  But when one does a job exceedingly well and fairly effortlessly, I happily doff my cap and give it a little pat.

Etesia Attila (2)

The Attila chuckles at slopes, winks at ditches and guffaws at long tussocky grass.  It occasionally stalls but considering what I ask of it, I don’t get too hissy.

Etesia Attila (3)

My only true concern when chopping this long, tough grass is avoiding the fleeing field-mice and scuttering voles.  I need to be vigilant to avoid mowing a vole.  Who wants that?

Kestrel (4)

But vole escapees still had to escape a pair of vigilant crows and a hunting kestrel.  I didn’t have time to fetch my camera that day but here’s a photo from a couple of years ago.  It fed well.  Sorry voles.

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It isn’t a great look when I’ve finished.

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More of an agricultural day’s work than a gardening one.  I was tired after 8 hours mowing ever decreasing circles.  Unlike the Priory, all the grass at The Old Forge is left where it falls (except the mown paths which I have since cleared).   It looks quite unsightly I admit – if only for a few weeks – but an annual mow halts a steady encroachment of bramble, blackthorn and dogwood.

Kestrel (2)

As I said, I don’t mind mowing the long grass at The Old Forge.  It’s time spent listening to top tunes on my MP3 player, usually in sun, smack in the middle of the South Downs National Park and with a hunting kestrel for company.

I’ve had worse days.