Sussex walk - Firle Beacon and South Downs Way
PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 March 2020
Climb a Marilyn in March! This five-mile ascent to Firle Beacon meanders along the old coach road and through the Firle Estate.
Firle Beacon is 217 metres high and counts as a Marilyn, in common with 2,011 other hills in the British Isles. When you arrive at the beacon you will not only have the satisfaction of reaching the summit on two legs, you will also be rewarded by vistas in all directions. Around Firle Beacon, there are several round barrows, often associated with the Early Bronze Age. The bowl barrow right at the beacon was excavated in 1820 and archeological finds included two cremation urns. Look out too for a Neolithic long barrow with a surrounding ditch.
The north-east slope of Firle Beacon is the site of an almost lost hill figure which looks like a small ear of corn, although it may once have represented a chalk figure. Sussex legends suggest the Long Man of Wilmington was killed by a rival giant who lived at the top of Firle Beacon.
The village has links with the Bloomsbury Group. As you walk along the main street, look out for Talland House, one of a pair of Edwardian semi-detached villas. Virginia Stephen (later Woolf) named it Little Talland House when she rented it in 1911. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant are buried in a corner of St Peter's churchyard.
1. Exit car park through the white gate and turn right. From the front of the pub, walk straight ahead towards Firle Stores. Continue past St. Peter's Church and up the lane, passing Burning Sky Brewery. Walk straight ahead following the signed bridleway. Continue straight on where track crosses and pass a byway marker post (red arrow). Follow the track round, walking with views to the Downs on your right and a flint wall on your left.
2. At the top of the slope, turn right at the marker post. Walk through the gates and upwards, along the edge of the field. Pass a bridleway marker post and go through a way-marked gate. Climb up steeply, staying on the track as it veers left.
3. Join the South Downs Way as you walk along the ridge towards Firle Beacon. Go through a gate and continue straight on. Look out for the tumuli and long barrow adjacent to the path and near the trig point. Enjoy this magnificent viewpoint: can you spot the incinerator at Newhaven, Lewes, Firle, Arlington Reservoir?
Continue on along the ridge and South Downs Way.
4. At the marker post beside gorse, and between two gates, turn left down a grassy bridleway which immediately descends to the left. Walk alongside a fence and go through a gate. The descent is steady. Go through a gate and walk straight on.
5. At the bottom, turn left along the byway. This track is the old coach road and wonderfully atmospheric! Ignore a permissive path. Continue past a barn and cottage.
6. Turn right at the marker post opposite a flint wall. Go through a gate and along the bridleway/farm track.
7. Reach a flint cottage and signpost. Turn left through the gate and follow a series of posts along the footpath across Firle Park, passing some way in front of Firle House. (Note: this footpath may be diverted if horse-jumping trials are in session). Go through the waymarked gate and walk along the walled lane. Emerge by Firle Stores and turn right to return to The Ram Inn.
Location: Firle, South Downs National Park
Distance: 5 miles - two-and-a-half hours to walk including time to enjoy the view
Terrain: A steep climb and descent. Some muddy spots likely in March. The ridge can be windy
Where to Park: free visitors' car park on approach to village, adjoining the Ram Inn
SAT NAV: BN8 6NS
Map: O.S.Explorer 123: Eastbourne & Beachy Head
Public Transport: Bus service 125 runs between Lewes, Glynde, Firle, Selmeston, Berwick and Alfriston
Dog-friendly: yes, but this is grazing country. On lead where necessary
Short option: for those of you who prefer a flatter walk of under two miles, skip the climb by continuing a short distance on from Waypoint 2, rejoining our main route at Waypoint 6, where you will turn left