This is a walk to set a day aside for, which might surprise you given the relatively short distance between the villages of Berwick and Alciston. When researching this walk I saw the distance recorded as just over four miles, but I think it’s more likely seven/eight, as the trail winds itself round and around and up and down the downland paths, taking in rolling farmland, sea-views, and a windswept stretch of the South Down Way. This is not an experience to be rushed, even on an overcast day.
As non-drivers, we began at Berwick station and made our way towards the village, about a mile or so north. Although this is Ravilious country, with fine views of the Long Man of Wilmington, this is by far the least relaxing part of the walk. It’s hard to unwind with traffic thundering past on the main road immediately to your left, even if you escape to the relative safety of the cycle path.
We stopped off at the Cricketers Arms in Berwick, to catch our breath after the dare-devil tactics required to make it across the A27 to the main village. The pub offers locally sourced food and ale, and although we arrived just short of midday, was already full to the brim with fellow walkers.
The baby fed and the dog revived, we crossed the lane to explore the church. The Church dates predominately from the 12th Century, but the presence of a grassy barrow to the right of the path indicates that this may well have been a sacred site since prehistoric times. The Church is probably best known for the frescos that adorn it’s internal walls, painted by the post-impressionist artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, and is part of the Bloomsbury pilgrimage that also includes nearby Charleston Farmhouse and Monks House in Rodmell.
After exploring the graveyard, we passed under a yew tree laden with berries and took the path on the left. This area is a jumble of criss-crossing public footpaths just waiting to be explored. We took the well-trod path that lay straight ahead, sliced across two arable fields with uninterrupted views of Firle Beacon to our right.
Following the path past the paddocks, we took the track to the right, and walked on until we reached a three-pronged fork in the road.
We chose the middle path, and this led us to the most exerting section of the walk, as the track wound steeply upwards towards the peak of the Downs, but we never really felt the effects of the climb, as we stopped so often to take in the views of the Cuckmere Valley to the left. This is an excellent place for foragers too, with hedgerows bursting with ripening blackberries, rose hips and elderberries.
Reaching our summit, we turned right onto the South Downs Way until the sea came into view on our left. Past Cuckmere Haven, Seaford and the industrial silhouette of Newhaven, we followed a sheep track to our right until the car pack. A tarmacked track took us down again towards farmland and the gated path to Alciston, and here the landscape changed again as we found ourselves in a woodland dell.
We followed a sunken path between the trees and turned towards the village at the memorial bench. The single-track road, rather than the public footpath, led us past the largest barn in the country (with 50,000 roof tiles!) and one of the most beautiful working farms I have ever seen, somehow unspoilt by the necessities of modern farming. Our walk ended at Alciston, but the footpath picks up again just short of the medieval church and leads back to Berwick.