by Robert Veitch
At 7½ miles, this walk is a lovely half-day out, combining the flat of the Ouse Valley, the suburbia of Newhaven and the glory of the South Downs. We took the train from Lewes…
Alighting at Southease Station, take the track behind platform two and follow it around the corner towards the River Ouse and Southease swing bridge.
As the approach to the bridge steepens, take the gate on the left that leads to the eastern bank of the river. After 50m, pause and take a look at the swing bridge. It was built in the 1880’s and is grade II listed. Despite being restored a decade ago, it’s not been used since 1967. Across the valley the round tower of Southease church can be seen.
The path runs atop the embankment and parallel to the river for the next 21⁄2 miles. In the distance, due south above Newhaven is Rushy Hill aerial.
The first stile appears as the river bends to the right. The cutting of channels helped improve navigation and drainage along the River Ouse. Lime, manufactured in the chalk pits around Lewes was ferried to Newhaven along the river before the advent of the railway.
Further along, beyond a gate, the mooring posts and boats at Piddinghoe appear across the river. The round Norman tower of the Parish Church of St John is clearly visible.
Beyond another stile, and then a broken stile, the imposing spectacle of the Newhaven Energy Recovery Facility dominates the view ahead. Approximately 100m before the Energy Recovery Facility the path veers left, down the embankment towards a stile. Beyond the stile is a field of saplings, planted in lines. Aim diagonally across the field towards the railway, following the tracks towards Newhaven and a temporary stile.
Beyond the stile, the railway needs to be crossed. It is necessary to take great care, to look both ways and be aware at all times. There is a stile beyond the railway; then mesh fences border the path to the next stile. Beyond this comes the relative shock of an industrial estate.
Turn right and walk to the end. Crossing the main road, turn left and follow the pavement for 100m into the residential section of New Road, with its row of terraced houses. At the other end, turn right in to Avis Road and follow the pavement as far as Iveagh Crescent, turning left here and beginning the long haul to the summit of the South Downs.
After 350m turn left at the Denton Iveagh Cresent bus stop and follow the path to the top of the slope, emerging into Forward Close before turning right. At the end of Forward Close turn left, walking past South View Terrace towards the pub. This is South Heighton.
A little further on, bear right onto the track at the 20% gradient sign. The track eases uphill with a gradual gain in altitude, eventually breaking free of suburbia and reuniting with nature. Stunted trees populate the path, sculpted by the prevailing wind over many years. On a calm day, birdsong is the dominant sound.
As the summit nears, the path deviates left of the aerials. Summit baggers can detour right and claim their prize (188m / 597 feet). The uneasy, slightly sinister hum of the aerials is balanced on the flipside by extremely good mobile phone reception.
At the four-way fingerpost by the cattle grid take a moment to rejoice in the knowledge the 21⁄2 mile leeward slope of the downs that began at the bottom of Iveagh Crescent has been climbed. Enjoy the 360° of panorama – Newhaven, Seaford, Glynde, Mount Caburn, Lewes and the Ouse Valley – as the waves of euphoria justify every single step uphill.
Follow the South Downs Way west, along the flint track. It’s downhill all the way for the last couple of miles. Beyond another gate, the path continues, with the watery ribbon of the River Ouse visible below. The dried up circular remains of Red Lion Pond precede the only trig point (164m / 538 feet) along the route. The adjacent rusted disc harrow looks like it hasn’t been used in years.
The altitude continues to dissipate as the path passes through another gate and on to Itford Hill. The swing bridge at Southease can be seen in the distance. On Itford Hill the path swings around to the left and across the gradient, before straightening. A hairpin bend follows, before the path straightens again, becoming chalky underfoot. Another gate precedes a long left-handed bend, leading to Itford Footbridge over the A26. This relatively recent construction removes all the usual danger of crossing a very busy road.
Follow the path to the t-junction before turning left and completing the last few steps back to Southease Station. While waiting for the train it’s time to contemplate… The exhilaration of completing the walk may be matched in equal measure by tiredness.
The train will begin the journey home, which in our case, led to tea and cake – but not just any cake, it was Gin and Tonic Cake!
Distance: 71⁄2 miles
Walk Time: Between 3 hours for fast feet and 4 hours for strollers Stiles: 8
Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL11 and OL25
Refreshments: One pub en route and cafe near Southease station Trains: Hourly from Lewes and Seaford
Bus Routes: 123 & 132 (both Lewes to Newhaven)