Sunday, 3 November 2019

Rouen Country Walk

St Catherine's Viewpoint
This 11km walk is also available from the tourism office in Rouen and allows you to escape from the city centre into the surrounding countryside and overlook the Seine at the end.  Much like the other Rouen walk that we did this one starts at the Cathedral/ Tourist Office.  I walked down the Rue St Romain and past the Joan of Arc museum and across the road and past the Saint Maclou Church.  I was lucky enough to have picked an excellent day to do the walk - we were really lucky with plenty of sunshine during our week's stay.  I chose a time late in the afternoon to go out and as I passed by the market and restaurants and cafes there were plenty of people about, either packing up the stalls for the day or sitting outside on the pavement.  In fact it was surprising how busy the cafes were considering it was relatively early in the week.  I couldn't imagine scenes like this in Britain.

St MacLou Church
As I headed away from the main churches the historic centre petered out and I walked along a street that was far more modern in character.  At the far end of the street I turned left and crossed the road where I walked briefly along a disused looking railway line that appeared to serve the port.  Judging by the shiny rails it still gets used so I assume that it sees the odd working?  The trains must look pretty big in this environment though - the line was almost like a tramway through the streets.  As the line diverged to the right I kept ahead through the grounds of the local hospital and then under the bridge of a busy main road.  I turned right past the fire station and found myself in the grounds of a sports stadium.  This wasn't the nicest stretch of walk it has to be said but bear with me - the last quarter of a mile or so was necessary for positioning.  The onward stretch was far more enjoyable and rather surprising.

Baseball
I looped around the sports complex, where unusually baseball seemed to be a popular sport.  I had no idea that the French played baseball but it certainly seemed popular at this club.  As I looped around the sports pitches I came upon a narrow waterway that I took to be some form of canal.  I learned later that it was more of an industrial river constructed to drive the machinery in the mills, mostly to manufacture food products and textiles.  It is also possible to walk the entire length of the waterway although it is only about 3km in length.  This section probably covers the highlights of the route.  I was soon high above a community garden that looked well cared for although the produce in the plots was still some way from being ready for harvest.  The path alongside the waterway was pretty busy with runners and cyclists and its leafy nature certainly lent itself to this kind of activity even on a hot sunny day.

Petite Eaux De Robec
As with so many of these kinds of waterways there is a corridor of countryside that follows them that seems insulated by the surroundings.  Even though it was still hemmed in by urban housing the tranquility of the towpath was very much like this.  The only interruption was when a train clattered over the bridge that I soon passed under.  Above me looked like a fairly complex railway between lines heading to Paris, Amiens and the local docks line that I had seen earlier.  Not far beyond was a relic of the former industrial times, Le Moulins Des Dames De St Amand (The mill of the two ladies of St Amand).  This former mill still has a working water wheel that is used for demonstrations of grinding corn.  The rest of the building looks like it has been turned into upscale apartments.

Former Mill
I really enjoyed this section of walk - it was easy to follow and the restoration of all the buildings had been done sensitively by keeping all the historic details even where in some cases the nature of the building's use had changed significantly.  It was not just the mill I saw before but others further on.  There was even a second with a water wheel although I am not sure it was still working in this instance.  For a while the waterway took on the appearance of an industrial canal of more modern vintage as we passed by a rather concrete slab of a building.  It wasn't industrial in this case although it resembled one - it was rather surprisingly a boxing gym.

Water Wheel
The next mill has become a museum open mostly at weekends.  There weren't any  visitors when I passed by but there were a few blokes tinkering around and there was quite a lot of random stuff including a miniature steam locomotive parked in the front yard of the mill.  I got a birds eye view of it courtesy of the height differential between mill and waterway path.  I also had to switch sides here, crossing a small bridge and continuing on past some more vintage industrial buildings that looked as if they were still in use.  I lost the waterway here as it disappeared behind another waterwheel never to be seen again.  I continued along the road and turned right at the next junction where I was confronted with a rather unusual church, St Pierre in Carville.  This church has two separate parts - a Gothic tower and another part that was built slightly away from the tower following a fire in 1562 during the Wars of Religion.  Sadly the whole church is now closed due to the roof  not being watertight.  It looks rather sorry for itself - hopefully one day it might be restored.
Moulin St Gilles

I crossed a very busy main road and headed through the village-like suburb of Carville.  I suspect that it was once a separate settlement that has now been swallowed by greater Rouen.  I passed underneath another railway viaduct and crossed over to leave the road briefly and walk up through some woods where I was to skirt around Chateau De Waddington.  I have not been able to find out more about this place - I imagine it had something to do with the celebrated Waddington Family, Victorian industrialists who were born in France but educated in England and with English family.  William Waddington won the boat race for Cambridge and in later life briefly became Prime Minister of France.  I suspect this place was associated with his brother Richard, also a French parliamentarian, as a nearby street is named after him. The view of the castle was pretty fleeting, almost as mysterious as its history.

St Pierre Church in Carville
I was soon back on the road and was now starting the climb to the viewpoint I would get later on.  It was gentle at first but when I got to the top of the road and left the pavement it got steeper.  It wasn't easy to find the onward path but eventually I located it between houses.  Soon I was back in woodland and this continued right to the top of the hill.  It wasn't that easy to navigate through the woods but essentially up here I was expected to stick to the edge of the housing estate where it met the woodland.  In theory that went pretty well until I left the housing estate and had to cross the last stretch through the woods without the houses as my guide.  I took a few wrong turns here, not helped by the fact that there had been quite a lot of clearance work up here and some paths I didn't recognise had appeared through what presumably was once just bushes.  After a few wrong turns in the maze of paths I eventually found the right one that led me to the viewpoint of St Catherine which overlooks the ancient city of Rouen and the River Seine running through it.

Chateau De Waddington
The viewpoint is surprisingly good considering the modest height of it.  I sound found as I approached the main viewing area that it is a very popular place for picnics, with many families up here.  I have to say though that I looked like the only one that had come on foot - everyone else looked a lot less sweaty and tired than me.  I felt pretty satisfied that I had come on fot though - somehow a view is always better for the effort you put into it.

Entering The Woods
I dropped down the hill via what seemed a short zig-zag path past a large cemetery that I would rather have liked a closer look at.  When I got to the bottom of the hill I passed underneath the main road and entered the city centre.  For reasons that escaped me the map suggested I went via a housing estate that didn't seem to have much merit other than a look at a very small garden in the corner.  I'm not sure whether it was worth the detour.  The map was pretty unclear though and the instructions were non-existent so there maybe something here that I was supposed to pay attention to.  I retraced my steps back to the cathedral which wasn't far distant.

Sweep Of The Seine
As a walk this was a bit of a mixed bag.  Some sections were absolutely delightful - I really enjoyed the waterside section leading out of the city.  The climb into the woods was quite satisfying as a physical challenge and the viewpoint was excellent.  However there were quite a few navigational challenges that could have benefited from a few more instructions and some road sections that perhaps could have been rerouted.  Nevertheless it is well worth doing to get a wider context of the city. 
Gothic Detail

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Rouen City Walk

Rouen Cathedral - Summer Light Show
When visiting any new city it is worth seeking out the tourist information centre to see if there is a published walk that will take you all around the major sights or points of interest.  We have been to Rouen a number of times but not for many years so we wanted to pack a lot into our time here.  The tourist information office in Rouen is directly opposite the Gothic cathedral.  The cathedral is surely the centrepiece of this remarkable mediaeval city and has survived Viking invasion and World War II.  The first occasion it was destroyed entirely and rebuilt, while on the second it sustained a lot of damage but you wouldn't know such is the fantastic restoration.  The frontage is full of the most exquisite detail that no camera can properly capture its majesty.  We spent a lot of time admiring the frontage before going inside.  It is as grand inside as it is out and a few interesting features to point out are the tombs of Richard the Lionheart and Rollo, founder of the Duchy of Normandy in 911.  There is also an interesting set of photos detailing the damage sustained by the cathedral in the War and how it was restored.

Grand Clock
Before moving on it is worth looking at the building that the tourist office is in.  This was once the House of the Exchequer and it was from here that Claude Monet painted his series of Cathedral scenes in the 1890s.  We used the route as a guide rather than following it religiously partly because it seems to be two loops from the starting point of the cathedral.  Thus we followed the next part back to front and headed down through the pedestrianised streets towards the Great Clock for which Rouen is so famous.  On the way we detoured one block to take a look at the huge Palais De Justice, a large edifice that no doubt has played an important part in a good many lives in this area even if a lot of people don't wholly know what goes on there.  

Spy
Over the course of the week we stayed in the city we probably passed the Great Clock at least half a dozen times and it looks just as good at night lit up as it does gleaming in the sunlight during the day.  The clock itself is a slightly strange mix of Gothic belfry, Renaissance archway and clockface and an 18th Century fountain.  It seems to sit so well among the surrounding buildings in this busy street.  We continued down through the pavement cafes between all the people gossiping and drinking coffee and wine before crossing the appropriately named Rue Jeanne D'Arc, by far the most person associated with the city.  Jeanne D'Arc is better known as Joan of Arc, a slightly mythical and unlikely heroine who led the French Army to victory over the English during the Hundred Years War.  She was subsequently captured by the Burgundian Army, allied with the English, and handed over as a prisoner.  Rouen was still under English control at that point in the war and it was here that she was brought, declared guilty of witchcraft and burned at the stake.

Historic Quarter
We took a short detour down a beautiful and quiet street full of atmosphere and lined on either side with half timbered buildings which characterise much of the historic quarter of Rouen.  We wandered round to find the Hotel De Bourgtheroulde.  Apparently this old building hosts two sculptures representing the Triumph of Petrarch and the other the episode from the Field of the Cloth of Gold that relates the diplomatic meeting of Henry VIII of England and Francois I of France in 1515.  Sadly the sculptures weren't visible from the street although we did enjoy the intricate detail of the building, which now serves as a luxury hotel.

Flags
The square where Joan of Arc was burned was just around the corner and it was here that we headed next.  The market square is now dominated by a modern church designed in a shape that is meant to evoke the flames that consumed her.  It is a very effective if slightly gruesome design.  Inside are some stained glass windows that were moved here from a nearby church that was largely destroyed during World War II.  Luckily the glass had been removed from the church ahead of hostilities and was thus spared the destruction of the original church.  Around the church were a number of market stalls and cafes but strangely it was quite quiet when we passed by.  I have a feeling that a weekend day would have been a lot busier.

St Joan of Arc Church
Our route now took as through a meandering look at the tight knit streets in the historic quarter.  We were already needing some refreshment though and we soon came upon a rather quirky little cat cafe.  These establishments have become quite popular recently but I have to confess it was the first time I have ever been in one.  The premise is that people call in for their cuppa and share the experience with a number of cats that are only too willing to offer their devotion.  At least that is the theory - in this particular establishment the cats kept us more entertained by staying out of our way high up on the various pieces that had been put there to keep them entertained.  Various perches, walkways and cushions kept them just out of reach as they looked down us disdainfully...

Walking Street
We meandered through the city streets enjoying the ambience of the old half timbered buildings and the eclectic shop windows.  Some of the stuff on offer was quite surprising with junk shops in particular catching our eye.  without really realising it we were slowly looping back towards the cathedral and the other part of the loop that leads around the eastern half of the old quarter..  We passed by the Palais de Justice and the Parliament of Normandy.  It has served as the latter since the 1500s and is beautifully decorated but it is perhaps the very obvious damage from World War II shells that are the most surprising feature of the building not least because of the sheer number of them.
Cat Cafe

The route took us down the north side of the cathedral through perhaps the most delightful of all the streets in the city.  The cafes and bars here are particularly inviting and we took note of a couple that we revisited later in the week.  The prices are a bit steep though so be warned!  Also along this street is the museum devoted to Joan of Arc telling the remarkable story of her short life.  The exhibition recounts her trial through its fascinating twists and turns.  The outcome was never in doubt but getting to the verdict was more problematic than you might expect principally because of the way that Joan conducted herself.  It is a very interesting way of handling her life rather than the more traditional types of exhibition.
St Maclou

Behind the cathedral and across another main road is another incredibly ornate and beautiful church, this time the church of St Maclou, a flamboyant edifice that was started in 1436 but not completed for almost 100 years.  Although the structure has lasted remarkably well history hasn't been completely kind to this church.  It suffered significant damage in World War II, had many of its statues inside removed during the French Revolution and lost much of its internal furniture during World War II.  Nevertheless it is worth pausing to enjoy the intricate stonework of the frontage as we did before moving on.

Bunting
We took a route along a street that had a stream running though it in a culvert.  It was tastefully done and the water was clean and fast moving which seemed to provide a completely different ambience from any old pedestrianised street.  The buildings were still half timbered but we were clearly moving away from the historic quarter now because they were interspersed with the odd more modern one presumably replacements for ones destroyed in the war.  We looped around at the far end so that we could enter the gardens at the rear of L'hotel De Ville.  This beautiful little oasis was worth lingering over with some interesting statues and planting arrangements.  Of particular note is a stone that was placed here in 1911 to celebrate 1000 years since the founding of the Duchy of Normandy by Viking settlers.

Window Shopping
The church next to the gardens is astonishing in scale - this is the Church of St Ouen, built as an abbey church for a long lost Benedictine Order.  It is similar in scale to the nearby cathedral and in any other city would surely be the centrepiece rather than a supporting act in ecclesiastical terms.  The main tower is rather reminiscent of the one you can see at Ely Cathedral in England.  It took a long time to complete, finally being finished in the 15th Century.  The west facade wasn't completed though until the 19th Century and looks rather grubby compared with the cleaner lines of the rest of the church.  Next door at the front is the grand looking Hotel De Ville, with an eyecatching statue of Napoleon astride a horse rearing up.  He certainly looks the all conquering hero in this pose.

Hotel De Ville Gardens
The last part of our walk took a loop around the neighbourhood that starts climbing the hill that forms the side of the Seine valley.  The main reason for following this route is to take visitors to the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Antiquities but we were out of luck because both were closed as was the Rouen Dungeon housed in the only part of Rouen Castle that still exists.  Not on the official walk but worth a mention as it is across the road is the rather fine looking Rouen Rive-Droite Railway station which was completed in 1928 and is a magnificent monument to railway travel.

St Ouen Church
We headed back down the hill from here back to the Cathedral stopping briefly in the garden at the front of the museum.  A lot of care and attention had gone into this particular garden - it is obviously one of the jewels for the city authorities.  The museum at the back looked interesting as well but sadly we managed to find it closed on the day we visited.  Do you spot a theme?  A lot of places are closed in August that's for sure but you also have to pay attention to the days that places are closed - a lot of museums close at least one day per week and it's usually a weekday rather than a weekend one. 

Rouen Rive Droite Station
No matter that so many places were closed - you would be hard pressed to include most of them on this walk.  The Joan of Arc Museum is a must as is a visit to view inside the cathedral but other than that you would probably need several days to do the place justice.  Rouen is certainly a fascinating city that is worth lingering in - this walk will help you see most of the main places worth seeing.  Make sure to allow cafe time too - watching the world go by with a cold beer or a coffee is fascinating too!
Hotel De Ville and Napoleon

Monday, 23 September 2019

Cuckmere River and Norton Top from Alfriston

Alfriston High Street
One of the longest walks in volume 67 of the Pathfinder Guides East Sussex and the South Downs (number 26) but can't really be described as difficult even though it appears in the challenging section of the book.    Given that we were staying in Alfriston it would have been rude not to do the walk before we left.  I was accompanied on this particular walk by my wife. We had a later appointment in the day and so we decided that it would be an early morning so that we could complete it before lunchtime.  The day started out bright and sunny but there was a lot of wispy cloud around and we weren't sure whether it would last very long.  It was a joy going out early in the morning - there is something very special about the atmosphere of an English summer morning.  It's hard to define but there is a peace and tranquility that you can't quite put your finger on.  Whatever it is this morning was a great example of it.

Alfriston Church
We left Alfriston via the Tye and crossed the Cuckmere River.  The narrowness of the river is perhaps the main reason why this valley hasn't developed in quite the same way as the Ouse to the west or even the Adur  and Arun in West Sussex.  In Alfriston it is already so narrow that it is almost possible to jump across - bear in mind that we are less than five miles from the sea at this point.  I suspect in the past though there must have been some boat traffic otherwise why was the canalisation allowed further downstream at Exceat?  We crossed the river via the rather handsome bridge near the Tye and immediately turned right to head along the riverbank.  This was a nice steady introduction to  the walk with no hills or issues  with navigation to worry about.  We got to see wide ranging views of Lullington Heath to the east and plenty of swans preening and enjoying the early morning sunshine along the riverbank itself.

Swanning Around
We meandered along  for a couple of miles deep in conversation and before leaving the river behind to climb up the hill of High and Over.  Some  of my earliest memories are of this hill for we often used to have outings here when I was a child.  Later it would be the predominant view that we enjoyed at Whitsun Scout Camp  for it would be right opposite the field that we used.  I still have a special affinity for it even though I rarely visit these days - it's one of my favourites of all the hills in the South Downs.  From our approach the most distinctive feature of the hill is the white horse emblazoned on the northern slope.  This figure is not of as great antiquity as you might expect - it was cut less than 100 years ago in 1924 but it did replace a earlier one that first appeared in 1830.  Strangely the horse can only be viewed from this angle.  When we used to be at camp below the hill it was almost invisible.  We used to see a scar in the hill that we called the 'ghost' - more of an amorphous shape really but we convinced ourselves that it looked like the symbol of the Ghostbusters film.  I'm happy to report that it is still there too 😀.

White Horse
Having left the riverbank we made the slow climb to the top of High and Over.  It wasn't quite the slog of going up the side of the chalky scarp slope of the South Downs but it wasn't far off.  I was relieved to see that the path didn't go up the side of the road as suggested by the map but instead tracked alongside on the right side of the adjoining fence.  As we got to the top we headed slightly away from the road through a section of scrubland that hid the view from sight.  I was aware that this is one of the most famous views in Sussex so made a special effort to go down to the viewpoint, a spot I remember well as a kid.  It was a lot more overgrown than I remember and was pleased when eventually we got to the end and the view finally emerged.  To the south and you can see Cuckmere Haven way off in the distance complete with the ox bow lakes and canal cut that I discussed in the last blog entry.  To the south east is the expanse of Friston Forest, not looking nearly so big from up here as it feels when you walk through it.  The famous view though is to the north where you can see the meander of the Cuckmere that looks like it is undercutting the hill itself.  I have seen this view on calendars and in guidebooks galore and it is easy to see why - it is probably the highlight of the whole walk.

High and Over View
We retraced our steps along the path to the car park that most people use to get here.  It was empty today, being early morning on a weekday, but at the weekend it can get extremely busy.  We crossed the road and went slightly back down the hill on the other side of the road, crossing a stile and then heading left along a field boundary.  By now the cloud had thickened and what had been a nice sunny day had turned into an overcast one pretty quickly.  Our view had changed significantly as we headed along this field edge high above one of the dry valleys that the South Downs is famous for.  On the facing slope was the straight lines of the vines in the Rathfinny Farm Estate.  This has grown considerably since I last came by this area - I was really surprised at how extensive this vineyard had become.  Between the rows were lots of toiling workers tending the crops ahead of the autumn harvest in a few weeks time.  Judging by the size of the operation I imagine quite a few people are needed to keep things pruned and pests at bay.

Rathfinny Farm
What was to come was a slow almost imperceptible climb to the top of the South Downs that was almost a quarter circle in shape.  As with so many paths on the Downs it followed the contours of the hills perfectly and for much of its length it was enclosed by large hedgerows that were full of flowers and butterflies.  We  had noticed the plethora of butterflies this summer but along this path it wasn't painted ladies that we saw but adonis blues, peacocks and gatekeepers.  They mostly proved elusive to the camera, especially the adonis blues but there was an obliging gatekeeper and peacock.  Out to the right of us once we escaped the enclosed hedgerows was a view out across the ripening barley fields to the sight of the ferry leaving Newhaven for its four hour crossing to Dieppe.  This is a crossing we know well and in fact would be our destination a few days after we completed this walk.

Gatekeeper
Eventually we reached the top of the Downs at Bo Peep and our walk was to change character once again.  We stopped to admire the view but in truth it wasn't nearly as nice as it had been a few nights before when we had driven up here to do the same thing.  The clouds had really taken hold by this time and the outlook across the Weald before us was rather gloomier than either of us would have wanted.  That said it is a magnificent view - with a sweep of countryside from Uckfield in the north west to Hastings on the horizon in the east.  It is a spot you can spend ages at trying to pick out various landmarks from including even an observatory at Herstmonceux (see a previous walk for my visit there).


Morning Departure
We headed down the lane that leads up to Bo Peep - it's a quiet road and we saw no traffic for the short descent to the point where we could leave the tarmac and take a footpath down to the small spring-line village of Alciston.  Visitors to the South Downs may have noticed that most of the villages are at the foot of the Downs and not on top of the hills.  The practical reason for this is that chalk is permeable and therefore retains almost no water in its landscape.  Underneath the chalk is a layer of clay which is completely impermeable and the groundwater is forced out via springs all along the foot of the scarp slope.  For ancient settlers this meant that it was better for them to live where they had a regular fresh supply rather than go miles to find it.  Alciston is a small village but very typical of its type -  number of traditional styles including thatched cottages.  Sadly one feature it has lost is its village pub.  I always loved this pub and had been here many times but no more.  It has succumbed like so many others due to changing habits and not enough people coming to use it.

Moggy Minor
We pushed on around the church and headed over the fields to the next village of Berwick.  Shockingly this village also lost its pub only a few weeks ago too - two of the best pubs in this part of Sussex both gone and probably never to return.  It also means that this walk now has no pubs along its length and if you do it you'll need to plan accordingly.  The views along the fields between the villages are of the line of the Downs seemingly receding into the distance and the spire of Berwick Church further on.  We soon approached the church and found a conservation group tackling some of the overgrowth outside.  The church has recently been awarded a National Lottery grant to restore the paintings inside, which were commissioned by Bishop Bell from the so-called Bloomsbury Set of Quentin Bell, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Bell.  The church is currently closed as a result of these restorations.

Erstwhile Pub
We lingered briefly in the churchyard before moving on once again.  The character of the walk changed once again as we turned into the Cuckmere Valley once again to head across the ripening barley fields to complete the loop to Alfriston.  It wasn't long before we met the country lane that heads into the village, whhich was a lot busier than we expected.  Along the way was an unexpected sight - that of a crucifix.  While this is common to see in France and other European countries it is quite rare in Britain.  This one has just celebrated its centenary - it was erected in April 1919.  How the world has changed since then!

Heading On To Berwick
This is a longer walk than most from the Pathfinder Guides but not particularly challenging.  I wished I had tried it earlier because the lack of a church visit at Berwick or pubs en route have definitely diminished its appeal.  The views from High and Over and Bo Peep are both special but much of the rest of the walk feels more like filler - not a classic like the last hike from this general area of Sussex.  Maybe I'm being a little hard - on a day with sunshine and/ or more interesting clouds would probably transform it.

Crucifix

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Friston Forest, The Seven Sisters and Cuckmere Haven

Cuckmere Meanders
This is one of the classic walks in Sussex and it would have been seriously remiss of us not to do it while staying in the Cuckmere Valley.  It is a walk that has pretty much everything - beautiful forest, dramatic cliffs, an unspoiled river valley and a rustic village.  It is another of those parts of Sussex of which I am particularly fond.  This walk can be found in volume 67 of the Pathfinder Guides East Sussex and The South Downs.  Doing this walk during the summer months is probably best done early morning or in the evening because parking at the Seven Sisters Country Park can be at a premium on a weekend day.  We were fortunate enough to be able to avoid the weekend and go quite early in the morning.

West Dean Church
From the car park we crossed the busy A259 - this has become monstrously busy and it isn't easy finding the best spot to cross.  It doesn't really matter whether you decide to park by the river or in the forest either as they both entail crossing this road.  Possibly easier first though as we found for the traffic was lighter early in the morning.  We walked up the small grassy slope to the gap in the wall at the top.  It certainly pays to look back at this point as the view towards the sea is one of the classic Sussex views.  The meander loops that are very evident in the valley are unnatural ox-bow lakes that were by-passed when a cut through was made.  I'm still not clear why this was done for the river is almost unnavigable along its entire length by all but the smallest of vessels.  When you see the oxbow lakes up close you realise how shallow they are in the absence of water feeding them from upstream.  There have been various proposals to re-instate the meander loops but they have so far come to nothing and as a result the landscape still looks pretty much the same as it has in my whole life.

Colourful Field
Once in the forest the surroundings could not be more different.  Almost instantly we lost the relatively modest height we had gained, this time down some steep steps into the small village of West Dean.  This little place has always exuded money but having not been here for a few years it somehow seemed more opulent than I ever remember.  I wonder how it would have looked one hundred years ago before the forest came into existence or it became so accessible by car?  I'll wager it was a forgotten backwater with most of the residents on very low disposable incomes.  The character of the village must have changed considerably when the forest was established in the 1950s.  I can remember as a child that most of the trees surrounding the village were once conifers but they have gradually been replaced by beech trees and it looks like a much more natural woodland these days as a result.

Friston Church
The church in West Dean is of particular note as it is Saxon in origin and as such is by far the oldest in the Cuckmere valley.  It is certainly worth taking a short detour off the advertised path to take a closer look.  It is surrounded by some flint buildings of genuine antiquity but showing signs of gentrification and renovation in recent years - the new looking mortar is a giveaway and they certainly cannot be described as rustic any longer.  Having taken a deserved look at the church we continued up the hill noting that cars seemed to be allowed up here but only if you had a key to the gate.  It seemed a little strange until we realised that not much further on were some cottages deep in the forest that probably once stood in open downland.  I'm not entirely sure I would like to live in such a location - it must be quite scary being surrounded by so many trees on a wild blustery night when the trees wave about and limbs break off.

Friston Pond
We kept right at the next path junction and walked a fairly lengthy section through the trees, dropping down into a valley and continuing straight on up the hill on the other side until we reached an area that we always referred to as The Gallops when I was a child.  I imagine that race horses must have trained here once upon a time.  I'm not sure if that is still true but what is undeniable is that seeing such an expanse of grassland after so much forest is quite surprising.  We skirted along one side of it and dropped down into the next dry valley where we had to take a dog-leg detour around Friston Place.  This 16th Century house was once owned by Sir Hartley Shawcross, Attorney General in the Attlee Government shortly after World War II.  He was the British representative in the Nuremburg Trials.  There are some nice glimpses of the house as you go around the perimeter wall - apparently the gardens open occasionally for charity if you want a closer look.

Departing Ferry
We climbed up and away from the house, crossing some pastures as we did so.  We came upon a sheep trapped in a thorny branch and once we had done so the hapless creature ran away at a rate of knots.  I caught sight of a beautiful field beyond, full of poppies and various yellow flowers and especially ragwort.  Perhaps they could have been considered weeds to anyone wanting to use the field for grazing but they did make for a colourful sight.  Sadly I couldn't get a very close look for it was beyond the private drive to Friston Place and I had to make do with my distant view.

Crowlink Cottages
We climbed up to the tiny village of Friston with its squat church and small pond at the heart.  Sadly the church is anything but peaceful these days as it is passed by the busy A259.  We crossed the road and I took a closer look at the pond which appears to have been taken over by a conservation group.  There is an observation platform and some interpretation boards and it looks like a habitat that is full of life.  Beyond the church and the landscape changed once again as we entered the Crowlink estate.  The forest was replaced by open downland full of grazing sheep.  Beyond them and we could see the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry leaving for the morning sailing.  It was a journey that we would be making ourselves not long after completing this walk.

View Across Seven Sisters
The path continues down through the beautiful Crowlink Estate all the way down to the cliff edge of a valley between two of the Seven Sisters.  Long time readers of this blog may well remember me coming this way on previous walks, notably when I completed the South Downs Way and then later the Sussex Coastal Walk.  For the first time though I would be walking in the opposite direction, so that the highest of the Sisters, Haven Brow, would be last.  We actually climbed Brass Point first and then in turn we went across Rough Brow, Short Brow and then Haven Brow.  

Closer Look
The views along the Seven Sisters are quite magnificent, for my money they are the finest chalk cliffs  in existence bar none and are far nicer than the more celebrated White Cliffs of Dover.  They appear to have caught the attention of Japanese and Chinese tourists and we passed several groups of them as we walked westwards.  They appear to have far too little fear of the height of the cliffs as many of them got far too close to the edge - we hollered at one group who were practically on the edge looking down.  They clearly have no understanding of how crumbly these cliffs are - we had visions of We lingered at the top of Haven Brow for some time admiring the view across the Cuckmere Estuary - it's rare I get to see it from this angle more's the pity as it is just as magnificent from this side as it is from the other side.

Cuckmere Estuary
The path doesn't go straight down the side of Haven Brow to the beach  below much to our relief.  A path as steep as that is a little hard on the knees.  Instead we headed inland on a much more gentle path that dropped down to the side of the river valley much more slowly.  It's a path that allows for the view to be extended for a much longer time and is definitely easier to negotiate!  At the bottom of the hill we joined the concrete road that once was the course of a tramway that took gravel from the beach to a station where the car park is that we used.  The line was open from 1930 to 1964.  The concrete road is a useful way for cyclists and all manner of non-powered transport to get to the beach, ideal for disabled people and people with pushchairs.  We didn't follow the road all the way back - at Foxhole the path takes the line of the South Downs Way up and over the small ridge to the right hand side.  We got a good view of the wildlife in the ox-bow lakes and especially a number of egrets that were busy fishing.  I wasn't sure that fish lived in this brackish water but I guess there must be plenty judging by the number of fishing birds.

Egret
As we returned to the car park there were plenty of visitors heading out for the day.  We felt a little smug knowing that we had already had the best of the weather and the countryside mostly to ourselves.  This is a fantastic walk and it is hard to believe that it packs in so much to its relatively modest 6 mile length.  I cannot recommend it highly enough if you find yourself in East Sussex.
Picnic at Exceat Barn