Mount Caburn and Firle Beacon are two high points on the ancient downland east of the River Ouse, facing each other over the picturesque villages of Firle and Glynde. This is a fairly long route, and an early start is recommended.
Chapel Hill in the East Sussex town of Lewes ©Getty
From the front exit of Lewes railway station, turn right, walk uphill (Station Street) then turn right down the High Street to Cliffe High Street, passing Harveys Brewery. Bill’s Produce Store makes an excellent place to stop for breakfast. Continue along Cliffe High Street, then up Chapel Hill, taking the footpath on the right just before the golf club.
Contour the hillside, then veer right, dropping into the frosty valley bottom and passing some cattle troughs on your left. Cross a stile and ascend to the ridge, then turn right to Mount Caburn (150m), an Iron Age hill fort whose inner rampart dates from about 400 BC. It is now thought that the original purpose of the site may have been sacred rather than defensive. Mount Caburn is a National Nature Reserve and Special Area of Conservation and has lovely views out over the River Ouse and southeast to Firle Beacon. Many of the archaeological finds are in the Barbican House Museum, Lewes Castle.
Lewes Castle ©Getty
Head back to the main trail, turn right and descend to the village of Glynde, famous for its opera season. Turn left then right, following the road south past the railway station, then cross over the A27 and keep ahead on the minor road. Turn left onto the track to Preston Court Farm, then left again onto a path, passing Preston House. Cross the road diagonally and enter the grounds of Firle Place, a 15th century manor. Follow the footpath off to the right into the village of Firle, where you’ll find an excellent pub – The Ram, with excellent food and, according to tradition, its own resident ghost.
Mount Caburn on a windy day ©Getty
Continue south along the road from the pub, passing the attractive St Peter’s church before gaining a farm track which soon veers left. Continue along this, then take a track on the right which leads uphill past Firle Plantation, then the path which climbs steeply up onto Firle Beacon. Turn left along the ridge to the trig point (217m), from where there are extensive views south to the Channel. This is a favourite spot for paragliding. Legend says it was the Firle Beacon giant who slew the giant on nearby Wilmington Hill – whose fallen body is marked by the famous Long Man.
South Down saunter
Turn back (west) along the spine of Firle Beacon, now following the South Downs Way passing a car park, radio antenna and a number of tumuli, then down towards Southease. Follow the main track to avoid soil erosion. Southease station lies just across the A26, and for those not continuing to Rodmell, there are trains from here back to Lewes.
The river Ouse near the Sussex town of Lewes ©Getty
Continue straight ahead, over the River Ouse, then up to the main road. Turn right (watch out for traffic) and follow this north to the village of Rodmell, then turn right down the road to the Monk’s House
, former home of Virginia Woolf (only open April–October).
Either walk back to Southease station for trains to Lewes, or call a taxi back to Lewes.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.
Moderate ascent/descent for Mount Caburn and Firle Beacon, good clear paths, some road walking around Glynde and Rodmell.
How to get there
By car: Lewes is on the A27. Take the A23 and M23 from London, followed by the A27; take the A27 from Worthing or Polegate.
By public transport: Southern Railways run regular direct services to Lewes from London Victoria (1hr 5mins), Newhaven (11mins) and Eastbourne (22mins).
From Rodmell there are hourly trains to Lewes (8mins), or a taxi (6am-midnight) will cost around £10. 01273 483232
Bill’s Produce Store
56 Cliffe High Street, Lewes BN7 2AN
billsproducestore.co.uk Open Mon-Sat 8am-5pm
Lewes Tourist Information Centre
187 High Street, Lewes BN7 2DE
Main image ©Getty