Don your walking boots and your wet weather gear (can't be too careful) and get outdoors to see a different side to the beautiful Sussex countryside. Read on to discover our pick of the best hikes and trails that the whole family will enjoy. Including bicycle friends routes and ancient woodland trails, the countryside is out there and waiting to be explored...
BIKE IT: The Cuckoo Trail, East Sussex
The Cuckoo Trail appears on many “Best of” lists thanks to its picturesque nature, gentle gradients, and surfaced path. These elements make it particularly ideal for cyclists.
Running from Heathfield to Eastbourne Park, the 14 mile route links Horam, Hailsham and Polegate. It follows the former ‘Cuckoo Line’ railway track. It was so-called because of a tradition that the first cuckoo of spring was always heard at Heathfield Fair. The line was open from 1880 to the late 60s and The Cuckoo Trail is still accessible year-round for cyclists, walkers and horse riders.
This hiking spot is also described as 'the green corridor' due to the wildflower verges, rows of trees, and rolling countryside on either side. The Cuckoo Trail is the perfect way to enjoy the best of Sussex flora and fauna. Look out for orange-tip butterflies, green woodpeckers, and even cuckoos themselves. Whereas, the variety of plant life includes a wide array from wild garlic to orchids.
There are also a number of intriguing wood and steel sculptures along the path. Enjoy these together with a selection of benches and rest stops where you can set down your picnic hamper.
HIKE IT: Seven Sisters & Friston Forest Walk
Regular visitors to Sussex will be no stranger to the white chalk cliffs that form the striking Seven Sisters. What may be lesser known is the expanse of woodland set back from the cliffs that is Friston Forest. The 2,000 acres are crisscrossed with a number of tracks and bridleways. At just under eight miles, this walk links the two with Birling Gap, Lullington Heath Nature Reserve, and East and West Dean. This forms a circular walk of approximately five to six hours.
Starting in Seven Sisters Country Park, the trail follows the familiar cliff top path where you can enjoy breath-taking views of the ocean, meandering Cuckmere River, and grasslands below. At the small hamlet of Birling Gap, the path turns away from the sea, through the villages of East Dean and Friston. Additional points of interest along the way include the church in East Dean with its Saxon tower and unusual Tapsel gate. There's also the grade II listed Friston Windmill, the tallest of its kind in England.
Friston Forest, which adjoins Lullington Heath, is a haven for Sussex wildlife, with rare species of butterflies and moths having been spotted there. Look out for fritillaries and silver spotted skipper butterflies as well as scarlet tiger moths. The final leg of the journey will bring you to the parish of West Dean and back down into the Seven Sisters Country Park.
There are plenty of picnic spots along the way, or refreshments can be sought in East Dean.
- For a map of the route: National Trail.
BIKE IT: Bewl Water Reservoir
Straddling the border between Kent and Sussex, the Bewl Water Reservoir is the largest body of open water in South-East England. It has the capacity to hold a staggering 31,000 million litres of water.
Bewl Water has its own visitor’s centre and restaurant, as well as hosting a number of water sports including windsurfing, sailing, and canoeing. Not to mention, its uncontested status as an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Around the perimeter of the reservoir there's a trail of 12.5 miles that run beside the water’s edge. They provide excellent views of Bewl Water and the surrounding area. This deviates on the south side, taking you through the quiet country lanes around Tolhurst. Should you find you can walk or peddle no further, simply hop aboard Bewl Water’s very own passenger boat. It collects and drops off passengers (and their bikes) at three jetties around the reservoir.
For those looking to extend or alternate their route, the northern shore of Bewl Water joins the Sussex Border Path. It's a a 150-mile stretch that follows the Sussex boundary. On the western side, a nine-mile country lane that takes you directly into the heart of Lamberhurst. This is a quaint village home to a 14th century Scotney Castle.
Alternatively, Bedgebury Forest can be found on the eastern shore. It offers a selection of varied trails from peaceful shaded paths to the single track mountain bike trails frequented by adrenalin junkies from Sussex and beyond.
HIKE IT: Petworth Ancient Trees Walk, West Sussex
The sprawling Petworth Park in West Sussex is home to some of the largest and oldest trees in the UK. The four-mile circular walk created by the National Trust provides the perfect opportunity to see them up-close.
Beginning and ending in Petworth car park, the path skirts the edge of the 700-acre park. It was first landscaped in the 1750s and early 1760s by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to incorporate an expansive lake and Pleasure Gardens. Today, the grounds still emulate the beauty and calm that inspired visiting artists such as J. M. W. Turner to depict it on canvas.
Following the trail, you’ll pass a variety of ancient trees, including sweet chestnuts, lime trees and towering Scot’s pines, as well as an oak tree which is believed to be 1,000 years old. Many of the trees have a fascinating history, such as the Beelzebub Oak, known to be over 200 years old and originally planted to mark the parish boundary and the potentially evil spirits that lingered beyond! As well as trees, you may also spot one of the 900 fallow deer which roam the grounds, adding to the idyllic and natural atmosphere of the park.
- For a map and step-by-step guide to the walk: National Trust.
BIKE IT: Chichester Harbour, West Sussex
With its wide expanses and intricate creeks, Chichester Harbour is one of the few remaining undeveloped areas of coast in the South-East. This his virtually flat route is approximately 12 miles and best enjoyed from the seat of a bicycle. It offers the chance to see not only Chichester Harbour - a site of special scientific interest - but also the pretty village of Bosham.
Chichester Harbour is home to a range of wildlife, where you are likely to see various birds wading across the mudflats or swooping over the water. In Bosham, visit the ancient church shown on the Bayeux Tapestry as well as the delightful selection of tea rooms and arts and crafts shops.
The trail also takes you via Quay Meadow and Fishbourne Mill Pond, two particularly beautiful spots for a picnic. Then there's several country pubs, if it’s a hot meal you’re after.
The full route involves taking a ferry across the channel from West Itchenor, which runs during the summer months from April until the end of October. However, the rest of the trail can be enjoyed all year round.
- For a map and step-by-step guide to the trail: Walk and Cycle.
HIKE IT: Alfriston Clergy House, East Sussex
Follow in the footsteps of the famous artists and writers of the Bloomsbury Group on this fascinating 6.5-mile walk. It ends at the 600-year-old Alfriston Clergy House - the first property bought by the National Trust in 1896 for £10!
The trail begins just off Alfriston High Street and incorporates winding country lanes, rugged footpaths and fields. It offers excellent vantage points from which to view the surrounding downlands. These sights include the chalk carving of the Long Man of Wilmington on the steep slopes of Windover Hill.
It also includes a stop off at Berwick Church, a Grade II Listed building which was transformed in 1941 by a series of murals. These were painted by members of the Bloomsbury Group: Duncan Grant and Vanessa and Quentin Bell.
The second part of the trail passes through the village of Alciston, where you can spot the medieval tithe barn. It's one of the longest in the country and famously featured in Virginia Woolf’s novel Between the Acts.
The Rose Cottage Inn in Alciston provides the perfect midpoint rest stop for a glass of wine or lunch in the sunshine.
- For a map and step-by-step guide to the trail: National Trust.
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