This is a ride for all terrain bikes. It could be done on a hybrid bike in good weather.
The group of artists centred round Furlongs in Beddingham is less well known than the Bloomsbury Group along the road, but their paintings are better. We also see feudalism at work and follow celebrity vicar Peter Own Jones.
Distance, Terrain and Time
12 km, 7.5 miles including one climb up the north face of the Downs
Start and finish points
Glynde railway station, or possibly Lewes
There are two road crossings that require care
Trains run hourly to Glynde station 7 days a week from Brighton, Lewes, Eastbourne and Hastings. There are connections from London, Croydon and Haywards Heath at Brighton and Lewes. On Sundays it may be better to change at Brighton instead of Lewes
(You could start from Lewes by cycling down South Street, through the Southerham Industrial estate and then joining the bike lane until Firle. You could return from Beddingham by the same route)
For bus and train times see Traveline South East
Ordnance Survey maps
Explorer series number 123
Tea room and shop at Glynde, Trevor Arms next to Glynde station, shop in Firle village, Ram Inn in Firle village.
At Glynde, just north of the station.
1). If arriving by train from Lewes, leave the platform by the steps, turning right up further steps to the road. On reaching the road turn right and round the bend the Trevor Arms. If arriving by train from Eastbourne leave the platform via the ramp. At the end of the ramp you will see the Trevor Arms ahead of you.
There is a road junction at the pub. Turn left uphill. Notice the neat estate houses, nearly all of which are owned by the Glynde Estate.(A) In return for feudal obedience, residents are provided with housing and large gardens intended for growing produce. Reach the A27, with its cycle Lane. Turn left till you see the signs for Firle. Then cross the A27 and turn right. Keep straight ahead at the first junction. At the next junction, by the school, turn left into the village to reach the Ram Inn
2). The ride continues straight ahead up the main street of the village. The street bears left past the village hall. Note the attractive estate houses. These are less uniform than those in Glynde and there are a number of houses which are not owned by the estate. On the left are two tall Victorian houses. One of these was home to Virginia and Leonard Woolf for a short time before they settled in Rodmell.
The street turns right. Follow it. You pass the village shop and the last bus stop of the 125 route. Pass the church and the route to Firle Place. The route becomes a rough track. Keep straight ahead.
Follow the track as it turns left and runs uphill along the side of a field. This is the old coach road, which was once a turnpike between Lewes and Polegate.(C) At the end of the field turn right along a clearly marked bridleway. This bridleway runs through the field next to Firle Plantation. At the edge of the plantation you will see a track to the right, which climbs the hill. Take this. It is not on the map of rights of way, but has been used as a path for many years.
You emerge on to the downland ridge. Turn right here on the South Downs Way. Pass the car park and head on towards the radio masts on Beddingham Hill. There are excellent views on this part of the ride. You can see the low weald, the downland ridge, Mount Caburn and the Newhaven incinerator. Past the radio masts the way dips slightly. Near the lowest point is a junction of paths.
3) You go right here, descending on a broad track, which enables you to concentrate on the views rather than where your feet are going. Towards the bottom you come first to a track to the right and then to a wider track which turns left at 90 degrees. There used to be finger post here, but someone has removed it. Instead there is a rather discouraging sign erected by Glynde Estates. Nevertheless this is Beddingham byway number 9.(E) Before you head down this have a look at the field to the right. Although there is now no trace above ground, this is the site of Beddingham roman villa.(D)
4). Turn left down the Byway. If you have looked at the paintings of Eric Ravillious the building ahead of you, slightly to the left, should be familiar. It is Furlongs(E) , where Ravillious painted many of his best known works. This end of the byway will give you your best views of the house. Pass by Furlongs but please do not enter the farmyard, which is private and not open to the public. Continue along the attractive byway to the Lay.
Just before the byway meets the busy A26, the boundary hedge turns away to the right. A tarmac path, almost covered in grass runs parallel to the hedge to meet the A26. Carefully cross the road here. To your right you will find a pavement which will take you all the way to Beddingham village.(F) You must ride alongside a busy road here but you are compensated by open views across the Ouse Valley and some attractive Glynde Estate houses. You pass Cobbe Place, which does bed and breakfast and other holiday accommodation.
Turn left down a lane leading to Beddingham Church (F). Turn right at the church. The lane now bears left. Pass a pair of gates through the gap on the left. After about a hundred metres look out for a blue pedestrian and cyclists sign on the right, just by the river.
5). Here turn right under the A27 and follow the track round to the right. You join the A27. Turn left on the cycle lane. Pass the Beddingham roundabout, keeping on the cycle lane. For 100 metres the route is unattractive, with letter and traffic, but shortly the cycle lane veers away from the road, from which it is hidden by trees. A feature on this stretch is a sign telling motorists that it is quicker to travel between Lewes and Eastbourne by train. This was erected at the behest of Norman Baker, then the local MP. He also persuaded the railway company to lower fares between Lewes and Eastbourne. They were very pleased with the result as lower fares generated more passengers, so they made a profit.
Take the first turning on your left to return to your start point. If you have time you may want to explore beyond the station to explore the village of Glynde.(A)
POINTS OF INTEREST
As this walk is about history and context, you will probably get more out of the walk if you read this section before doing the ride.
A). Glynde village
According to Wikepedia the estate at Glynde has belonged to four interlinked families: the Waleys (‘from Wales’), Morleys, Trevors, and Brands. The current proprietor carries the name “Lord Hampden”. Most of the houses in the village are rented from the estate and are therefore not modified by double glazing, individual extensions and the like. Substantial gardens for growing produce are often provided. This makes the village attractive to visit but not necessarily a good place to live in.
Norman Baker, the MP for the area until 2015, was on Glynde and Beddingham parish council for 16 years and recalls that in 1980 Glynde had the highest proportion of homes with only outside toilets in Sussex. Dissent could be carefully managed. Norman reports that the present Lord’s father would get himself co-opted to the parish council to keep an eye on things. The same Lord strongly opposed the creation of the South Downs National Park. The current Lord Hampden has taken a tough line on access, closing some permissive paths used by locals and re-routing others.
Visitors may want to visit the cricket ground, where the local team have won the national village cricket cup in the past, the attractive blacksmith’s building, the tea room and the Italianate church, whose vicar is Peter Owen Jones (see below)
You can see all these things by walking up the main street north from the railway. The tea room is just down the first turning on the left. The Trevor Arms, by the station, is noted for its beer and food and has a large garden.
Historically there has been enmity between Glynde and Firle because the villages were on different sides in the English Civil War. But this now seems to have largely died out.
Firle village and the Firle Estate are in the hands of the Gage family, who commanded the British forces in the American revolution. Firle Place is open to the public as part of the conditions of exemption of the estate from Inheritance Tax. More recently the estate has acquired a certain notoriety for obtaining exemption of another part of the estate from inheritance tax by creating 2 permissive footpaths, which are poorly publicised and sometimes ploughed up See this walk for details.
As in Glynde, single ownership has resulted in an attractive village, and the estate has provided land for various facilities, including a cricket pitch, village hall and tennis court. But patronage has its downsides. For example Norman Baker reports that Lord Gage has “let it be known” that he does not want to see Liberal Democrat posters in the village.
The Ram Inn is now a gastro pub and somewhat expensive. At weekends it can be difficult to get a seat. But the beer is good and there is a nice garden.
The 13th century church is also worth a look. Peter Owen Jones is the vicar.
C).The old coach road
The is route used to be the original route from Lewes to Alfriston and is still a byway open to all traffic, which means that you may see motor bikes and other vehicles on it. The part of the route from Firle to Alfriston is well known and well used. The part of the route which runs south of Firle village(Chalky Lane) is also quite well used, but what is less well known is that there is a right of way that runs from west from Chalky Lane. The part on the Firle Estate is completely ploughed up and unusable. But those parts of the old coach road which are on the Glynde estate are open, and the estate admits that they are rights of way.
The East Sussex rights of way team added all these rights of way to the definitive map, which is the legal record of rights of way, some years ago. But now it says that it might have made a mistake, so it refuses to tell the Ordnance Survey, with a result that the routes do not appear on OS maps. Nevertheless, their existence on the definitive map means that these are legally rights of way.
D). The Beddingham Roman Villa
Although there is nothing to see now, this is the site of a roman villa. See pages 10 and 11 this report Earlier remains were also found on the site and also remains of Saxon occupation.
E). Furlongs, Ravillious and Peggy Angus
Here is the focal point of the walk. The story begins in 1933 when Peggy Angus first saw Furlongs. She was a Scottish, communist artist. It was two cottages, owned by the Glynde Estate and rented by tenant farmer Dick Freeman. One of the cottages was derilect and Peggy asked if she could sub-let it. Dick refused. Peggy then camped outside and set up an outdoor studio until he relented. Quite what he made of all this is not recorded, but there is a picture on John Russell’s blog of them sitting outside looking quite amicable.
Peggy invited artist friends to stay, often for quite long periods. They included John Piper, Tirzah Garwood and her husband Eric Ravillious. It is Eric who is the main subject of this walk. Eric said that his stays at Furlongs completely changed the way he did art. John Russell’s blog here, here and here shows some of the paintings he made of Furlongs and the surrounding countryside which you are walking through. Eric also met his mistress and future biographer Helen Binyon here. The cottage had no electricity or water and was down an unsurfaced track. The blog tells of how it was an adventure to get there from Glynde station and how the doctor refused to come out when Peggy was about to give birth because of the primitive conditions. An expedition had to be made to the Trevor Arms, where the landlord was woken and prevailed upon to drive out to take Peggy to Lewes, the Raviliouses having no car.
Please keep the track. The house is not open to the public. On the right you can see the site of the two caravans which formed one of Eric’s most famous paintings.
F). Beddingham, Norman Baker and the A27
The walk takes you past nearly all of Beddingham, which, despite its long history, is now little more than a hamlet. There is a 12th century church whose vicar is, yet again, Peter Owen Jones. If the wind is still or blowing from the South West, the churchyard is a tranquil place for a picnic.
A noted resident here was former MP Norman Baker, who started his political career in Sussex by joining both the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats. He lived in an old railway cottage next the now demolished level crossing and started his career by standing as a Lib Dem councillor for the constituency that includes this walk. As an MP one of his policies was to oppose the turning of the A27 into a dual carriageway throughout its length, preferring to promote the railway and a series of small incremental improvements to the A27. This policy was quite successful for some time and the flyover which now bridges the railway at Beddingham was one such incremental improvement. However, with the by passing of both Polegate and Lewes, there are now few people who would be directly affected by the dualling of the rest of the A27, so opposition to the road programme is now very muted and the new MP is pressing for a dual carriageway. Having done this walk you can see how disasterous this would be for the peace of the area.
G). Beddingham Saxon site
There is nothing to see here, but the last part of the walk takes you near an Anglo-Saxon cemetery.
H). Peter Owen Jones
Falling congregations have meant that vicars are now spread over a number of parishes. Peter is the vicar for all three parishes you walk through on this walk. He is an enthusiastic walker, who walks up to Firle Beacon every morning and promotes walks from village to village rather than big trophy walks. He is rarely without his big floppy hat, whether in church or out of it, and his clothing style is best described as hippy meets country gentleman. His book “Pathlands: 21 Tranquil Walks Among the Villages of Britain” has recently been published. You can read about him here and here. Perhaps you will meet him walking from one of his churches to another while out on your walk.