Seaside, marshland, biodiversity, big sky and panoramic views, tranquil farmland, gentle hills, a lost village, a hidden church, a nearly forgotten prison, smugglers trails – a walk of contrasts where you are likely to have the walk to yourselves. An opportunity for a drink or a swim at the end.
Distance, Terrain and Time
10km, 6.5 miles, flat or very gentle ascents
You either love marshland or you don’t. On the one hand, the scenery is not conventionally pretty, but on the other there is the feeling of being out on your own in the big skies with wide ranging views, of being lost in a landscape that has been substantially unchanged for many years. But there is much more on this walk, including the tranquil gently rolling inland countryside, so you will not get bored. And you will have discovered one of the secret parts of Sussex.
The walk could be very unpleasant when prolonged rain has raised the water table, so perhaps a walk for late spring, summer or early autumn. It could be very beautiful in hard snow.
Start and finish points
Normans Bay railway station (alternatively the Lamb Inn bus stop.)
Trains run hourly to Normans Bay on Mondays to Saturdays, to and from Lewes, Brighton, Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings. There are no trains on Sundays
An alternative start is at the Lamb Inn. Bus 99 from Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings runs 3 times and hour on Mondays to Saturdays and hourly on Sundays. The route starts very near to Eastbourne Station.
For bus and train times see here
Ordnance Survey map
Explorer series number 124
Shop at Normans bay caravan site, closed in the middle of the day
2 pubs. (see points of interest)
At Normans Bay, just after the station on the walk.
1). Leave the platform of Norman’s Bay station by the ramps at the end of the platform. Turn right along the lane and walk towards the sea.
Bear left at the first junction along a concrete road that leads to the caravan site (If you want a public toilet there is one straight ahead at this junction, by the beach.) Pass the caravan site on your left. It has a shop which is usually closed 11 – 3 (11 – 2) at weekends.
Continue along the road past houses and caravans. You come to a fork. Bear left. You come to a gate with signs to Railway and Bumkins Cottages. Go through this gate and cross the railway carefully. The line is straight so you can see trains coming a long way off.
Once you are across the line a footpath leads straight ahead next to the ditch. Initially this is between hedges and trees, but then it is through open fields. There are a couple of stiles. Emerge at the main road just to the left of the Star Inn.
Turn right and walk past the Star. Cross an attractive bridge and continue to follow the road round. You pass a couple of slightly decayed caravans on your left and then the road veers to the right.
2). At this point you will see a stile with a footpath sign on you left. Climb over this and then another stile straight ahead. The right of way now runs straight ahead, following the line of the hedge, about 20 metres to the left of this. Like many paths on this route, the path is through a field covered in grass and it may not be clear where the route goes unless a number of people have passed this way recently.
At the far end of the field there is a stile, indicated by a helpful yellow pole, which stands next to it. Keep straight ahead and cross two bridges. After the second bridge you find yourself in the left hand side of a field. Now aim for the far right hand side of the field where you will find a gate. Go through the gate and follow a track straight ahead, with a hedge on your right. Follow the track through fields.
In the last field before the roads you can see the farm buildings to the left. As you enter this field and walk up the track you will see a metal gate on your right into the next field. Although there is no sign, the legal right of way goes through this gate and goes towards the main road at the far end of the field. Aim to the left of the house that you can see to the right. There is a stile that allows access to the main road.
Turn left along the road. There are pavements on both sides so cross the road when it is convenient.
3). Just before a track and a house on the right hand side, you will see an old stile. Cross this to find yourself in a field. At first walk the edge of the field, keeping the hedge on your left. You are confronted by an array of decaying farm machinery and equipment which will be a delight to industrial archaeologists, but is otherwise fairly ugly. You are forced to turn right. Keep the machinery on your left. Come to a track and follow this as it curves round to the left. Do not take tracks to the left into the yard.
The track bears left and downhill, leaving the farm machinery behind. It then bears right and then reaches the bottom of the hill. On reaching the bottom of the hill follow the track sharp left. It then bears right and passes through a gateway with a stile on the right hand side. Go through the gateway.
Note that the trees that are shown as being on the left in some maps are not there any more.
You now enter a field where the track bears right, passing a tree to the left. But at this point you bear left, keeping the tree to your right and the stream to your left. Follow the stream until you come to a gate on your left, followed by a shed on your right and a second gate on your left. Go through this second gate (if it is locked climb over it and report the fact that it is locked to the council (see below)
You are now in a reedbed area and a number of mown paths have been created to help visitors explore the reed beds, but it is not clear who has created them. Follow the path that leads from the gate. This curves round to the left. Take the next path to the right, which climbs a short hill, running next to a hedge. At the top the path snakes between houses and emerges at a road.
Opposite, slightly to the left, you can see a lane. Walk along this past the grand Court Lodge Once the right of way went through their garden, but since they are rich the owners were able to apply for and pay for a diversion. So you must continue to walking to the end of the buildings where you may be able to find a path going off to your right (If you miss it there is a gate a little further along that you can climb over.
Walk down through the field, keeping the wooded area on your right. The farmers here farm in a traditional way, avoiding the use of much modern machinery. They say it gives them better hay. At the end of the wood turn right and walk along the end of the wooded area. Pass the end of a hedge on your left and then turn immediately left, walking up the side of the hedge.
At the end turn left and walk through two fields, keeping the hedge on your right. You arrive at Hooe Church.
4) The route turns left here, along a track, but you may want to turn right first to explore the church. Follow the track, which runs at first through fields and then makes its way through houses. You come to a road. Opposite is a track with a sign to Burrgroves. Take this. Keep straight ahead where the track becomes more grassy and cross a bridge.
You now emerge into the grounds of a South Fork style house. At the time of researching this walk the owners had erected a fence right across the path. It is easy enough to climb over this. Do so at the point where the fence makes a 90 degree turn, to the right of the pond. (If you turn to the right across the lawn you will see steps on your left that avoid the fence, but this is not the right of way.)
If the fence is still there on your visit please tell the council (see below).
It can be difficult to work out where you are going in the field you have just entered. You will not go far wrong if you aim diagonally across the field towards the large mast you can see in front of you. There is a stile in the hedge which you cross. Enter the next field and aim for the far corner of the field on your left. Here a further stile gives access to the road.
Turn left here. Unfortunately there is no alternative but to walk down the road, which can be busy, for about 300 metres. Arrive, with some relief, at the Lamb pub. The route turns left along the road immediately after the pub.
5). Walk past the pub along the minor road to reach the busy Eastbourne-Bexhill Road. Cross the road and turn right for about 50 metres. Just before a bridge turn left along a track which runs along the side of a dyke. There is sometimes dumping here and the track looks overgrown. The gate ahead looks decayed. This is the way, and it does get better!
Once again you are in an area of long grass and it can be difficult to see the exact right of way. But keep the dyke on your right as it twists and turns. Go through a gate with a collapsed stile on the left. The dyke bears right. Continue to follow it.
Come to a gate with a sign that tells you there is no right of way. Turn left in front of the gate. You will now see a right of way sign and a bridge in front of you. Walk to these.
On the other side of the bridge you will see a waymarker. Note the way it points. Walk diagonally across the field to the right in this direction unitil you reach a drainage ditch and a sort of hedge. Turn left here, following the line of the hedge/ditch
The hedge/ditch comes to an end and you cross a ditch which runs across the way. There is no bridge. It looks as though the ditch has been filled in and put through a pipe underneath your feet. You can now see a footpath straight ahead. It leads to a tall post with a marker on it which tells you to keep going in the same direction.
Come to a gate on your right which has a route marker on it. Go through this gate and turn left, walking by the edge of the field. The mounds to your right are all that remains of the medieval village of Northeye.
You come to a gate. You are now at a path junction. Go through the gate and turn right. Go through the metal gate ahead. After this the track bears right, but your way bear left. Note the yellow-painted pole to your left. Set off across the field aiming for another yellow pole on the opposite side of the field. There is a waymark which shows you the direction.
Arrive at a bridge. Cross this and look for a further yellow pole on the opposite side of the next field. Walk across the field to the pole. Here you will find two metal gates which you go through.
On the other side you will see a clear track which runs beside a ditch. Follow this to the road, which you reach just to the east of the Star Inn. (If you started at the Lamb turn left here to reach point 2 to continue the walk.)
You can now follow your outward route back to the station.
As an alternative, do not turn left onto the footpath after the Star, but keep on the road (which can be busy). Take the first left to reach the station. This can be a quicker route if you are in a hurry to catch a train, but if you are hoping to catch a train in the direction of Lewes and Eastbourne, be aware that there sometimes the crossing gates close before the train to Bexhill, which generally leaves at about 35 minutes past the hour and sometimes do not open again until after the departure of your train, which generally leaves at 43 minutes past the hour. Since there is no footbridge you will miss the train- so leave enough time!
POINTS OF INTEREST
A). Normans Bay
Not named after the Normans, since the area was under water when they invaded, Normans Bay is one of the quietest seaside “resorts” on the south coast, consisting only of a few houses and some caravans. There is a camping and mobile caravan site about 500 metres west of the station.
At low tide there is a considerable sandy beach, so it is popular with those “in the know” who want a quiet day at a good beach with good access by train.
B). The Star Inn and the Bexhill Smugglers Trail
This is what the “Discover Bexhill” site says about the Star..
“The Star Inn is ancient, probably dating back to the 15th century. It was on the main highway between Hastings and Pevensey and was a known haunt of smugglers until the early 19th century.
The Little Common Gang of smugglers concealed their two luggers at a secret location near here; they were The Long Boat and The Princess Charlotte. The marsh was difficult for the authorities to patrol and local knowledge was needed to cross it safely, particularly at night.
A pitched battle was fought here in February 1822 between the Little Common Gang and men of the Coast Blockade.
About three hundred smugglers assembled outside The Star to await the arrival of The Princess Charlotte. Before the ship made landfall, an armed party of blockademen arrived and broke up the gathering with gunfire, shooting one of the smugglers in the process. The Princess Charlotte then put back to sea, and one account of the incident tells of a mysterious lady who had been waiting for the ship, in a coach pulled by six horses. On the arrival of the blockademen she drove off at speed. Perhaps she was a spy or secret agent, as the smugglers provided a useful way of crossing the Channel and sending messages without detection. “
The Star seems to be a pub for people passing through rather than regulars, but the garden area is good. It is open and does food all day. There is a good children’s play area.
C). Hooe Level
The level forms the far eastern part of Pevensey Levels. The area was covered in water up to around 1200. From that time on piecemeal attempts were made to reclaim parts of it, but these met with only limited success. There were a number of islands, including the one on which Northeye Village was situated. Later there were salt pans, used to capture salt to be used in the storage of food.
By the 15th century more serious tidal defences were developed and the area was drained, leading to something like the landscape you can see today. The deeper channels created as part of the draining were very useful for smugglers.
Unlike Romney marshes, this area has not be highly developed for crops, so it is still an area of considerable biodiversity.
This an area with a great diversity of bird life. Here is Cliff Dean’s blog about birds in the area http://rxbirdwalks.wordpress.com/tag/hooe-level/ Dean leads birding walks to unusual places in the Hastings and Rye areas.
This blog gives you something of the flavour of the area.
This was an open prison to the north east of the ancient Northeye village. It had been an old RAF base. The regime was fairly relaxed, but in a hot summer in the 1980s a few inmates with a grudge attempted to burn it down. You can find the story at http://www.newsmedianews.com/riot.htm The prison was closed and dismantled.
E). Court Lodge, Hooe
According to “British Listed Buildings” this is a 17th century building with Two storeys and attic. Four windows and 3 dormers. Red vitreous brick and some grey headers. Moulded brick stringcourse above each floor at a level to form a dripstone over the windows. Casement windows. The central dormer has a triangular pediment over it, the outer ones curved pediments. Modern porch. The north and south walls have a massive brick chimney breast each. The south one has 3 stacks, the centre one diagonal, the outer ones square, with offsets on the west side, above which a fourth stack has been added. The north chimney breast has 2 diagonal stacks and 2 square ones apparently added, the one on the west above offsets, the one on the east carried straight down. The gable ends behind the chimneys have brick coping and kneelers. The south one is pointed and tile-hung. An L-wing of lower elevation was added to the east in 1935. The interior has one room with very good C16 linenfold panelling having carved heads all round the top and over the door. Other panelling and the staircase were brought from other houses.”
The gardens have been carefully landscaped.
F). Hooe Church
This is an example of a church initially built for a scattered parish. The settlement of Hooe Common, to the north, developed later. You can find more information about the church here The church yard is very tranquil and is a good place to take a break and eat your lunch.
G). The Lamb pub
Apparently mentioned in the doomday book, it became an inn in 1520, with a charter to allow shepherds to nurse sickly sheep by the fire. These days they would be more likely to eat them, as the pub has a strong dining side. Some drinkers have complained about being crowded out, but you can get bar snacks and drinks and there is a pleasant outdoor area. The pub has a smuggling history. Open from noon onwards.
H). Northye Village
According to English Heritage “The village is mentioned as a dependant limb of the Cinque Port of Hastings in a charter of 1229. The position of the site indicates that it may originally have been a small port. It is thought to have been deserted in around 1400. A number of factors including the drainage of the Pevensey Marshes, bad storms along the Sussex coast in the late 13th century, the Black Death and economic hardship in the 14th century are likely to have contributed to population decline and abandonment. It was also probably associated with the decline in saltworking; several mounds in the vicinity of the village are evidence of medieval salt extraction. The standing remains of the chapel are known to have survived as a ruin until the 1850’s.”
This is a walk through some of the less frequented paths of Sussex. If you come across any problems please report them to Rights.Way@eastsussex.gov.uk