1 - The Seven Sisters Country Park Visitor Centre, situated in an 18th century barn, is worth visiting before venturing onto the South Downs. Please note that during March it is open at weekends only from 11am to 4pm but from April it’s open every day from 10.30am to 4.30pm.

From the Visitor Centre, facing south, take the left-hand path to the Eastbourne/ Seaford road (A259) and turn left alongside a flint-stone wall. A finger post indicates this is part of the South Downs Way (SDW), a national trail of about 100 miles from Eastbourne to Winchester. Look for the acorn signs on posts.

This section also coincides with the Vanguard Way (look for VGW discs), a long-distance route of about 66 miles from East Croydon to Newhaven. It was devised in 1980 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Vanguards Rambling Club who were so named after returning from a walk in the guard’s van of a crowded train.

Go through a gate and climb a steep field, bearing just slightly to the right, aiming for a gate in front of a stone wall. At this point, turn to admire the view across the meandering Cuckmere River as it makes its way to the sea at Cuckmere Haven. (This is the only Sussex river where the name precedes the word river; also, the only one reaching the Sussex coast without passing through an urban area.) Continue through the gate, over a stone stile in the wall, and straight ahead on the footpath through woodland. This leads down a long series of shallow steps to reach the hamlet of West Dean.

2 - Go past the pond on the left and Pond Cottage on the right. Also notice the unusual, but not unique, green telephone box. Turn right along the roadway and, in just over 200 yards where the roadway turns sharply left, turn right along a bridleway.

If interested in a short detour to All Saints Church, follow the roadway around to the left. It is thought to be the most ancient church building in the Cuckmere Valley with origins going back to Saxon times. Take a look inside; it is usually open during the daytime.

Continue along the bridleway for 500 yards, passing a house on the left. Then, in a few paces, pass to the side of a barrier and take the left-hand track going straight ahead uphill through woodland.

3 - On approaching a locked gate at the end of the track, turn left along a woodland path marked for walkers only. Follow this for about a mile with woodland to the left and a steep escarpment and downland fields to the right; enjoying the extensive views. (Because of grazing sheep, it is important to keep dogs on leads, including in woodland with adjacent fields.)

On reaching a crossways with a SDW fingerpost, turn right on a narrow path going down steps. At the bottom, turn left along a bridleway and in a short distance come to a stile on the right.

4 - If doing the longer walk, go over the stile with SDW and VGW markers and follow the footpath uphill with a hedge on the left. At the top of the hill, go through a kissing-gate and continue downhill with a hedge on the right. After passing through another kissing-gate, bear slightly left towards a kissing-gate between houses at the bottom of the field.

Go through into a lane and turn left to the road. Turn right into the village of Litlington. The Plough and Harrow, a 17th century inn, is just along on the left. If desiring a picnic spot, go just beyond the inn and turn left down a twitten to the riverside where there is a seat. When suitably refreshed, retrace the route back to point 4.

If doing the shorter option, continue along the bridleway past Charleston Manor on the left. This became famous as a meeting place for the Bloomsbury Group. It is rather difficult to see and photograph the house (no doubt to the delight of the owners) because of high wooden gates and trees.

5 - On coming to a road, turn left and just past the main entrance to Charleston Manor, it is possible to look over the board fence to see the picturesque pond in the grounds. Also, turn in the opposite direction to see the White Horse (looking decidedly off-white) cut in the Downs.

Continue along the road with care as it first swings around to the right, and then immediately after going around a sharp left-hand bend, turn sharp right along a footpath. In a short distance, bear left to go through a kissing-gate.

Continue along this narrow path until reaching the Cuckmere River. Then turn left along the riverbank footpath as it turns this way and that for about a mile until coming to the Eastbourne to Seaford main road (A259).

6 - The Golden Galleon pub is on the west side of Exceat Bridge to the right. Unless visiting, turn left, and cross the road to use the footway on the opposite side. This is yet another section of the Vanguard Way. Continue along for a quarter of a mile to return to the Seven Sisters Country Park Visitor Centre.

  • Distance/Time: Five-and-a-half miles/two-and-a-half hours; four-and-a-quarter miles/two hours for the shorter option
  • By Car: Public car parks (pay and display) at Seven Sisters Visitor Centre (with toilets at rear) off A259, two-and-a-half miles east of Seaford
  • By Public Transport: Buses: 12/12a Brighton to Eastbourne via Seaford (frequent service). Alight at Seven Sisters Visitor Centre. Timetable information from Traveline: 0871 2002233; www.traveline.info
  • What’s underfoot: Expect field and woodland paths to be muddy and slippery, when wet; a few steep climbs
  • Thirsty Work: Plough & Harrow at Litlington; Golden Galleon, west side of Exceat Bridge, near finish
  • So you don’t get lost: OS Explorer Map 123 or Landranger 199. A compass would be useful for general direction

Click here for a full-sized map of the South Downs National Park circular walk