Alfriston Clergy House countryside walk

Alfriston, West Sussex, BN26

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This is one of very few surviving 14th-century Wealden hall houses © Andrew Butler

This is one of very few surviving 14th-century Wealden hall houses

This was the first building to be acquired by the National Trust, in 1896 © Andrew Butler

This was the first building to be acquired by the National Trust, in 1896

The Downland hills are sprinkled with wildflowers such as cowslips © Andrea Jones

The Downland hills are sprinkled with wildflowers such as cowslips

Route overview

Walk in the footsteps of the artists and writers of the Bloomsbury Group as you follow our circular route to 600-year-old Alfriston Clergy House, taking in downland views along the way. Alfriston sits within the newly established South Downs National Park.

Route details

See this step-by-step route marked on a map

Route map for Alfriston Clergy House countryside walk, West Sussex
  • Directions
  • Route
  • Bus stop
  • Parking
  • Toilet
  • Viewpoint

Start: Willows car park, off Alfriston High Street, grid ref: TQ522032

  1. Set off from the Willow's car park (just beyond the Market Cross on Alfriston High Street). Walk straight across the road and through the Dene car park and take a right turn (north) up West Street, which soon becomes a hedge-lined lane. Near the top, you'll reach the carved wooden calvary. Note how from here it becomes quieter, with the sounds from the village below carried off on the downland breeze.

    Show/HideAlfriston Clergy House

    This rare 14th-century Wealden hall house was the first building we acquired, in 1896. The thatched, timber-framed house boasts idyllic views across the River Cuckmere, while its delightful, tranquil cottage garden features a magnificent Judas tree. Situated on the green (or tye) in the Sussex village of Alfriston, the Clergy House was probably built for a wealthy farmer in around 1350, though it was later owned by the church.

    This is one of very few surviving 14th-century Wealden hall houses © Andrew Butler
  2. Cross the road at Winton Street and take the footpath, heading downhill over the field. The spire of Berwick Church is visible above the trees on the rise ahead.

    Show/HideInside the Clergy House

    The Clergy House has a central hall that rises to the rafters, flanked by two-storey blocks on either side. One block would have housed the family's private accommodation, while the other contained the service quarters. If you've time, take a look around this rare medieval house on your return from the walk.

    This was the first building to be acquired by the National Trust, in 1896 © Andrew Butler
  3. Go through the gate (over a small stream). At the bottom of the dip, the path climbs to the churchyard - almost entirely concealed by trees. On the hills in the distance to your right, barely visible over the brow, is the chalk carving of the Long Man of Wilmington. He looks out, in Kipling's words, 'naked towards the shires'.

    Show/HideWildflowers

    In spring, the downland hills around Alfriston are dotted with low-growing plants such as cowslips, early purple orchids and, later, scabious and lady's bedstraw. Sheep have grazed here for centuries and the resulting close-cropped turf provides an ideal habitat for these plants.

    The Downland hills are sprinkled with wildflowers such as cowslips © Andrea Jones
  4. Enter the churchyard via the gate to the left. Go round to the north porch and into the church for a look at the murals by Bloomsbury Group artists.

    Show/HideBerwick Church

    Dating from the 12th century or earlier (and heavily restored in the Victorian period), Berwick Church was transformed in 1941 with a series of murals by Bloomsbury artists Duncan Grant, and Vanessa and Quentin Bell. Influenced by the frescoes of Renaissance Italy, the murals feature local people and places in biblical scenes, and depict the life of Christ set against a backdrop of war-torn Britain.

  5. Leave the churchyard via the arched opening at the north-west end. Follow the path down into the village, taking the turning on the left uphill and passing the sign marked 'footpath only', leading past the buildings at Church Farm. Follow the track across the field, with the Downs parallel to the left, and watch nervy meadow pipits rising out of the grass.

  6. At the end of the field, follow the hedge round in the direction of the Downs and turn right at the Wealden Way post, with a yellow arrow pointing across the next field. The grey-white scar in the turf of the downland escarpment marks the disused Bopeep chalk pit; the distinctive boot-shaped hill beyond it is Firle Beacon, not far from Charleston Farmhouse.

  7. Cross the field and take the turning right through the hedge opening, then go over the stile on the left and follow the field edge towards the village of Alciston's 13th-century church. Pass through the gate and take the path leading to the main street.

  8. Turning right along the road here leads to Rose Cottage Inn, a good stopping point for refreshments. Alternatively, keep to the route and turn left, passing the remains of a medieval dovecote and then the huge tithe barn.

    Show/HideAlciston Tithe Barn

    At over 55 yards (50m) long, the village of Alciston's medieval tithe barn is the longest in the country. Built in the 14th century to store the church's cut (or tithe) of the annual harvest, its size gives a good indication of just how rich the church would have been in the middle ages. The barn and farmhouse feature in Virginia Woolf's posthumous rural novel 'Between the Acts'.

  9. Follow the lane as it winds back up towards the Downs, the trees eventually forming a canopy. At the top of the track a circular bench has a signpost indicating 1 mile east (1.6km) to Berwick and 3 miles (4.8km) west to Firle. Take the right-hand path as you approach the bench and, a few paces on, take the left-hand path leading uphill.

  10. After a gentle ascent, cross the stile among the trees and follow the path running at an angle east along the open down. As you reach the stile near the top, you may hear skylark song and enjoy striking views across the Blue Weald, with its patchwork of small fields and hedges.

  11. At the top, look out for Bostal Hills prehistoric tumuli, and take in the views across to the sprawl around Newhaven Harbour. For more tranquil views towards Cuckmere Valley and the Seven Sisters (much of which we care for), follow the path along the summit heading east. Keep along the path, passing through the gate into further fields.

  12. Eventually, over the brow of the hill, Alfriston comes into view in the valley below. The spire of St Andrew's Church, known as the 'Cathedral of the Downs', rises clear of surrounding rooftops. At the bottom of the field, pass through the gate and cross the track, carrying on along the chalk path with fields on either side. Old and gnarled birches lining the track create an eerier atmosphere. Follow on, down past the houses into Weaver's Lane. Cross the road at the sign pointing to Alfriston Clergy House, which is further along the track on the right, behind the village green (The Tye). Any of the alleys leading off the Tye on the left will lead you up to the High Street and back towards the car park.

End: Willows car park, off Alfriston High Street, grid ref: TQ522032

  • Trail: Walking
  • Grade: Moderate
  • Distance: 4 miles (6.4km) to 5 miles (8km)
  • Time: 2 hours to 2 hours 30 minutes
  • OS Map: Landranger 199; Explorer 123
  • Terrain:

    Moderate terrain with one steep climb (last 100m of section 10 of the walk). Dogs welcome on leads, as livestock in surroundings fields. No dog bins so please take dog litter home.

  • How to get here:

    By foot: South Downs Way within 0.75 mile (1.2km)

    By bike: National Cycle Network Route 2

    By train: Berwick Station 2.5 miles (4km)

    By bus: Countryliner 125 from Lewes, Renown 126 from Eastbourne and Seaford

    By car: 4 miles (6.4km) north-east of Seaford on the B2108

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