Birling Gap walk from the Tiger Inn
This circular walk allows you to enjoy spectacular views over the downs and East Sussex coast. By following old drovers' and smuggling routes to the sea from this small Downland village you may also feel a sense of the landscape's long history.
Discover part of the world-famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs
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The Tiger Inn, East Dean, grid ref: TV557978
From the Tiger Inn walk straight across the green opposite the pub, on to the small road and turn right. You will see to your right on the flint wall of a house a blue plaque, 'Sherlock Holmes retired here 1903-1917'. Follow the road as it goes round to the right, after only a few yards take a left up the small track towards a field. Here you pass a National Trust sign for Farrer Hall on your left a former scout hut that was used as a school classroom during the Second World War.
The Tiger Inn
The Tiger Inn (not NT) was depicted in a painting by S H Grimm in 1785 and has had links with smuggling since then. It was rumoured that passageways linked the cellars with those of the Dipperays (built in 1755 by James Dipperay) behind it. You can find the Inn at The Green, East Dean, BN20 0DA - contact 01323 423209 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Go through the gate and follow the footpath straight up through the field (named Hobbes Eares). Near the top of this field is a short steep section but after this the terrain is pretty flat and dry. From the vantage point of this hill you get a great view of East Dean. Belle Tout lighthouse is in the distance to the east and you'll have different views towards this landmark for most of the walk. You may see several interesting breeds of sheep from the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre as this is one of their grazing areas. In summer, it's covered in downland flowers such as yellow rattle.
Belle Tout lighthouse
This lighthouse (not NT) was built in 1834 but its light was not seen in sea mists, so it was replaced in 1902 by Beachy Head lighthouse that stands further east on the shore. It was moved back from the cliff edge in 1999 on rails and now houses a Bed and Breakfast.
At the top you reach Friston church, go through the kissing gate leading into the churchyard. Walk straight along the path through the churchyard to the gate with an arch over it; called a tapsel gate with its interesting opening mechanism. The village pond is in front of you and to your right is the A259 coast road, leading to many other interesting local walks to Friston, Jevington and Willingdon. Turn left up the tarmac lane between three houses along the narrow road.
This is a beautiful little church. As you go by you may see the box graves to the east of the church. In one of these lies the Excise Officer, Thomas Fletcher (died 1870), who was said to have been tricked into falling to his death from the cliffs of the Seven Sisters by smugglers.
You'll soon come to the welcome sign for National Trust Crowlink car park. Go through the walkers gate to the left of the cattle grid. Follow the fence line on your left, with the water trough on your right.
Follow the fence line and as it turns right you're facing south towards the sea you may even be able to smell it. Be aware of rabbit holes on this section. Keep following the fence line and you'll spot the red barn roof and then a line of windswept trees as you pass several gates on your left. As you reach the corner of the field you're now quite near the sea on Baileys Hill, the second of the Seven Sisters.
If you look at the direction the wind has shaped the trees here they all point away from the prevailing south westerly winds. A few trees like this amongst the flower-rich chalk grassland provide valuable shelter to wildlife and stock that are out here in all weathers.
Go through the kissing gate in front of you, with thorny gorse bushes around it, then go left downhill to the east. You'll spot the Belle Tout lighthouse on the hill in the distance in front of you. Walk downhill past the gorse - near the bottom of the valley look back to your right where the monument is overlooking the sea. Carry on east, up the next hill, called Went Hill. It's rather steep but take this opportunity for a breather as you look for flowers such as the purple violets in spring, pink common century in summer and lilac field scabious in late summer/autumn.
Gorse bushes on Baileys Brow
The pretty yellow flowers smell deliciously of coconut but the gorse bushes are occasionally cut back to provide the best balance of habitat types for wildlife.
The brow of the next hill is Went Hill, keep going east and take the right path to join the South Downs Way which runs parallel to the cliff. Take care not to go near to the cliff edge. Belle Tout lighthouse is still in the distance in front of you and as you keep walking, Birling Gap hamlet will come into view in the valley. You'll shortly reach a gate with a signpost and map of Crowlink, showing you in more detail the land you have walked over.
At the next gate, take the right path downhill under cover of some pine trees and the private road down to Birling Gap. At the bottom of the track to your right are steps leading to the café and bar, where you can take a well earned rest and have a cup of tea and cake. Take some time to go to the top of the steps by the beach at Birling Gap for a fantastic view of the Seven Sisters.
Birling Gap café entrance
There are views out to the sea from here, or you could go down to the beach from the nearby steps to get a full view of the white Seven Sisters cliffs.
The return journey is shorter and will give you more views to the east over towards Belle Tout lighthouse, with the beautiful rolling downland and traditional sheep grazing in the foreground. Start by going back up the private road, but instead of taking the gate on the left go straight up to the top of the track past the last house (Seven Sisters cottage) to another gate through Crowlink.
Following the hedgerow on your right go through the next gate ahead of you and continue straight ahead along the track until you come to the red barn you saw earlier. Go straight on past red barn, keeping the barn on your right. Don't take the track leading left to the derelict stone barn, instead follow on to the field boundary edge with trees until you spot a waymark post with a number of different coloured arrows on it. At the bottom is a pink arrow. Take this path.
Take the small path on your right leading down through some trees, you'll have a view of the village below. The path is quite steep and can be slippery with leaves so take care and if you're in a group you'll have to walk in single file for some of the way.
After going through the trees go through the gate and bear right downhill along the path until you reach the next gate, you'll see a clay tiled roof and other houses. Follow the flint wall through the final large metal field gate which leads on to a small road.
Beware of traffic as you walk down the lane, bear left to return to East Dean village. You'll pass a house on your left which has a plaque to commemorate all the families in East Dean who looked after children evacuated from cities in the Second World War.
Second World War plaque, East Dean
The plaque at point 13 on the walk commemorates evacuees from London and host families in East Dean Friston and Willingdon.
You should now see the Tiger Inn again where you started your walk. Thank you for walking one of the National Trust's 'Fancy a swift one beer mat' walks, did you know there are six to do along the South Downs?
The Tiger Inn, East Dean, grid ref: TV557978
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