Alfriston Clergy House countryside walk
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.
Willows car park, off Alfriston High Street, grid ref: TQ522032
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. There is no pavement along this section of the walk. 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.
Cross the road at Winton Street and take the footpath, heading downhill over the field, following signs for the Vanguard Way national trail. Bear right, as the Old Coach road arises here and passes from the left of the path you are following. The path rises and falls through the centre of an arable The spire of Berwick Church is visible above the trees on the rise ahead.
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'.
The Long Man of Wilmington
The Long Man of Wilmington is a hill figure on the steep slopes of Windover Hill near Wilmington, east of Alfriston. It was formerly often known as the Wilmington Giant, or locally as the Green Man. The Long Man, at 235 feet (72 m) tall, is seen holding what could be two "staves", and is designed to look in proportion when viewed from below. Formerly thought to originate in the Iron Age or even the neolithic period, a 2003 archaeological investigation has shown that the figure may have been cut in the Early Modern era – the 16th or 17th century AD. From afar the figure appears to have been carved from the underlying chalk; but the modern figure is formed from white-painted breeze blocks.13:51 29/09/2016
Follow the path until you a reach a gate on the left that takes you into the churchyard. Enter the churchyard, and go round to the north porch and into the church to discover the murals by Bloomsbury Group artists.
Berwick Church is a Grade 1 listed building. It is built on what may well be a pre-Christian sacred site from which there are magnificent views of the South Downs. 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.
Leave the churchyard via the arched opening at the north-west end. Turn right and follow the path down into the village, taking the turning on the left uphill at the white marker stone marked 'Berwick Church'. Take the concrete track passing the sign marked 'footpath only' leading past the buildings at Church Farm. Continue along the track with trees on your left and follow as the path passes between two arable fields (it can be muddy underfoot in winter). In the summer watch nervy meadow pipits rising out of the grass.
At the end of the field, follow the hedge round as it curves left. Turn right at the gap in the middle of the hedge 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.
Follow the field edge towards the village of Alciston's 13th-century church. Pass through the gate in the corner on the right and take the path leading to the main street into Alciston.
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.
Alciston Tithe Barn
At over 55yd (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'.
Follow the lane as it winds back up towards the downs, where the trees form a canopy as you continue to walk. 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 after the bench and, a few paces on, take the left-hand path leading uphill.
After a gentle ascent with the scarp slope rising up ahead, cross the stile among the trees and follow the path running at an angle east along the escarpment up the hill. This section is very steep so why not take the opportunity to pause halfway up and turn to enjoy panoramic views across the Weald, with its patchwork of small fields and hedges. As you reach the stile near the top, you may hear skylarks singin overhead in spring and summer.
In spring, the downland around Alfriston is 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.
At the top, look out for Bostal Hills prehistoric tumuli, and take in the views across to the sprawl around Newhaven Harbour. CLimb over the stile and continue up towards the top of the slope. Turn left and follow the South Downs Way national trail along the top of the ridge. You will be able to enjoy views towards Cuckmere Valley and the Seven Sisters (much of which we care for). Follow the path along the summit heading east, passing through gates into further fields.
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. Walk along the track and enjoy views of St Andrew's church, the 'cathedral of the downs'. On your right is Alfriston Clergy House, the first built property acquired by the National Trust.
Alfriston 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.
Willows car park, off Alfriston High Street, grid ref: TQ522032
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