South Downs Way – Frogs and White Horses

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The lovely Cuckmere River on South Downs Way

Some time ago….
From London’s Victoria Station we board the bus and head off to Eastbourne, a 3 hr trip to the south coast. Most of the time was snoozing time. At Eastbourne, we then walked the 1and ½ miles to the Beachy Head Youth Hostel (no longer operational). If you are hostelling, stay at Eastbourne or make Frog Firle your next night’s accommodation.

This was my first English youth hostel. It’s a large house, fairly simply set up. They have dinner, breakfast and you can get a lunch pack to take away. The rooms are dormitories – male and female. There is a small store here which sells sweets, drinks and badges. £3.05 for a bed (£11.90 these days), £1.80 dinner, £1.40 breakfast. Every over-nighter has to perform a small duty while they’re here – sweeping, cleaning. There are showers, toilets and you can cook your own food too. These hostels are open from 5.00pm to 10.00am. The youth hostel guide books give you all the pertinent details. There are eight kids who make a bit of a racket. What a fantastic sleep, nevertheless.

Thursday: Beachy Head – Frog Firle
Awake refreshed and have breakfast. My duty is to sweep the porch, while Carol sweeps half of the lounge room. We say bye to the hostel’s female assistant manager and walk to the bus stop to wait for the bus to East Dean. It arrives 40 minutes after it was due – what a pain. We get off the bus at East Dean and follow the road down to Burling Gap, sited on the chalk cliffs above the sea.

This is the South Downs Way Walk.

The route is well marked and we perambulate up and down over the Seven Sisters – a series of chalk spurs, then down the grassy steep slope to the Cuckmere River and across to Exceat.

We rest from time to time and consult the maps in the guidebook. Then a tiring walk up a steep hill across Friston Forest and a short visit to West Dean church, constructed around 1100AD.

There is evidence that King Alfred stayed here in ‘Dene’ when ships were able to sail right up the valley. The Old Parsonage next to the church is the oldest priest’s house in England still in occupation.

Dedicated to All Saints, West Dean church is also the most ancient in the Cuckmere Valley.

Further on we came to a view of the White Horse, on the other side of the valley above the village at Hindover (High and Over). The story is that in the late 1800s this horse was cut into the downs probably to attract tourists from nearby Brighton, who could travel the coast by train.

Then across to Litlington, a cutesy village. It was here in Litlington, in 1786 Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert who lived at Clapham house in the village, secretly married the Prince Regent as Mr and Mrs Payne. The prince later became George IV.

A walk along Plough Lane brings us to the Frog Firle Youth Hostel – also known as the Alfriston Youth Hostel. It’s a large building with enough accommodation for 60 people. This is classed as a superior hostel. The common room has low beams and a Jacobean era? Fireplace, which really looks impressive.

It’s described as a “16th Century house overlooking the Cuckmere Valley, in a pretty village”.

This Sussex flint house, partly dating from 1530 with a Tudor beamed lounge, is just a mile from the picturesque village of Alfriston.
We had enough time to explore the house; the hooks in the attic were once used by pilgrims on their way to a shrine in Chichester, to attach their hammocks. Princess Anne stayed here while achieving her Duke of Edinburgh Award. And Lord (Dennis) Healey owns the house opposite.

We meet Hugh from South Africa, Alan and Jane from London and Graeme and his wife, from the north. The atmosphere at these hostels is great. The five of us pop over to the Plough and Harrow for a pint. Around 30 people in the hostel tonight.

Tomorrow, off to Telscombe.

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