Chalk downland and seacliffs, the battlefield of Hastings, Rye’s Mermaid Street, hopfields and oasthouses, and Sissinghurst garden!
A self-guided walking tour.
2018 dates: April to mid-October, starting on any day. During some periods accommodation can be heavily booked. Please give alternative dates if possible. If you wish to include a visit to Sissinghurst Castle Garden (National Trust) near Cranbrook (night 7 of this tour) please note that this may be closed on 1 or 2 days every week. To avoid disappointment, check with us before booking. Our route passes another superb garden on day 6 at Great Dixter, which is normally closed on Mondays, except bank holiday Mondays. In 2018 there are English bank holidays on Easter Monday, the first and last Mondays in May and the last Monday in August.
Duration: 5 or 7 nights.
Grade: Moderate. Daily distances range up to 20km/13 miles. Some gradients on the South Downs Way (days 2 and 3) and Saxon Shore Way (Day 5) are steep and strenuous. However days can readily be shortened by using buses, trains or taxis. We provide local bus timetables. Routefinding is generally easy on the well-marked coastal paths (days 2,3,4); field and woodland paths in the Weald (days 6 and 7) require close attention to our detailed route notes.
Tour prices: See “Tour prices” below.
Tour code: X5E (5 nights); X7E (7 nights).
X5E: Night 1 Lewes; 2 Alfriston; 3 Hastings; 4,5 Rye.
X7E: Nights 1 to 5 as 5 night tour, then night 6 near Bodiam Castle; night 7 Cranbrook.
Accommodation. Specially selected guest houses or ‘B&Bs’. En suite or private facilities can be guaranteed throughout the tour on payment of a supplement. Please enquire for details.
Meals included. Breakfast each morning. Other meals can be obtained locally without pre-booking.
Extra nights. These can be included at any point on the tour at the time of booking the holiday. We already include an extra night at Rye, which is a beautiful historic town from which many excursions can be made.
An extra night at Lewes provides an opportunity for visits to the nearby coastal resort of Brighton (20 minutes by train) or to the Glyndebourne opera house.
For those who would like more opportunity for hiking on the South Downs Way National Trail and other fine footpaths we suggest an extra night at Alfriston (normally night 2). For those on the 5 night tour who would like to include a visit to Bodiam Castle (open every day throughout our season) this can easily be reached by bus (no bus service on Sundays) from Hastings (normally night 3). Battle Abbey and the adjacent site of the 1066 battle (both open to the public every day) are only about 6 miles/10km from Hastings and can also be easily reached from the town by train (7 days per week) or by hourly bus.
An extra night at Cranbrook would allow time for a leisurely visit to Sissinghurst Castle garden (may be closed 1 or 2 days per week). Please enquire re price of extra nights at any point: we charge cost price plus a small commission.
Start of tour Lewes rail station; end of 5 night tour Rye rail station; end of 7 night tour Staplehurst rail station (bus or taxi from Cranbrook).
Rail stations. To the starting point at Lewes there are hourly direct trains from London Victoria via Gatwick Airport. Journey time from Victoria 1 hour; from Gatwick 30 minutes. At end of 5-night tour hourly train service from Rye: for Gatwick change trains at Hastings; for London change at Hastings or Ashford. At end of 7-night tour hourly train service from Staplehurst to London; for Gatwick change trains at Tonbridge.
Eurostar. The nearest Eurostar station is Ashford International, which has direct trains to Lewes, Rye and Staplehurst. From London St Pancras International change trains at Gatwick Airport or Hayward’s Heath for Lewes. From Rye to St Pancras change trains at Brighton. From Staplehurst change trains at London Bridge. There is also a Eurostar station at Ebbsfleet, which has more frequent Eurostar trains than Ashford and is linked with Ashford by frequent local train.
Airports. The nearest international airport is London Gatwick (LGW), where the train station is in South Terminal. From London Heathrow (LHR) travel to Lewes via London Victoria (underground from Heathrow) or via Gatwick Airport rail station (bus from Heathrow).
Tour code X5E:
5 night tour, ES or private facilities every night: £525. SRS*: £125. STS**: £165.
Tour code X7E:
7 night tour, ES or private facilities every night: £675. SRS*: £175. STS**: £245.
Please read the notes below on pricing:
- Extra nights £60 per person per night. Single room £80 per person per night.
- SRS* = single room supplement (applicable when 3 or 5 persons book together).
- STS** = solo traveller supplement (applicable when booking is for one person only)
Prices quoted are per person on basis of two people in double or twin-bedded rooms. Included in the price are bed and breakfast each night, with baggage transfers, maps and route directions. ‘ES’ (en suite) facilities means that there is a private bathroom with shower or tub and toilet within the main door of your room. ‘Private facilities’ means that the private bathroom is outside the main door of your room. When the booking is made for a party of 3 or 5 customers, a single room supplement is payable. When the booking is made for a single traveller, a solo traveller supplement is payable. Note: normally a maximum of 1 single room per booking.
Some of Britain’s best hiking is to be found on the high chalk ridges or ‘downs’ of Sussex. Starting from the historic county town of Lewes, for the first two days our route follows the South Downs Way National Trail to the English Channel coast. Here the Downs end abruptly at the famous chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.
Further east on our route is the site of the Battle of Hastings where in 1066 the invading Duke William of Normandy defeated the English king Harold and changed the course of English – and world – history. The little town of Battle grew up around the abbey founded by the site of William’s victory. Hastings itself was in the middle ages one of the confederation of Cinque Ports, and here fishing boats are still winched up the beach to the fishmarket with its picturesque black ‘net shops’.
Eastwards from Hastings the ‘Saxon Shore trail’ first follows a line of dramatic sandstone cliffs where deep wild wooded valleys sweep down to the rocky shore, then crosses the flat sheep pastures of Romney Marsh to the two ‘Ancient Towns’ of Winchelsea and Rye. Rye is indeed a gem, with its cobbled lanes – including the celebrated Mermaid Street and quaint houses. The town has many other attractions, including extensive views over Romney Marsh to the sea. Here at Lamb House – open to the public just two afternoons per week – the novelist Henry James lived from 1898 to 1916. For those on the longer 7-night tour our route strikes inland from Rye for two days across the orchards, hopfields and woodlands of the High Weald to the magnificent moated castle of Bodiam (a National Trust site, open daily), and the pretty whitewashed timberclad houses of the market town of Cranbrook. A little way outside Cranbrook, and also maintained by the National Trust, is Sissinghurst Castle Garden, made famous by Vita Sackville-West. The garden is open to the public 5 days each week.
Great Dixter, another fine garden on our route, is open daily except Mondays. See www.greatdixter.co.uk
More images of this tour…How to Book
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