Conquering the Scarp

Lewes District Area

A short but tough climb up and over the steep slopes of the Downs between Lewes and Rodmell.


Start: Lewes railway station (Lewes-to-Seaford line)
End: Southease station (Lewes-to-Seaford line)

You can take bikes on trains except during peak hours. Normally only a few are allowed on any one train. At Lewes the ride links with National Cycle Network route 90. There are various public car parks in Lewes, including one at the station. There is limited parking at Southease near the youth hostel.

Route Notes

The route from Lewes is initially on a fairly busy road before you join Juggs Lane and then a grassy track into Kingston. PLEASE BE CAREFUL APPROACHING AND CROSSING THE KINGSTON ROAD – the hill down to the road is steep.

From Kingston you join the chalky and initially very steep track up to Kingston Ridge. At the top you join the South Downs Way and the route is mainly grassy until you reach the concrete track down towards Breaky Bottom Valley. The paved road into Rodmell is a long descent. Please be mindful of your speed as you come into Rodmell and reach the C7, and TAKE CARE CROSSING THE C7 Lewes to Newhaven road.

From Rodmell you follow a gravel track to join The Egrets Way, which in its early stages is grassy and best on top of the River Ouse levee. Before reaching Southease this becomes a gravel track again.

If you are heading to the YHA for refreshments, please be careful crossing the railway line and follow the instructions on the signs.

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About the Ride

This ride begins in Lewes, a traditional market town and the county town of East Sussex. Local landmarks include Lewes Castle (built shortly after Norman invasion in 1066 and one of the earliest examples of a medieval castle), Lewes Priory and Anne of Cleves House, a 16th-century timber-framed Wealden hall house that formed part of Queen Anne’s annulment settlement from King Henry VIII in 1540.

At the foot of the South Downs escarpment you pass Kingston. The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book and has a 13th-century church – St Pancras. The local pub, The Juggs, is named after the fish-carrying baskets that were once used by Brighton fisherfolk on their way to the market at Lewes.

Climbing the escarpment is tough but worth it for the amazing views from Kingston Ridge. What can you see? The escarpment here and at Iford Hill are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The steeply sloping chalk grassland is rich in minibeasts, such as Adonis Blue and Small Blue butterflies, and the nationally rare and specially protected wart-biter cricket. Amongst the diverse plant life are squinancywort and eyebright – both classic medicinal herbs used to treat throat and eye infections respectively.

The chalky soils and climate of the South Downs are suitable for growing wine, and a number of vineyards are making the most of conditions that are similar to the Champagne region of France. Sussex sparkling wines have become highly respected and you can find one of the earliest vineyards in Sussex in Breaky Bottom valley.

At the foot of the valley lies Rodmell. St Peter’s Church dates back to 12th century and is among earliest surviving examples of Norman architecture in the country. Monk’s House was the home of Virginia Woolf for 21 years until her death in 1941.

From here you ride beside the River Ouse towards Southease through Lewes Brooks SSSI – flood plains and water-filled ditches are home to rare amphibians, snails, flies, moths and beetles, and this is the only known site for the rare Lewes water beetle. Wet meadows provide nesting sites and feeding stations for a variety of birds. The RSPB carefully manage water levels here to create breeding and wintering habitats for the birds, including the Little Egret, the bird the Egrets Way cycle route from Lewes to Newhaven is named after.

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