Pain or no pain I was going to finish the Vanguard Way no matter what!

I might have been slow but judicial application of Ibuprofen and well-placed rest stops meant we were able to forge on to the finish line and do ourselves proud. This section of the Vanguard Way is a spectacular way to finish a 4 day walk and we were blessed with the weather changing for the better at the last moment.

Starting point: Chiddingly, reachable Monday to Saturday by 54 bus from Eastbourne or East Grinstead. Or by 143 bus Monday to Friday from Lewes or Eastbourne. You have to get off at Golden Cross and walk a further 3/4 mile to Chiddingly.

Finishing point: Newhaven Town railway station. Usually reachable by train or replacement bus services to Lewes.

Length: 19.4 miles (31.3km).

Ordnance Survey Maps route link here

Download the GPX file for this route here Vanguard Way Day 4, Chiddingly to Newhaven

A rabbit along the Vanguard Way near Golden CrossAs expected we struggled to get going at the slightly earlier hour we chose to arise. Ankles creaking through Chiddingly because of the previous day’s exertions we took a few minutes to admire this pretty village. Slightly outdated signs reading ‘Vote NO to Land Raise’ highlight how at-risk the countryside is in parts of south-east England. Here East Sussex County Council tried to solve the urban waste problem by allowing green belt land to be used for landfill. Not on our watch screamed the entire rural lobbying base and thumped that motion head-first into the fertile and probably newly muck-spread soil. Where the waste will actually go I have no idea…

One of hundreds of corn husks along the Vanguard Way day 4The Vanguard Way takes you through the Chiddingly churchyard and across a weirdly proportioned cricket pitch. We beat a few stiles and immediately noticed the weird trail of corn husks that we were to follow for the rest of the day. As it was winter we had no way of knowing whether the husks were the result of strong local corn harvests or some voracious corn gobble monster striding through the East Sussex countryside.

The outskirts of Golden Cross were memorable only for the A22 and the disgusting stinky alley you traverse on the other side of it.

We passed some small ponds and Martyn revealed his extensive knowledge of emergency cooking ingredient sourcing by pointing out that bulrushes can be used as an alternative for normal flour. Which reminded me that I really need to learn a lot more about what I’m seeing along these routes.

The path continues past an amazing manor house and then turns right and straight for a few kilometres. Two horses, four motorbikers, and two cars were the only people to pass us for a long time. It’s so under-used that the local dogs would charge up and down the fences beside the road, yelling angrily at us for daring to approach their territory.

A manor house south of Golden Cross along the Vanguard Way

The long road forming the Vanguard Way beyond Chalvington

A short while later we were crossing a field near Arlington Reservoir and became a bit unclear about where exactly the path lay. As we started walking across the front of a large house, following a footpath, the elderly and exceedingly posh owner signalled from inside the conservatory that we were on the wrong path. He came out and had a friendly conversation with us. Berwick level crossing on the Vanguard WayHe’s right that people do feel a bit embarrassed passing so close to a house, and his alternative route avoiding the garden is a better route to be sure, but he needs to make his blazes a little more clear really. Not that he was angry at us, he stated that he fully respected the footpath that does run past his home.

We had to wait at the level crossing beside Berwick railway station for about ten minutes before we reached a point where we could view the chalk Longman on the South Downs. Every step felt like we were closing rapidly on the end. We really were making excellent progress.

The chalk Longman on the South Downs near Wilmington

A woman approached us and asked if we were the South Bank Ramblers, we were not, and then we spotted a few other people milling around for a group stroll. This was really the first indication of the Vanguard Way being a popular stroll in these parts.

Looking towards the South Downs and the Cuckmere Meanders from the Vanguard Way

Just past here we edged around a field rather than tackle the enormous furrows across it. My ankles certainly didn’t need that additional grief. Two other walkers had elected to cross using the actual route, even though it had been decimated by plough, and I shouted over to them ‘Good luck!’. The man’s reply that he liked a challenge felt funny considering the past few days of our own experiences. Today was a lot easier on us though as we’d avoided rain overnight.

I knew there was a pub in Berwick village, which is a mile or two from the railway station of the same name, so we aimed for it. Unfortunately it was only 11:30am and a Sunday so it didn’t open for another half hour. The Cricketers Arms looks like an amazing sun trap, when it’s open. One for the future sadly.

Onwards! Berwick is obviously well-walked as there are blazes all over the place. We stepped out of the village and admired the rolling green fields leading up to Alfriston. Groups of walkers dotted the undulating path and most of them shot us weird looks as we passed by. We didn’t look that grubby really. Surely. Though maybe they could smell us?

Alfriston from the north end of the Cuckmere MeandersWe stopped in at the Market Inn and supped on a pint of local Longman ale to give us the boost needed for the next few hours. I could only manage to tread slowly out of Alfriston.

Yet more tight kissing gates drew us along the start of the Cuckmere Meanders. Martyn was sincerely underwhelmed at this point because he thought this was it. That there was nothing more to them.

As we left the river at Litlington we found a weird ‘Toads On Road’ sign before climbind up onto the South Downs at last.

The giant white horse overlooking the Cuckmere Meanders

The beautiful White Horse across the valley meant that we had scenes of interest whichever way we looked. To our left a tractor was ploughing a huge field whilst being bombarded by gulls, ahead was the full bulk of the South Downs, behind us lay Alfriston – all beautiful in their own ways. Banana bread Soreen loaf and pumpkin seeds refuelled us as I realised my disappointment at having to drop steeply, and re-climb the South Downs near Exceat.

Tractor plagued by gulls just south of Litlington along the Vanguard Way

And then we had to do it again.

But this time we were in for a treat. The final climb on this side of the Cuckmere River began in cloudy conditions but when we emerged onto the hillside overlooking the English Channel we were bathed in strong sunlight. It was pretty much perfect. THIS is why we walk these routes. THIS is the reward you deserve for challenging yourself so much.

The sun came out just as we reached the viewpoint over the Cuckmere Meanders along the Vanguard Way

The Meanders and the Channel glistened as Martyn fished a hip flask out of his bag. A good single malt is needed to celebrate a view like this.

The Cuckmere Meanders emptying into the English Channel

We rested for a good half hour before dragging ourselves away from this view. Down, across Exceat Bridge, and then south we went.

At long last the Seven Sisters flashed their chalky white faces at us. Dominant and brilliant they arc away from you with the Channel lying dark and in stark contrast in this light, the Beachy Head lighthouse clearly visible in the clear air.

The Seven Sisters and distant Beachy Head

Every few metres we had no choice but to stop and look back the way we’d come, and east towards hidden Eastbourne. There were still remarkably few people up here. Why is it so neglected?

The cliffs between the Cuckmere Meanders and Seaford along the Vanguard Way

Me and Martyn as Long Men along the Vanguard WayThese cliffs provide just enough height for you to be able to discern the dark line on the horizon that is France. It was here that the scale of the walk hit me. Countless people have walked further before, and endless numbers will do so in future but this felt like a big thing for me to have done. Especially after the pains of 2012. No more, my knee was still in fine condition. I was astounded.

My ankles were pretty awful by now but really I didn’t care any more. I just had to make it the final six miles. The cliffs eventually dropped away sharply to open up the wide and sparkling views over Seaford. Newhaven was barely visible but we knew it was there. We could even make out Brighton in the furthest distance.

Seaford from the cliffs overlooking the town from the Vanguard Way

A plonker walking along precarious cliffs near SeafordThe slowest descent in history began now. About 15 hours later I made it to the bottom, directly onto the Seaford waterfront.

The pastel beach huts lay dormant in this early season but a welcome tea shack gave me my first proper cuppa in 70-odd miles. Then came the Napoleonic era fortification-cum-museum. Otherwise Seaford is really in need of a bit of love. The waterfront would benefit from some nice quiet restaurants or wine bars. A posh restaurant here or there with a good terrace.

I can understand that they wouldn’t want a noisy loutish beach but they desperately need a bit of life here.

Beach huts on Seaford waterfront, final stages of the Vanguard Way

THERE ISN’T EVEN A FISH AND CHIP SHOP.

And that, my friends, is a disgrace.

As the sun sunk into the Channel the sky burned orange and the fishing boats headed home. We left Seaford along paths through the ruins of old tidemills, and picked up a woman companion who was a bit concerned to be out here and lost as the sun disappeared.

A fishing boat plagued by gulls returning home to Newhaven Harbour from the Vanguard Way

As the last mile of the Vanguard Way disappeared we joined the railway line into Newhaven Harbour. We were supposed to finish here but we still hadn’t seen a chippy. It was suspiciously quiet but we didn’t twig that until we reached Newhaven Town, still minus a chippy. And then we discovered that there were no trains running.

“Sigh.”

I had checked but clearly things had changed. We were gently reprimanded by the rail replacement bus driver as he picked us up from the ‘wrong stop’ and proceeded to whizz along black roads away from the Vanguard Way. Martyn revealed a big of sweet nuts he had been saving for four days as a final treat.

We’d done it. 73ish miles in total due to the accumulation of slight mistakes and deliberate diversions. It had been damn hard work but it really was worth every ache. We were smelly and a bit dead when we got to Lewes and realised we’d missed the connection train home, but yet another pint and the pub’s final portion of bitterballen proved to be a nice way to finish the trip.

There you have it. A brilliant route which is pretty well marked throughout and full of surprises. You pass through Surrey, Kent, and East Sussex as you connect the city to the sea. You discover areas where you are pretty much entirely alone, and then you find some of the nicest people. You can reach the start by Oyster Card and you can be back in Croydon just two hours after you finish, four days later.

It’s stretching the definition of a ‘Walk Around London’ but I’m more than happy to make that leap. Whether you tackle it in one go or several please make sure you do.