Staying around London and have a spare day, a car, and a sense of adventure? This one day East Sussex road trip itinerary might just be for you.
Growing up in London I’ve always had Sussex on my doorstep, just a stone’s throw away down the M23. But to be honest, it’s an area I’ve rarely explored, save for the occasional football away day, and frequent trips to Gatwick for adventures further afield.
So when Dan informed me we were heading down to East Sussex for a pub lunch with an old work friend, the road tripper in me remained unstirred.
Somewhere along the M23 though, singing along to a catchy tune, the conversation inevitably found its way around to the question every road trip addict will eventually ask, “so what else can we do down this way then?”.
The answer is, plenty!
The Devil’s Dyke
Once you’ve passed Gatwick on the M23, it’s not too long before you find yourself on Devil’s Dyke Road, winding your way upwards until you come to a small car park with a breathtaking view over the valley below.
Legend has it the Devil planned to dig the dyke to enable the sea to flood the Weald and drown the local Christian community. Fortunately for the locals, he was disturbed by the crowing of a cockerel and fled, believing dawn was approaching. In reality the cockerel had been woken by an old lady who, being disturbed by the Devil’s work, had lit a candle.
Whether you believe the colourful legend, or are inclined to side with scientists who say the dyke was formed over 10,000 years ago during the last ice age, there’s little doubt that the UK’s largest dry valley is a feast for the eyes, with spectacular views over the Wield, South Downs and, on a clear day, the Isle of Wight.
If you can drag yourself away from the panorama and back into the car, it’s only a few minutes’ drive to the Devil’s Dyke Pub, at the top of the winding road.
At this point you’ll have a difficult choice to make. If you want to experience walking some of the South Downs Way and have a tasty lunch at a cosy 18th century country pub, there’s a nice 45-minute, mostly downhill walk to the Shepherd & Dog in the village of Fulking.
Alternatively, if you don’t fancy the uphill walk back from Fulking, you can enjoy a nice ale (a half for the driver) and some decent pub food on the terrace of the Devil’s Dyke pub, and watch the hang gliders launch from the hillside in front of you.
After a hearty lunch and a beer or two, you may well find yourself sitting on the hill deep in thought and mesmerised by the view. At this point, you’ll be thinking this is the highlight of your East Sussex road trip, and leaving will be the last thing on your mind, but with so much more to explore today, leave you must.
Back in the car, it’s just 15 minutes’ drive to Ditchling Beacon, the highest point in East Sussex at 248 metres above sea level. There’s a small National Trust car park here that costs £2 to use. While we were able to pay at a small National Trust kiosk in the car park, you may need to use the RingGo app (or call the number provided) if the carpark is unattended.
The site of an Early Iron Age hill fort, Ditchling Beacon was used to warn locals of pending invasion for hundreds of years, most notably to alert Queen Elizabeth I to the presence of the Spanish Armada coming up the channel in 1588.
While little evidence of the hill fort still exists, the area remains extremely popular with cyclists, runners, ramblers and those of us on an East Sussex road trip adventure, who come to enjoy the panoramic views of the Downs, the Weald and on a good day, the ocean.
The Seven Sisters
The next stage of our East Sussex road trip has us entering the National Trust carpark at Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters into Google maps.
Around 45 minutes later, any fatigue you may have will be well and truly swept away by the wind howling off the English Channel as you stand at the southern edge of England looking out over the iconic Seven Sisters, a series of spectacular white chalk cliffs just west of Eastbourne.
Formed largely of compacted algae when most of Great Britain was under the sea more than 80 million years ago, the chalk cliffs have been shaped and reshaped by the elements for millennia. It’s a process that continues to this day with ongoing erosion and frequent collapses, making this a beautiful but fragile jewel in the crown of southern England.
It’s worth planning for a good chunk of time here so you can explore the area properly, enjoying views of the chalk cliffs from the viewing platform and allowing time to explore the beach.
On the eastern side of the car park, there’s a pathway that leads up the hill to the top of the cliffs. We happened to be up here towards sunset and the views across the beach towards the cliffs in the distance were nothing short of spectacular.
Our final stop of the day is Alfriston Village, just a short drive from the Seven Sisters and a picture-perfect example of a traditional English country village. It’s said that English poet Eleanor Farjeon wrote the hymn, “Morning Has Broken” in Alfriston, inspired by its beauty.
Due to its location on the South Downs Way, Alfriston is hugely popular with hikers and bikers, and also provides road trippers like ourselves with a perfect spot to wait out the evening rush hour.
Settle into the cosy, 14th-century George Inn, one of Sussex Life Magazine’s top 20 cosy winter pubs in 2015, and grab yourself a nice glass of red and a cheese board, or something more substantial if you’re appetite has kicked in again, and reflect on a beautiful day exploring the East Sussex countryside.
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East Sussex Road Trip Itinerary
- Stage 1 – London to Devil’s Dyke Lookout – 69 km – 1 hr 15 min
- Stage 2 – Devil’s Dyke Lookout to Devil’s Dyke Pub- 1 km – 4 min
- Stage 3 – Devil’s Dyke Pub to Ditchling Beacon – 12 km – 15 min
- Stage 4 – Ditchling Beacon to Seven Sisters – 40 km – 45 min
- Stage 5 – Seven Sisters to The George Inn Alfriston – 12 km – 20 min
- Stage 6 – The George Inn Alfriston to London – 96 km – 1 hr 30 min
- Total Driving Distance – 194 km
- Total Driving Time – 4 hr 9 min
If you’re looking for more great road tripping itineraries and adventures, check out our Road Trips category!