Eastbourne to Rathfinny Wine Estate
Sussex Modern Stories | 10 minutes read
Travel by bus over wild cliffs to the Seven Sisters Country Park, before hopping on an e-bike and meandering around the sparkling Cuckmere valley to Rathfinny Wine Estate.
On the map
Eastbourne to Seven Sisters
Arrive at Eastbourne Station by train. Leave the station by the front entrance (to the left as you come through the barriers), cross at the pedestrian crossing to your right and walk 50m up Gildredge Road to bus stop F, where you can hop on the 12A or 12X Coaster bus (every 12 minutes). Get a seat on the left side of the bus for the best sightlines across the cliffs and sea, sit back and enjoy the views as the bus meanders for 20 minutes across billowing, blustery downs, over the prow of Beachy head–the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain–and the 19th century Belle Tout lighthouse (now a B&B). You’ll pass through the sleepy Beachy Head village of East Dean, where 16th-century smugglers’ haunt The Tiger Inn offers a warm welcome for windswept walkers.
Hire a bike at Seven Sisters Country Park
Hop off the bus at Seven Sisters Country Park Visitor Centre, and cross the road (carefully) to Cuckmere Cycle Company – a bike hire business in the historic barn that sits directly in front of you. This is where the adventure really begins. Pick up your e-bikes: it’s time to cycle.
Litlington, Lullington and Alfriston
Leave Cuckmere Cycle Company through the leafy visitor centre car park at the back (ask the staff to point you in the right direction if you’re unsure). Turn right out of the car park onto a quiet lane (Litlington Road), and you’re on your way.
Now all you need to do is follow the lane (which also happens to form part of National Cycle Route 2) as it winds inland through the valley floor, along the edge of Friston Forest to the village of Litlington. Remember to look out for the Litlington White Horse, which will be on your left side as you cycle towards Litlington. The 19th-century horse is one of two chalk hill figures in Sussex – the other one being the Long Man of Wilmington.
If you’re feeling adventurous and up for an off-road shortcut, take a sharp left at Litlington to cross the Cuckmere River via the footpath and wooden footbridge. The somewhat narrow path will then lead you up the opposite hillside straight towards Rathfinny Estate – just turn right off the footpath, cycle along White Way, and you’ll see the entrance to Rathfinny on your left.
If you decide to stick with the road instead, then continue through Litlington, past the Long Man Brewery and the excellent Cadence Cycle Club, where protein-packed snacks and barista coffee await. You’ll be passing by here on your return journey too, so if you don’t stop now then you could always call in on your way back.
After leaving the village, the lane continues to wind along the valley, sheltered by gnarly green branches reaching out from the forest. Stick to this road until the village of Lullington. Pass a beautiful old house and farm buildings on your left, then take a sharp left after the wooden barn (signposted towards Alfriston).
Pass the houses of Lullington until the trees fall away and the landscape opens out. Across the valley, look out for the angular spire of the 14th-century St Andrew’s Church, known as the Cathedral of the South Downs due to its size and soaring arches. At Lullington, there’s another chance to scoot across the valley to Alfriston via a signed footpath (opposite an old flint barn) and a wooden bridge. Take care: this way can get muddy after wet weather, and sometimes floods when the river is high. If you do take this path on a dry day, you’ll find yourself quickly in the village of Alfriston, where you should turn left and follow the high street all the way to Rathfinny.
If you prefer tarmac, then simply follow the lane all the way to a small junction, and veer left across the valley floor (signposted Alfriston). You’ll cross the Cuckmere River via an old stone bridge, then take a left onto a bigger road for a short while, until you reach the Saxon village of Alfriston – one of the oldest in the county, with its tumbling timber-framed buildings and famous 14th-century clergy house. On your right as you pass through the village centre you’ll see the Star Inn – originally a religious hostel built in 1345, becoming an inn sometime in the 1500s and now a smart boutique hotel and restaurant. The red lion in front of the Inn is supposedly a ship’s figurehead, connected to a salty Alfriston smuggling gang who frequented the pub in the 19th-century.
But, enough of the history lesson. Where’s the wine? It’s very close now. Pedal through the village and out the other side, and within half a mile you’ll see the entrance to Rathfinny Wine Estate on your right-hand side.
Rathfinny Wine Estate
Now this is where you’ll be very glad you chose the electric bike. Let the motor do the work as you glide up the long, steep driveway through the vineyards, all the way to the estate buildings. In the summer months look out for The Hut – a sleek shepherd’s hut selling snacks and drinks – parked outside the winery. In the winter months, it moves into the sheltered courtyard of the Flint Barns, which are to be found all the way at the end of the drive. Thankfully, there’s one hell of a view to keep you company as you meander through the endless vineyards of one of England’s largest single-site wine estates – and arguably one of the most perfectly-positioned vineyards in Europe.
You’ve made it. Celebrate with a glass of Sussex Sparkling, a relaxed lunch in the Flint Barns Dining Room or – if you’re feeling really pleased with yourself after that cycle – splash out in the Michelin-recommended Tasting Room Restaurant. Pick up a bottle of something to take home with you (or drink on the train – we won’t judge) before setting off on your way.
The long and winding road home
Now it’s time to head back again. The good news is that to get back to Cuckmere Cycle Company, all you need to do is retrace your path in the opposite direction. If you didn’t stop at Cadence Cycle Hub on your way to Rathfinny, then now’s the time for your pit stop. Other than that, it’s an easy breezy ride back through the valley.
After dropping off your bikes, walk through the visitor centre to the bus stop, and wait for the 12A or 12X Coaster bus to take you back to Eastbourne Station. In the wooden bus shelter, a few lines from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s ‘View Eastward over the Weald from Blackdown Forest’ offer up a hearty epilogue to what we hope has been a wonderful adventure in the Cuckmere Valley.
You came, and looked and loved the view
Long-known and loved by me,
Green Sussex fading into blue
With one gray glimpse of sea.
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