Roedean Café to Rottingdean circular
This is a walk of 4-5 miles, which can easily be shortened by taking a bus
from Rottingdean back to the start point. (Frequent services leave from outside
the White Horse.) Rottingdean has many pubs and cafes and is worth exploring in
its own right. It also has a beach that's good for swimming at high tide and
rock-pooling at low tide. This walk is ideal for a summer evening - easily
accessible from Brighton but soon bringing you to countryside and a picturesque
village with a Saxon church. There are also glorious downland and sea views - so
there are some easy climbs on the route. Roedean Café is on the A259 just to the
east of the Marina, and can be reached by any of the buses that go to Saltdean,
Rottingdean or Eastbourne. There is a car park by the café, and toilets at the
back that are open for public use when the café is open. Explorer map 122 covers
1. The bus stop is by a high brick wall. Walk towards Brighton to find the
entrance to the café and miniature golf course. You need to cross the golf
course to reach the north east corner - nearest to Roedean school - you can see
the large, gothic buildings dominating the skyline to the east.
See story of Roedean School.
Head eastwards, towards the school. Where Roedean Way turns north at the corner of a field, there is a footpath continuing east along the boundary of Roedean school grounds. Follow this footpath to the south east corner of the field near the school.
2. You will see a path going up a steep bank towards a squeeze-through stile. This is where the return route will come. For the outward journey, stay on the lower footpath as it turns north, still skirting the large field. Continue until you see a three-step stile on your right which leads to a path going east up the hill. Follow this path along the fence line to the stile at the top, which turns out not to be the top when you reach it. This is a good place to take a rest as the view back westwards is magnificent. On a clear day you can see past Worthing as far as Selsey Bill.
3. Continue on the same path until it does reach the top of the hill at the
end of the next field. The view across to Rottingdean and the east is now before
you. Climb the next stile and walk down by the hedge on your left. The field
slopes steeply down towards a wall where you can see an opening with a stile.
There is a badger sett just south of this stile. Climb the stile and take the
stone step in the wall beneath the horse chestnut tree. Walk down the side of
this field, keeping close to the wall on your right. After the second ash tree,
before you reach the road, there is a stone step in the wall on your right,
which you climb and find yourself by the gate into the churchyard of St
see story St Wulfran's, Ovingdean
4. Walk away from the church and past the green with its small sarsen stones,
to the road, where you turn right. Follow the road which winds through the
village heading south east. When you pass the allotments, you can cross the road
onto the pavement to walk past the junction with Ainsworth Avenue.
This small allotments site is near to the rectory and may therefore have been one of the sites granted in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, often by vicars on glebe lands. These allotments were enormously important to the poor who'd lost grazing and other rights to common land when land was enclosed, and who were losing rural occupations through mechanization of farming.
5. Continue down the road towards St Dunstan's and turn left up Beacon Hill.
When you reach house number 29 turn right onto Beacon Hill itself where you can
see a grassy path going diagonally towards the south east and up the hill.
Follow this path, to the sound of skylarks singing if the season is right,
See story about Skylarks
up to the top of the hill where it meets a path heading towards the sea. Take this way and continue, crossing another path and walking to the east of the bank round an empty pond. On the east side of this bank, there are three paths - take the middle one which goes south-east down towards low-growing trees to your left. When you reach the point where you can see most of the windmill. Take the path to your left which leads to a gap in the trees where a wide track goes down between allotments and pony paddocks. (There are lots of criss-crossing paths on Beacon Hill and if you take the "wrong" one it doesn't matter much as they all lead down into Rottingdean, where you will be able to pick up the route directions again.)
See story about Beacon Hill windmill
6. After the allotments this track reaches the road, which you need to cross
towards a flint wall then bear left around the Kipling Gardens.
These were the gardens of The Elms which was where Rudyard Kipling lived from 1897 until 1902. He wrote "Kim" and many of the "Just So Stories" at this time. There are rose and herb gardens here and the whole area is a delight of nooks and crannies and sunny spots.
When the pavement comes to an end, cross the road, turn right and walk down until you are in front of St Margaret's church, Rottingdean.
This church, part of which is Saxon and part built by William de Warrenne in Norman times, is famous for its 7 Burne-Jones windows, made by William Morris. Sir Edward Burne Jones' ashes are buried in the churchyard.
Look across the road at the wall and to the right of the wooden gate at about head height you will find the wishing stone.
See story about the wishing stone
From here continue down towards the pond and go to the right of it into Whipping Post Lane.
The whipping post stood where the pollarded chestnut tree now stands in the garden of Whipping Post Cottage. This house was occupied by Captain Dunk, one of Rottingdean's most notorious smugglers, in the early 19th century. He was also the village butcher.
Bear right and you will emerge onto Rottingdean's narrow pavemented High Street where you will find shops, cafes, pubs and toilets. Follow the road down to the beach.
See story about Rottingdean beach
An earlier inn on the site of the White Horse was the coaching stop on the road between Dover and Brighton. Erosion of the cliff here has been extremely rapid with the road having to be rebuilt many times. Photographs from the early years of the 20th century show houses between the inn and the cliff top. Sea defences now protect the coast road and cost millions to maintain.
7. The return walk starts from the beach. When the Undercliff path is open you can return to Brighton by this route - it is impossible to lose your way as the sea stays to the left of you and the cliffs to the right. The alternative route starts by walking westwards, past the White Horse Inn, and up onto the grassy cliff top to the left of the main road. It is possible to walk back to the starting point on this cliff top path though you will have the company of the nearby road all the way.
8. Our suggested route is to continue along the cliff top until you reach the bus stop opposite the Windmill Golf Course café. Cross the road here (easier said than done) and walk up towards the café building. Walk through the gap to the right of the building and up towards the windmill keeping to the perimeter of the golf course, passing the mill and continuing up the hill until you come to a grassy track that leads up towards the British Legion's millenium memorial stone. Your path splits into 3 here - take the middle one and continue to a crossing of paths by some low-growing evergreen trees on your right. Take the left turn and continue to the top of the hill. You can see the top two storeys of St Dunstan's on your left and on your right the long mound with the dip in the middle is Beacon Hill long barrow - a neolithic burial mound.
9. Your path continues down the hill bringing you right up against St
Dunstan's hedge. Turn right to follow an old hedge line between a field to your
left and Beacon Hill to your right. Walk along until you come to Beacon Hill
road which you will recognise from the outward journey. Turn left and walk down
to the Ovingdean road. Cross over and look for the stile and footpath sign
opposite, which leads into a path going westwards up the hill. Half-way up the
hill the path goes over a stile into the next field. Climb over and continue
uphill in the same direction now on the north side of the hedge. Pass the sewage
tunnel vent, and the stile that leads into Roedean school grounds. A little way
ahead in the corner of the field you will see the footpath stile. Climb over and
follow the path which keeps close to the boundary of the school grounds. You
will come to the squeeze-through stile and the steep bank down to the footpath
you took at the beginning of the walk. Turn left and re-trace your steps across
the miniature golf course to return to the starting point.
Philip (a lawyer) and Margaret Lawrence brought up 14 children from 1857
onwards. Penelope and Dorothy were 2 of the older daughters who went to Newnham
College Cambridge when women were allowed to study but were not awarded degrees.
Millicent undertook teacher training. When Philip was injured and no longer able
to work, Margaret took in pupils to support the family. They moved to Sussex
Square in Brighton and set up a school run by Millicent, Dorothy and Penelope.
At one time 8 of the sisters were teaching at the school which advocated
physical outdoor games for the girls as well as high academic standards.
These ideas were considered shocking at the time - the Schools Inquiry Commission (Taunton Commission), which sat from 1864 to 1868 showed that there were only thirteen secondary schools for girls in the whole country and recorded that 'the notion that Women have minds as cultivable, as well as worth cultivating, as Men's minds is still regarded by the British parent as an offensive, not to say revolutionary, paradox'.
But the school continued to grow and by 1895 it needed larger premises. The sisters raised capital and subscriptions to buy land and build Roedean. It was finished by 1899 and by 1906 had 200 pupils. When an art studio was built around 1910, Edward Burne Jones and George Watts and others of the Pre-Raphaelite brethren who were friends of the Lawrences, contributed to the design (see photo). Some of the pupils' work from that period is still on view in the studio, which is reminiscent of the interior of Charleston Farmhouse.
During WW1 the girls made walking sticks, splints and crutches for the war effort, as well as knitted garments. All 3 sisters retired in 1924 having created a limited company to ensure that the school survived them. The school now has 400 pupils from 30 different countries.
St Wulfran's, Ovingdean
The Saxon church has marks of fire damage from around 600 years ago - a
French raid perhaps. St Wulfran was a French monk and missionary who worked to
convert the Frisians. At one point he and his companions were on the verge of
success with King Radbod of Frisia, who was impressed by the miracles of the
missionaries. However, when the king asked where his ancestors were he was told
that being pagans, they were in Hell. He refused baptism after this, saying he
preferred Hell with his ancestors to Heaven without them.
Among many buried in the churchyard lies Magnus Volk, maker of Volk's Railway and pioneer of fire alarms and other electrical devices in the late 19th century and Sophia Jex Blake who fought for the rights of women to become doctors. Volk's "Daddy Long Legs" sea-going railway ran to Rottingdean in the late 19th century. From the cliff top, at low tide, you can see the concrete blocks which supported the track which was 24 feet above them. It was a very slow ride, but considered exciting at the time.
Though their numbers are falling country-wide, skylarks can still be heard
singing over Beacon Hill. There is a story that, long ago, a young monk, Anselm,
dedicated his life to prayer in a small downland monastery. He fell ill one
winter and his life was in danger for many weeks. When he finally recovered in
the spring, the Abbot ordered him to walk outdoors to help recover his strength.
So Anselm left his cell and his cloistered life for the first time for months to
walk on the Downs. He was overcome by the beauty of Creation - sky, clouds,
grasses and flowers, and above all, the singing of the larks. He fell to the
ground to worship and for a long time offered prayers of ecstatic gratitude for
this wonderful sound. Eventually, he stood up and walked back to the monastery,
still full of bliss at the sights and sounds around him. When he came to the
gate, there was a monk he didn't recognise, and who didn't recognise him.
"But I'm Anselm!"
"And I'm Francis, and I've never seen you before."
The two men just looked at each other bemusedly, and the Abbot was called. He was not the Abbot Anselm knew, and he did not recognise the young monk. They consulted the monastery's record book and found that there had indeed been an Anselm at the monastery - 100 years before. The record showed that he'd gone out one spring morning and had not been seen again. It seemed that for 100 years Anselm had listened in ecstasy to the song of the skylarks.
Beacon Hill windmill
Mounds just to the east of the mill are the remains of houses and
out-buildings that used to be part of the mill complex. The mill was moved to
its present position in 1802. It's said that workmen digging the foundations
discovered a buried skeleton and a sword. They were not particularly interested
in these finds and went off to the village for their dinner break. When they
came back, the remains had disappeared.
Cricket was played on Beacon Hill from 1758, the earliest cricket club on record. At that time there were no boundaries - batsmen simply ran as many runs as they could. One hit a ball to Hog Plat down the east of the hill and began to run. A fielder retrieved it, and threw it but it was missed and rolled down the west slope of the hill so that eventually a score of 67 runs was made from that one hit.
This windmill is the logo for Heinemann publishers, a group which had the foresight in the 1950s to begin publishing African writers. Until that time, no British publishers had recognised the power and excitement of the new writers from that continent. Heinemann brought them to a wide readership and even, for a while, to the London Board's English Literature A-level syllabus.
The wishing stone
This stone is said to have been found in the churchyard of St Margaret's when some work was being done. It was built into the wall of the Elms, the house once occupied by Kipling. The story is that your wish will come true if you make it as you rub the nose of the head with your right index finger and don't wish for money. To find the stone, take about 7 steps northwards from the little wooden door in the wall and look at eye level.
This was a notorious landing place for smuggled goods. There was a wooden
pier, demolished in 1914, the remains of which can still be seen. The Reverend
Thomas Hooker, owner of a particularly fast grey mare, was reputed to have been
involved in the "free trade". It is said that a stranger rode into the village
one night when a big landing was being dealt with on the beach. The man was
appalled by the lawlessness in front of him and he asked a villager whether
there was no magistrate or justice of the peace to maintain order here.
"Then where is the vicar who might serve to uphold the law?"
"He's over there, holding the lantern."