EXPLORING THE BOTTOMS
A challenging scenic route that weaves from the River Ouse valley over the hills and through several chalky ‘bottoms’
2 – 3 hrs
About the ride
This tough hilly route from Southease in the River Ouse valley, across the Downs to Falmer in Brighton offers wonderful views of the sea and the grassy downlands. It takes in villages that date back a thousand years, and meanders down and through a number of ‘bottoms’ – dry chalk valleys that are increasingly rare habitats, rich in plant and wildlife.
Most of the route is on chalk, grass and gravel bridleways through the Downs, with a stretch at the beginning on paved roads, and one at the end along a cycle path.
Starting & Finishing
Start: Southease station (Lewes-to-Seaford line)
End: Falmer station (Lewes-to-Brighton line)
You can take bikes on trains except during peak hours. Normally only a few are allowed on any one train. At Falmer the ride links with National Cycle Network route 90. There is very limited parking at Southease near the Youth Hostel and at Woodingdean near Falmer.
Leaving Southease station, the ride follows the paved road through the village and out to the C7 Newhaven to Lewes Road. PLEASE BE CAREFUL CROSSING THE C7. You then follow the tarmac lane up to Telscombe village.
Above the village the paved road finishes and the ride through the Downs is on grass, gravel and chalk bridleways until you reach the cycle path beside the road that runs from Woodingdean down to Falmer. In wet conditions the chalk can become slippery, also look out for sets of badgers, which have been known to pop up on the bridleways.
The Living Coast Experience
Your starting point at Southease station is at the southern end of Lewes Brooks, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) encompassing 330 hectares of the River Ouse floodplain south of Lewes. It provides valuable habitats to range of wildlife, including rare amphibians, beetles and water birds. As you pass through the village of Southease, keep an eye out for the round tower of St Peter’s Church. It is one of only three such towers in Sussex, all of which are in the Ouse Valley and were built in the first half of the 12th century.
Having climbed to the ancient village of Telscombe, there’s another church of note: St Laurence dates back to the 11th century. The settlement here was recorded in the Domesday Book. Beyond Telscombe the ride stretches over South Downs chalk grassland.
This is a big part of what makes this area so special and is the result of thousands of years of sheep grazing the landscape. In terms of diversity, it is Western Europe’s equivalent to the tropical rainforest. There are many species here that cannot be found anywhere else, including many orchids, wildflowers and rare butterflies, such as the Adonis Blue.
Having crossed the Downs you drop down into the ‘bottoms’ – the downland valleys. You descend to what remains of Balsdean, a lost village in a remote downland valley that has been on record since about 1100. The site of the chapel is marked by a plaque set in a boulder on a grass bank. This area has long been settled, and there have been notable archaeological finds on the hills around this valley from the Bronze Age as well as the Roman and Saxon eras.
These hills and valleys are part of the Castle Hill National Nature Reserve. The reserve contains ancient rich chalk grassland that provides vital habitat for wild flowers, including spider orchid, kidney vetch, salad burnet, round-headed rampion. This is a perfect place to see wonderful butterflies, such as Chalkhill Blue, Adonis Blue and Small Blue. Spring and summer are great times to see and hear farmland birds, like skylarks, yellowhammers and corn buntings.
Want a map of the route to take with you? All our routes are available in the free Komoot app.
1. Download the Komoot app to your phone and create an account.
2. On this page on your phone:
a. Tap on the route name below or
b. Tap on the GPS download icon at the top of this page.
3. View the route in Komoot.
To make sure you can use it throughout your cycle, download Komoot’s Mid-Sussex region map to use offline before you go. Don’t forget to like our routes in the Komoot app and share photos or highlights from your own adventures!