Visiting Firle and Walking the South Downs Way

Firle village
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We first visited the beautiful village of Firle in Sussex in June 2017. Nicky had booked a night away at an Airbnb property in the village as a surprise for my birthday.

She is an avid fan of the Bakeoff the Professionals, where patisserie chefs create hundreds of beautiful cakes, and had seen that it was filmed at the Firle Place. Realising it was about an hour away, and that there was a walk directly up onto the South Downs from the village, she booked up as a treat.

Firle Village

Firle village

Firle village is the quintessential British village, and wouldn’t look out of place in any period drama. The village is owned by the Firle Estate, which has been in existence for over 500 years, and includes several villages as well as Firle Place.

The Firle Estate has been owned by the Gage family throughout this time. Firle Place was built by Sir John Gage, a soldier-courtier for 4 monarchs, most notably Henry VIII as Lord Chambelain from 1553 till his death in 1556.

There are many notable descendants who have lived at Firle Place – if you are into history then I would recommend reading here. Today the owner of Firle Place is Nicholas Gage, the 8th Viscount Gage, a keen artist.

Firle is quite simply beautiful. There’s one main street – at one end is the local pub, the Ram Inn, and after passing the Post Office, you reach St Peter’s Church. If you like villages that are small, pretty, with plenty of front gardens bursting with flowers, then this will be right up your street.

St Peter’s Church

St Peter’s Church dates back to the 12th Century, and sits in the village, close to the South Downs, and just a short stroll from Firle Place. Villagers are able to get married at the church, although non-residents are only able to have blessings.

The church is a large part of village life – not only are services well attended, but it also hosts several community events through the year.

The Burning Sky Brewery

Situated in farm buildings underneath the hills of the South Downs, the Burning Sky brewery produced it’s first beer in the Autumn of 2013. The following year, the head brewer Mark Tranter, was voted Brewer of the Year by the Guild of British Beer Writers – that is some achievement!

If you are a fan of craft beers, and who isn’t, you may wish to visit their site to learn more.

Reaching the South Downs Way

We stayed in a property just a few doors from the pub. If you are visiting there is a public car park just before the entrance to the Ram Inn, which serves the pub too. Due to it’s location it is extremely popular and get very busy, especially nearing lunch time.

Walking up the street, we passed through the churchyard for a look, although this is not a necessary part of the walk, but it’s always nice to see the architecture of churches. If you hunt hard, you will find a gravestone in the shape of an egg! There’s also the graves of Vanessa Bell, Quentin Bell, and Duncan Grant, Bloomsbury artists that lived at Charleston Farmhouse, which we will see later.

As we passed by Place Farm, we followed the chalky path left up towards s line of trees. This path was on a slight incline, and we always meet people along here, mainly with dogs, either setting off or coming back from their walks. As we get to the trees, we turn right and follow a path towards the South Downs.

Even from the bottom you can tell that the views are going to be fantastic. As you rise upwards, you can see in the large bottom picture below a hill or mound, with what looks like a tower on it. This is the Firle Tower.

After a short while the walk climbs to a gate. Once through this the hard work starts with a steep climb. The track narrows, but looking to the left you will just see great views, and knowing they will be much better from the top spurs you on. Admittedly I am usually trailing Nicky by this point, but then I am a few years older and less fit! I must work on this before we go next time.

Views from the top

When you reach the top take time for a rest. If you look the way you have just come you will be looking North and can see the Weald as far as Surrey. If you are lucky you may be able to locate Glyndebourne, one of the finest opera houses in the world, where every year 150,000 attend the Glyndebourne Festival and an Autumn Tour.

After your rest, make sure you head up the fence opposite. From there you will look over fields of sheep to the Sussex coast, with the port of Newhaven to the right. It’s always lovely to see the sea, as it glistens in the sunshine (hopefully).

Turn left and head east across the South Downs Way. You’ll meet plenty of walkers, dogs, cyclists as you continue upwards to another gate. If you are with your dog, you’ll need to ensure they are on their lead as the sheep roam free. Paco loved walking up here and paid them no notice, and they are obviously used to dogs – wary, but not panicking.

Continue along until you pass the triangulation point on top of Firle Beacon. This is the highest point along this stretch of the Downs, and at over 215 metres, or 700 feet, above sea level you can start to feel on top of the world. On the trig point is a plate with it’s number – S1836.

Walking down

Having passed the trig point you will come to an arrowed marker post on the left, and it’s here that we head downwards through a gate. Unsurprisingly it’s quite steep, but to the left there’s a ridge with longer grass that Paco loves to explore. To the right there’s some great stepped fields down, with cows and sheep often found grazing together at the bottom.

Once you reach the bottom you will pass through another gate, and then through a track towards a farmhouse. Bearing left you pass along a concrete drive and come across the drive to Charleston Farmhouse. Head up this drive, with fields of cows to your left, and the South Downs behind.

Charleston Farmhouse

As the drive rises gently towards the farmhouse, you start to get a feeling of nostalgia and a feel for the life that existed here. Charleston Farmhouse was the country retreat to the Bloomsbury group – a collection of post-Victorian artists, writers and intellectuals. Two of it’s member’s, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, set up home here in 1916.

It has been restored by The Charleston trust, a charity setup in 1980 to return the farmhouse to it’s glory. Since 1986 it has opened it’s doors to members of the public to visit and sample the life of the Bloomsbury Group.

As you pass the house on the right, you will see tearooms on the left, before some very handy toilets – always a good place to let Paco get some water from bowls outside.

Pass through the gate ahead – it may be locked, so a quick climb over may be required, but the footpath leads ahead along a field. Into a second field – first time this was full of cows – but we think they don’t graze here anymore. I was very grateful, as they were s close, and Nicky more so since she has since been chased by a bull protecting it’s herd!

Firle Tower

Ahead and to the right you can see Firle Tower, pictured below, built in 1822 by the third Viscount Gage for his head gamekeeper. It’s 3 storeys high, and we love the castle parapets at the top. From here the gamekeeper could signal to the gamekeeper at Ringmer, also owned by the Viscount.

Firle Folly

The above picture was taken in June, but returning at the end of July a couple of years later we had to walk through a field of sweetcorn taller than ourselves! At the end of the field you cross a road into another field, then bear right to follow a track down to a cottage.

Firle Place

Once you pass the cottage you cross a track and enter Firle Place estate itself. Vast parkland is ahead, with the house in the distance. Sheep roam freely through the parkland, and as you head forwards the grandeur of the house comes more into view, with St Peter’s Church in view beyond.

As you get close to the house you realise that there is a paddock for horses in front. The first time we actually saw some riders practice with jumps – surely one of the most beautiful settings you could find for a paddock.

When you get the the drive turn right and follow this away from the house. You’ll meet a track on your left, which leads to a gate. Go through this and you’ll pass some beautiful houses leading back to the main road.

Bake Off: The Professionals

If you like cakes, and we do, then a show with professional patisserie chefs making hundreds of beautiful cakes each week tends to be a must see programme!

It started life as Bake Off: Creme de la Creme in 2016 on BBC2, and was hosted by chef Tom Kerridge. The second series was presented by comedian Angus Deayton.

BBC2 did not continue with it’s coverage, but it was taken up by Channel 4 for a third series, along with it’s more famous amateur show, The Great British Bake Off. A change in presenter, with comedian Tom Allen being joined by Liam Charles, a former amateur contestant. This was also when it changed it’s name to Bake Off: The Professionals. It has been filmed at Firle Place since the second series.

The Ram Inn

No visit to Firle is complete without a trip to the village pub – The Ram Inn. It’s a beautiful village pub, a great venue for locals to meet over a pint or two, and you’ll find them sitting outside in the summer months with their dogs at their feet. Like many pubs these days, it serves high quality food, of restaurant quality.

The pub has been at the heart of the community for over 500 years. It has a great garden for enjoying a leisurely lunch, as well as the area at the front outside, and three rooms inside, each with their own fireplace. If you want to stay you can book one of five rooms over the pub.

What next?

If you live or are staying in the South East, as well as this walk around Firle, why not head over to this page to see other walks you may wish to take.

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