Hooe Level

Wednesday 20th August 2014

This is a bit of a bus walk, catching the Stagecoach 99, Eastbourne Hastings bus, there and back, and even though I see the bus every day I still have a chuckle imagining a giant ice cream with a flake painted on the side.

I was dropped off in the centre of Little Common to a blue sky day, with a few wispy white fluffy clouds to add a bit of interest.

A walk between the neat houses and bungalows, with their polished lawns and shiny cars and past a thatched cottage was an almost surreal introduction to the simplicity of Hooe Level, but first, a golf course to negotiate.

It is a busy day today, for the seemingly aimless golfers, but on this course the golfers are all in buggies or golf carts speeding silently between holes.

They say that ‘golf ruins a good walk’, take the walk away and there is not much left – perhaps that is why they all wear a jumble of bright coloured tops, to act as a moving target to break up the tedium of golf without a walk, but the golfers have only eyes for their little white balls and are unaware of the beauty that surrounds them.

Finally, over a bridge to enjoy the marsh properly, to look around at this almost flat landscape of drainage ditches, sheep and cattle grazing on the sea grass and a few trees.

A big sky dominates with the South Downs in the west looming above Eastbourne and to the north is the ridge of the A259 which was once the limit of the sea when the Romans invaded and built Pevensey Castle on what was then almost an island.

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Solitude and sheep on this gentle day with just a little breeze to cool the heat rising from the grass but I can only imagine an autumn and winter of wind and rain, the water levels high enough to flood and reclaim the marsh. That would probably be a day for nursing a pint in The Smugglers, the only pub on the marsh.

These are smugglers routes, across the marsh towards Hooe and further inland, taking brandy and contraband from the boats beached on the shingle bank at Normans’ Bay and out of sight of the Revenue Men. It is and a route that I will follow sometime in the future.

To the south, a few houses line Normans’ Bay, peeking over the flood bank at the sea and sheltering the caravan site behind from the vagaries of the weather.

My route first leads from the end of Clavering Walk near Cooden Beach Station to the marsh lane and then north up to the A259 and then along the old road, past the aptly titled Old Road Farm and back down to Hooe Level to complete a figure of eight walk along the ‘Crooked Ditch’ to Barnhorne Manor and the bus stop back to St Leonards on Sea.

I left the marsh lane to climb a small hill, once an island but now home to cows and their calves, growing up on marsh grass before being moved inland for winter pasture.

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To make it easy, there are tall marker posts that highlight the footpath across ditches and low lying fields, that bear evidence of past floods. It is a straightforward path although thinking about Three Castles, I almost missed a change of direction through a gate that would lead to the A259.

After all the hills and woods of recent Three Castles walks, the open space and big sky feel amazing especially from the low ridge that was once the shoreline.

The road is busy with holiday traffic, rumbling behind me whilst I sit on the stile for an energy bar and a drink, their windows closed and air-con on – if they only knew what delights lay outside their cars. The view over Hooe Level towards the sea is worth the noise.

Along the old and narrow Pevensey Road – it would never have coped with all the modern day traffic – and back down to the marsh along a good track that will lead towards Chapel Field and the site of the medieval village of Northeye.

Over a stile to the left and the waymark points to a track alongside a ditch, full of water, reeds and lilies.

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It was to be an easy path to follow but if only I had read the map and ignored the waymark for the correct path lay on a diagonal across the field. I even went back to check the route again when faced with a ditch and no bridge but suffice to say, I was not the only one for a walker was approaching me from the opposite direction and the opportunity for a little promotion of Three Castle and 1066 Harold’s Way was not missed.

The final couple of miles to Barnhorne Manor avoided the golf course and were waymarked just sufficiently to let you know that you were on the right route.

Crossing the footpath ahead were a Wednesday group from Rother Ramblers but they were off and away before I reached their path except for a couple of backmarkers.

It was a good walk, a 7½ mile free and easy saunter through open spaces without a timetable to work to or route to plan and left me with the thoughts to walk the rest of the Levels before the rains set in.

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