The Vanguard Way

66 miles from the suburbs to the sea

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The Vanguard Way is 66 miles (107 km) long. It starts on the southern outskirts of Greater London and passes through the counties of Surrey, Kent and East Sussex.  On the Directions & Maps page of this website you can find downloadable files giving directions and maps from North to South (Croydon to Newhaven) AND from South to North; there are also downloadable gpx files.

From East Croydon Station, 20 minutes by train from central London, you soon reach parkland, woodland and open country, passing several historic houses at Coombe, through Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve and pass the pretty little church of St. Mary the Virgin at Farleigh.  Some quite strenuous walking is needed to reach the highest part of the route, in the North Downs, at 260 metres (853 feet) above sea level.  On the way you pass the mysterious Nore Hill Chalk Pinnacle - a feature that has been kept as a reminder of the geological structure of this area.

A steep descent from the Downs leads on to the North Downs Way National Trail and the Pilgrims' Way, crossing the Greenwich Meridian, where the Vanguards have provided a commemorative plaque.  Nearby is Titsey Place, an 18th century manor house that can be visited at certain times.  Quickly crossing the M25 on a footbridge, a further ascent leads into the wooded slopes of the Greensand Ridge.

In level farmland now, there is a Roman road followed by a steady climb to lonesome Dry Hill Camp, an Iron Age hillfort and English Heritage Scheduled Monument, whose ramparts can still be seen.

A pleasant ridge walk leads to one of the few large settlements along the route, Forest Row.  This provides an opportunity to replenish your emergency rations before venturing up into the Ashdown Forest - actually a moorland in miniature.  It's part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and has associations with Winnie-the-Pooh.

The Vanguard Way enjoys a friendly rivalry with the Wealdway, which runs vaguely parallel from Gravesend to Eastbourne, and the two routes bump and scrape each other several times after their first encounter in the Ashdown Forest.

Much of the southern half of the route follows footpaths and bridleways through undulating fields and pastures well off the beaten track.  But the villages of Buxted and Blackboys offer some facilities, and you may wish to admire the unusual style of High Hurstwood church, and the millpond at delightful Tickerage Mill, once the home of actress Vivien Leigh.

You pass a 13th century church in the tiny village of Chiddingly, and the Mohair Centre on the way to Alfriston, once an important market town but now a pretty village whose church (the Cathedral of the Downs), pubs, tea-rooms and specialist shops draw many visitors.

Nearing the end now, the Vanguard Way joins the South Downs Way National Trail to climb a spur of the Downs by means of two long flights of steps.  But what a view awaits you, of the meanders of the Cuckmere River and the English Channel.  You would be forgiven for thinking that this is the finest view of the route, but you would be wrong, because soon afterwards comes one of the most magnificent views in Britain: the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters from Cuckmere Haven.  We defy you not to keep turning round as you climb towards Seaford Head, because many walkers think the view improves as you get higher.

Finally, (now in company with the England Coast Path) it's level walking all the way to Newhaven, but there are still things to enjoy: an ice cream or a pot of tea by the beach at Seaford, its Martello Tower, and the fascinating Tide Mills - the ruins of a forgotten village that is up for designation as a Scheduled Monument.

We hope this brief summary of the route highlights will convince you that the Vanguard Way is well worth walking.  A free set of guides and maps can be downloaded from this website and will tell you all about these and many more interesting places, as well as provide details of accommodation, pubs and teashops.

Happy walking!

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2023 Colin Saunders