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The Bloomsburys, Maynard Keynes, and the old coach road


A gentle ramble visiting Berwick Church, with its famous wall paintings, Tilton Farm, Charleston House of Bloomsbury Fame, a folly and the Firle Estate, home of the Gages and 3 historic pubs, all with the glory of the Downland ridge at your side.

 Distance, Terrain and Time

4.7miles 7.6km,  Gentle rolling terrain. 2 hours plus stops


Few, mostly firm underfoot, even after rain, although there may be some mud after Charlston in poor conditions

 Start and finish points

Starts Berwick bus stop on the A27.  Finish outside the Ram Inn at Firle

 Getting there


“ On Monday to Saturday the start and finish are served by bus 125 from Lewes Alfriston and Eastbourne.  The bus can be caught at Lewes bus station.  If you are arriving on the train it is about a 7 minute walk to the bus station.  Ask for directions.

 For bus and train times see Traveline South East

Date researched


Ordnance Survey maps

 Landranger series 199


The Cricketers pub at Berwick, the Rose Cottage pub at Alciston, Café at Charleston  house is open. The Ram Inn at Firle. Tea room at Firle House when the house is open. There is a shop at Firle.  All the pubs serve high quality food with prices to match.

Public toilets


 Route instructions

 1). Get off of the bus at the Berwick turnoff.  If you have come from Lewes you need to cross the road.

 Walk towards the downs, down the lane towards Berwick village.  Pass (or call in at) the Cricketers Pub, which has an attractive garden)  Walk through the village and come to a fork, with a little island in the middle.   Bear left towards the church.

 Enter the churchyard of Berwick Church (A)  See below for more about the church.

 Walk to the left of the church to exit the churchyard.  Turn immediately right and then quickly right again at a junction. You are now walking west by the side of the church.

 Quite shortly come to a junction.  Turn left along a track by the side of a field heading towards the downs.  The track has a good surface.

 2). Come to what looks like a right turn, but is, in fact a four way junction of bridleways. Turn right.  You are now on the old coach road, which was once the main highway under the downs.

 Cross a tarmac lane.  Keep going straight ahead.

 3) About a kilometre after crossing the lane you come to another four way junction.   Take the track to the right which heads for the buildings of Tilton Farm.(B)  At the farm the track bears left and is joined by another track coming in from the right.  A concrete drive heads right to the main road, but you continue ahead on concrete towards Charleston House (C).

 Pass through the house and grounds and continue ahead.  The track is now less defined and can be a little muddy in bad weather. Pass FirleTower  

 Every grand estate must have its Folly and this was Firle’s It was built by the third Viscount Gage in 1819 as a game-keepers cottage and placed at the top of a small hill so that the game-keeper could signal to the keeper of Plashet deer-park at Ringmer, which also belonged to Lord Gage.  

 At a wood turn left and then immediately right to continue in the same direction as before.  Cross a track and enter the grounds of Firle Place.

 (If you turn right at along the track you will come to the A27 after about a kilometre.  If you cross this very busy road and walk to the right for about 400 metres, you come to Middle Farm, a working farm which also has a farm zoo, a produce shop, a café and one of the largest collections of draught cider in the country, available to buy.)

 It can be a little difficult to find the route of the path in Firle Park.  At first you bear slightly to the left of your previous direction. See Firle Place (D)  on your left.  You will see a track coming in from your right.  Join this and cross another track.  Keep straight ahead.  Leave Firle Park on the track and come to the main street of Firle, by the shop and post office.

 The bus turns round here, and you can wait for it on the seat to your left.  But you can also turn right and walk about 150 metres to the Ram Inn for a drink and some food.  Your bus will pass this point and travel up to the shop and then return.  Wait on the opposite side of the road to the pub.  Make sure your bus is going in the direction that you want, since buses in both directions come up the main street and return the same way.


 A). Berwick Church

 Once it was just a typical beautiful Sussex village church, but in 1941 the Bloomsbury painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant painted murals of religious scenes inside the church using local people as models.  The church has since become a place of pilgrimage for art lovers.  The original stain glass windows were damaged in the second world war and largely removed, enhancing the view of the murals.  The church is normally open during daylight hours.

Picture © Copyright Julian P Guffogg and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

As you stand in the churchyard in this beautiful tranquil rural scene you might think that you are far from the travails of modern life.  This is not so. The list of incumbents on a plaque inside the church will show you that in the 12 years up to 2002 the rector here was the Reverend Vickery House, one of the most notorious convicted sex abusers in the Anglican Church.  Some of his crimes were committed in the local area. It is a reminder that evil can flourish even in the most secluded and sacred spots.

 B). Tilton House

 The economist John Maynard Keynes lived here with his wife, the ballerina Lydia Lopokov.  He was part of the Bloomsbury set.  The Bloomsberrys looked down on Lydia because she was not an intellectual but there is no evidence that either John or Lydia cared much about this.  You can stay at Tilton House and also do yoga retreats there.  The couple running it used to live in Firle Tower.

 C). Charleston

 The temple of the Bloomsberrys, Charleston was the home and country meeting place for the writers, painters and intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury group. The interior was painted by the artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell,

 You can take a tour of the house, visit the preserved gardens, buy stylish stuff at the shop and refresh yourself at the café. There are regular performances here with internationally renowned names.  You can see the London glitterati thrilled with themselves for having ventured so far out into the country that they can hear cows mooing during the performance.

 D). Firle Place

 The house is open June to mid September.  It is the home of the Gage family.  An earlier Lord Gage was in charge of the British forces in the American Revolution but was sacked following reverses at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  During the second world war Canadian troops were stationed here, as they were in a lot of the surrounding area.  The government was not sure how to use the troops, who were all volunteers, so they hung around being bored.  It is said that they broke into Lord Gage’s wine cellar and drank all his best wine.  Many of them were finally put to work on the raid on the French port of Dieppe and did not return.

 As you pass or visit the house tip your hat to the current Lord Gage, It is rumoured that it is his influence with East Sussex county council that keeps the poorly used bus service. that you are about to board, going.

Picture- an old coach.

© Copyright Chris Smith except where otherwise stated and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence