Bridleways and Byways

One of the key elements of the Monday daytime rides is that we seek to use bridleways, byways and quiet country roads, with as much off-road as possible, sometimes over 75% of the route. Most of the bridleways and byways would have been in existence from the time of the enclosures, if not earlier, and were the usual means for farmers and labourers to access fields and villages and for villagers to get to church. They are very irregular in direction and, when converted into roads, give rise to the famous “rolling English roads”. Those that were not made into roads, remain as unsurfaced byways (open to wheeled traffic), bridleways and footpaths. Part of our vision is to seek out and use these routes so that they do not disappear through neglect. Full details of all rights of way can be found on the  East Sussex Rights of Way website and on any Ordnance Survey map.

There are many bridleways on the South Downs giving access to wide open vistas and bracing fresh air. They are usually firm, grassland tracks, sometimes stoney, with gentle slopes or very steep hills.Down in the low Weald, they are more secluded, tree-lined and calm with dappled sunlight peeking through the branches. They are flat or have low hills and in places suffer from deep puddles or stretches of cloying mud.

One of the major problems we have experienced is the degradation of these routes. We have found that access to the wide range of routes is being restricted by problems at several, usually narrow, key nodes or pinch points which are difficult to negotiate particularly for less adventurous cyclists, walkers and riders and those with younger families.

The problems seem to be:


The overgrowth in summer of nettles, brambles, hawthorn and other vegetation which render the use of the route unpleasant or dangerous. Two of the group recently emerged from such an overgrown path streaming blood from bramble scratches. Even when the ground may have been cleared of vegetation, overhanging hawthorn and bramble can cause serious injury to equestrians and cyclists. A good (bad) example is on the path to Bopeep at the top of the Golf Course.

Whether it is increased use or increased rainfall, a number of bridleways are suffering from severe erosion, even on chalk. This renders them difficult negotiate as deep V-shaped gullies are created with loose rocks in the bottom, sometimes leaving no level surface. These may be sufficiently deep to catch pedals and throw off riders. An example is the upper part of the bridleway in Poverty Bottom.

Areas of deep mud remaining all year which, in narrow sections, leave no dry area to bypass, in others, deep puddles extending across the width of the track or a series “poach holes” up to 15cms deep where hoofs have sunk into the mud. These are often in gateways and near streams. A particularly bad example is the bridleway from Bates Green Farm west of the Cuckmere River.

Byways are open to wheeled vehicles, and tractors, 4x4s and motorbikes can cause serious problems. Wheel tracks, sometimes three across the byway and up to 20 cms deep, leave only a narrow and discontinuous pathway between. An example would be the track to Folkington from Wilmington. Byways may be closed in winter but this does not apply to cycles.

All paths get overgrown in summer, most paths get wet and muddy in winter, but a few key places are getting to the point where they are unusable all year and are restricting access to a large network of adequate routes. The main point is that these are small areas that are restricting access to a much greater length of excellent bridleways and byways which could provide exercise and interest to many. It should be possible for remedial action to be taken to remove these problems and improve access to all parts of the network. Another point is that these pinch points force users onto a few easier paths which may, in turn, become overused and suffer erosion.

According to ESCCs Rights of Way Team, it is the landowners’ responsibility to maintain Rights of Way across their land. The Team advise that if you find a problem on a Right of Way, report to them, quoting the number of the route. This can be found from the on-line Rights of Way Map by clicking on the route at full magnification when a drop down box will show the Parish and number of the route, even of each stile and gate.

With traffic on the roads increasing, it is essential that these off-road routes are used and not lost.

9 replies
  1. Roger Lambert
    Roger Lambert says:

    Thank you Tony for taking the time to do such an informative piece on a deceptively important topic.

  2. Clive Aberdour
    Clive Aberdour says:

    Thanks Tony for a really interesting article. I had been hoping to try some of these bridleways and byways on a touring bike shod with wide treaded tyres (700 x 32s) but it looks as if many will not be suitable. As you use these on your Monday rides would it be possible for you to produce a list of those that you feel are suitable for touring bikes?

  3. Andy Lock
    Andy Lock says:

    I’d be happy to lead some bridleway rides for this type of bike. Initial thoughts are:
    1) A road loop of Peacehaven including off-road through The Big Park and Telscombe Tye
    2) Friston Forest fire-roads to Friston Place, Old Willingdon Road to Butts Brow, drop to Jevington (grass route, not the bumpy SDW), back into the forest.
    3) Friston forest fire roads to SDW above Jevington, Windover hill, drop down to Chapel Hill (yes, desecnd to the top of Chapel Hill!), road return.
    4) Firel Road & The Comp to Bo-peep cross roads, then:
    a) Right to Afriston.
    b) straight over to the Old Coach Road to Alriston.
    c) Left to Southease, Egrets Way, Piddinghoe, River banks to Newhaven.

  4. Tony Rowswell
    Tony Rowswell says:

    It will be possible to produce a list and map of suitable routes but I would need to familiarise myself with the bike and tyres you have in mind. Another problem I foresee is that many routes vary along their length many being mostly suitable but with some catastrophic sections. I would be very happy to lead a Thursday morning ride with you once we have some choices.

  5. Jeremy Knight
    Jeremy Knight says:

    Great article. I think we must all be more active in reporting blocked or poorly-maintained bridleways etc.

    As somebody who dislikes cycling on busy roads, I spend a fair amount of time with Ordnance Survey maps, Google Maps and the ESCC Rights of Way map (link below) planning interesting and enjoyable rides.

    In my opinion, in Summer nothing beats routes involving the SDW between Bo Peep and the twin aerials near Southese; the views from Firle Beacon are awesome and alone worth the slog up from Seaford.

    During the Winter months I prefer Seaford to Brighton and on to Shoreham and Worthing along the coast, most of which can be done off-road or on quiet roads. Saltdean to Brighton Marina on the undercliff is very enjoyable.

    Is there a facility in the blog to publish our recommended routes?

    Cheers. Jeremy

    https://new.eastsussex.gov.uk/leisureandtourism/countryside/rightsofway/map/

  6. Andy Lock
    Andy Lock says:

    Thanks for the feedback Jeremy, and for the direct link to the ESCC RoW map. It’s always good to share references to resources – check out our eMapping page for even more route finding options: http://cycleseahaven.org.uk/emapping/

    Our small list of preferred routes is on our website here: http://cycleseahaven.org.uk/routemaps/ Please share your rides with us so we can expand our knowledge of favourite routes (contact details at the bottom of that page)

    Our FAQ page is a good place to start if you have any questions, but direct contact is always most welcome http://cycleseahaven.org.uk/faq/

  7. Ian Cairns
    Ian Cairns says:

    Thanks Tony for highlighting this important issue.

    A very easy way to report problems is to use the FixMyStreet mobile app. This allows you to take a GPS fix and photo and automatically sends a report to the correct authority. It is very quick and means you can do the report on the spot.

  8. Helen Blaber
    Helen Blaber says:

    Thanks for this, I always read these articles as I find them so useful.

    Andy Lock, I would be up for any of the rides that you suggested!

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