Explore a lost village in East Sussex

In issue two, David Bramwell explores a handful of Britain’s 3,000 deserted settlements – the drowned village of Derwent beneath Ladybower Reservoir, the ancient port of Dunwich now reclaimed by the sea and Tyneham, which was appropriated by the MOD for firing practice during the Second World War. Now you can explore a ghost village beyond the printed page on this walk near Brighton.

Balsdean in East Sussex succumbed to the same fate as Tyneham in Dorset. Once a functioning village with a manor house, farms and even a lunatic asylum, it was taken over by the Ministry of Defence in 1939 and used for firing practice. In 2012 the band Grasscut released the album 1 inch: ½ mile and conceived a walk around the ghost village of Balsdean to accompany the album. Psychogeographical day trips don't get much better than this. 

1 Inch: 1/2 Mile was conceived on the South Downs of Sussex, near the band’s home city of Brighton. This map details a secluded, half-forgotten valley on the fringes of the city. From the edge of the suburban housing estate of Woodingdean, the route descends through rolling downland into what was once the village of Balsdean, evacuated and subsequently destroyed during the Second World War. Of the manor house, cricket pitch, farms, cottages and lunatic asylum, nothing is now visible save a few scattered foundations; the site of the Norman chapel is marked only by a plaque. Those of a curious and/or dogged disposition might also like to know that the band have secreted, in the environs of Balsdean, a single, utterly unique Grasscut artefact. Its location is hinted at in bonus track A Lost Village.

Transport: There is a small car park on the hill above Woodingdean, just to the east of Brighton, at the junction of Bexhill Road and Falmer Road. There are also buses to Bexhill Road: 52 (from Brighton Station) and 22A (from Brighton’s Churchill Square); the bus stop is called Sea View Way. The walk should take around 50 minutes.

Start point
Walk over the bank at the top corner of the car park, and turn right along the first path. You will see two phone masts. Head towards the larger one on the right, beyond the houses. (This path is Norton Drive, and old drovers’ route between Brighton and Lewes). Keeping the houses on your right, continue for five minutes. 250 yards before the phone mast, the path divides into three. Take the left path, signposted as ‘South Downs Circular Walks’, towards a wooden gate 50 yards ahead.

  1. High Down
    Begin High Down as you pass through the wooden gate, again signposted ‘South Downs Circular Walks’. Continue along the path ahead, past the burnt-out car to your left.
  2. Old Machines
    As the path bends slightly to the right, there is an old gate-post in the fence, and a gorse bush with a concrete post in it to your left. Begin the song Old Machines. The path starts to descend into the valley and, to your left, the views open up towards Castle Hill.
  3. Meltwater
    The side of the valley falls more steeply to your left, and you pass two trees with fallen trunks. 50 yards on, at the third and largest fallen trunk, begin Meltwater. The grassland opens up as you descend out of the gorse, and Balsdean’s ruined buildings come into view below you to the left.
  4. The Tin Man
    The path continues to bend to the right, parallel to a line of trees across the field to your left. As it bends more sharply, begin The Tin Man, rounding the field edge down into Standean Bottom.
  5. Muppet
    The path skirts the field edge and curves to the left, towards a gate at the western end of Standean Bottom. Begin Muppet as you go through the gate, and follow the path past the hawthorns and into an avenue of trees.
  6. 1946
    At the junction of paths at the end of the avenue of trees, you are in what was once the centre of Balsdean. Turn left towards the ruined farm buildings and begin 1946. After 100 yards, you pass half-buried foundations in a field to your right. After another 50 yards, turn left off the path, and walk 25 yards up to a small heap of stones. Here you will find a plaque marking the site of the chapel.
  7. The Door In The Wall
    Return to the path and continue to the farm buildings. Follow the path to the right of the barns and go through the gate. Begin The Door In The Wall. At the corned of the fence, turn left off the main path, at approximately 10 o’clock. Cross the grassland uphill towards a stile 200 yards away. Climb the stile and follow the steep track back up the side of the valley.
  8. Passing
    Rejoin the main path, taking a moment to regain your breath. Turn right and start Passing as you retrace your steps towards the start of the walk.
  9. In Her Pride
    As you ascend through the gorseland, begin In Her Pride.
  10. A Lost Village (bonus track)
    As the path continues to rise towards the head of the valley, begin bonus track A Lost Village.

Listen to Grasscut's album 1 Inch: 1/2 Mile on their website. Read the full feature on Ghost Villages in issue two of Ernest Journal.

David Bramwell is a regular contributor to Ernest Journal. His recent album, The Water Between Us by Oddfellow’s Casino, was inspired by the haunting memory of a drowned church in a Derbyshire reservoir reappearing during the great drought of 1976.