Since 1990, the Cuckoo Trail has been a leisure route used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders. It passes through some beautiful countryside and is extremely popular with some 250,000 visitors annually. Being mainly off-road it is suitable and safe for people of all ages and abilities. The slight gradients and sloped accesses make the Trail available to most mobility scooters and wheelchairs.
The history of the Cuckoo Trail
The Cuckoo Trail is now owned by Wealden District Council and East Sussex County Council but was not originally built as a leisure facility.
Opened in 1880, the Cuckoo Line was the Polegate to Eridge railway built by the London Brighton and South Coast Railway to prevent its rival, the South Eastern Railway, accessing the Eastbourne traffic. It was named the Cuckoo Line after the tradition that the first cuckoo of spring was always heard at the Heathfield Fair. In time it settled down to become a country railway carrying milk, coal, livestock and timber as well as passengers.
From the 1950s onwards, rail passengers and goods were lost to the more convenient buses and lorries serving the area. Facing mounting financial losses, the line was closed by British Rail under the "Beeching cuts". Passenger trains north of Hailsham and goods trains north of Heathfield were withdrawn in 1965. Three years later all remaining services were curtailed and the track was torn up.
The Cuckoo Trail now runs for 11 miles along the route of the railway, linking three of the District's larger towns - Heathfield, Hailsham and Polegate. It also passes through the villages of Horam and Hellingly. An extension south of Polegate takes the Trail to Hampden Park, near Eastbourne forming part of the National Cycle Network (Route 21).
Benches have been erected along the Trail, many carved from fallen trees by local craftsmen. Picnic tables and bike racks are located at intervals along the Trail, but you are welcome to picnic where you like en route.
Sculpted gateways to the Trail are provided at the access points between Hailsham and Polegate, whilst a Wildlife Sculpture Trail is laid out for a mile north of Hellingly.
Cuckoo Trail Users
Walkers can use all of the Cuckoo Trail
Cyclists can use all of the Cuckoo Trail but should dismount where signed.
Horse riders can ride between Hellingly and the south of Heathfield and between Summerhill Lane south of Hailsham and Polegate. This latter section involves going over a bridge, which crosses the A27 Polegate bypass, where a mounting block is provided at each end.
Cuckoo Trail Users Code
- Do not leave litter
- Respect neighbours of the Trail
- Keep to the Trail and do not trespass on any adjacent land
- Motor vehicles and motorcycles are prohibited
- Shooting, firearms and fireworks are prohibited
- Clear up your dog's mess, using the bins provided
- Do not obstruct cyclists or horses
- Keep dogs under control
- Carry a bell. Don't surprise people - ring your bell or call out, remembering that many people are hard of hearing or visually impaired. Don't just assume that they can see or hear you
- Don't expect to cycle at high speeds; be prepared to slow down and stop if necessary
- Give way and leave plenty of room for walkers, horses and people with disabilities
- Slow down at junctions and bends
- Dismount where requested
Horse riders please:
- Give way to cyclists and walkers
- Use the separate path where provided
- Do not use the town sections of the Trail in Hailsham and Heathfield
How to get to the Cuckoo Trail
There are stations at Polegate and Hampden Park. For information on timetables contact National Rail Enquiries on 08457 484950.
Services 51, 52 and 53 operated by Eastbourne Buses/Stagecoach link Polegate, Hailsham, Hellingly, Horam and Heathfield. For information on timetables contact 08712 002233.
There are free car parks at Heathfield, Horam, Hellingly and Hailsham and on-street parking at Polegate and Hampden Park.
Horsebox: Horsebox space is provided at the Hellingly car park, where the Trail is accessed via an easily graded ramp. A mounting block is provided.
Further information about the wildlife, nature and places/attractions that can be found along the Trail, together with a handy map can be downloaded from our Cuckoo Trail Leaflet (pdf).
The Cuckoo Trail Ranger can be contacted on 01273 482736.