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  • Writer's pictureSim Elliott

Fairlight Glen; from the Dripping Well to the Beach. Ferns, Bryophytes and Lichen. 19.06.23

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

I visited Fairlight Glen again on 19.06.23. It is in the Hastings County Park, where the High Weald Wealden sandstone meet the sea. It is a High Weld ghyll woodland with an oceanic (mild-wet) microclimate which is very propitious for bryophytes, lichens and ferns.

I travelled there by train and bus. I took a train from Brighton to Hastings station. It is an 80-90 minute journey from Brighton to Hastings by train. From Hasting Station I took the 101 bus and got off between Ore and Fairlight at the Ore Mill Lane stop. 101 Bus Route & Timetable: Conquest Hospital - Rye | Stagecoach ( It takes about 25 minutes on the bus.

The Ore Mill Lane stop is at "153" on the map below (ordnance Survey App screen shot). Take the footpath (red) to the top of the Dripping Well (you can not walk through Fairlight Place from "142" to the Dripping Well). From the Dripping Well I walked down the oath next to the ghyll.

After visiting Fairlight Glen I returned to Hastings by walking along the east-west path via Ecclesbounre Glen and East Hill, and walked to the railway station. This takes 60-90 minutes

My main interests as an amateur naturalist are flowering plants, lichens, bryophytes, insects and birds, in the landscapes of Sussex: chalk downland, lowland heaths and high weald ghyll woodlands. I only travel by public transport and by foot to reduce my carbon footprint. Some naturalists find novelty by visiting places further and further away; I find novelty by extending the range of things that I am interested in. In the past I had walked past ferns; but I decided to include ferns in my natural history interests as they are a significant part of Sussex's woodlands. I asked my mother to buy me a fern field guide for my birthday I got Ferns A Field Guide to the Clubmosses, Quillworts, Horsetails and Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland by James Merryweather (2020) Publisher: WILDGuides Britain's Ferns | NHBS Field Guides & Natural History

All sections of text in italics are quotations, sources sited.

The photographs in this post are presented chronologically

I am only an amateur naturalist; thus all identifications are provisional; if you note a mistake in identification please feel free to tell me. If you want to contact me about any aspect of this blog, email me at simeon[underscore]elliott[at]gmail[dot]com.

The beauty of Fairlight Glen was identified by Victorians during the "Fern Craze"

A great Victorian craze, pteridomania (pterido being Latin for ferns) was the huge love affair for ferns and all things fern-like in Britain between 1840s and 1890s. The term ‘pteridomania’ was coined in 1855 by Charles Kingsley, author of ‘The Water Babies’, in his book ‘Glaucus, or the Wonders of the Shore’.

The Victorian era was the heyday of the amateur naturalist. Pteridomania is generally considered a British eccentricity, but while it lasted, fern madness invaded all aspects of Victorian life. Ferns and fern motifs appeared everywhere; in homes, gardens, art and literature. Their images adorned rugs, tea sets, chamber pots, garden benches – even custard cream biscuits. Pteridomania - Fern Madness (

However, there were some significant negative ecological impacts of Fern Fever: Osmunda regalis L. Royal Fern. The Victorian fern collecting craze, abetted by habitat loss, has cleared Royal Fern as a native from virtually the whole of Sussex. The Sussex RARE PLANT REGISTER of Scarce & Threatened Vascular Plants, Charophytes, Bryophytes and Lichen Microsoft Word - RDB_final_v2.doc (

Luke Donnelly and Martin Burton Sussex Live 05:00, 21 MAR 2021: Fairlight Glen: The hidden East Sussex beauty spot where you won't see another soul

Also known as Covehurst Bay, this can definitely be described as one of the most hidden parts of our beautiful county.

Nestled on the rugged East Sussex coast near the Kent border lies the picturesque Fairlight Glen. The seaside spot, also known as Covehurst Bay, can definitely be described as one of the most hidden parts of our beautiful county.

Visitors are faced with a daunting slopes of the slippery glen, but are certainly rewarded as they continue the rugged route. It may seem a bit cliché, but the surreal surroundings strike you as a bit out of this world.

Ramblers are warned about the dangers of the trek, which lead you on a winding journey through woodland and rocky paths. A sign at the top of the trail reads: "Should you choose to make your own way down to the beach - you do so at your own risk.

The dangers of the trip are well-known to Fairlight residents who are known to warn visitors of their fateful task ahead, as numerous air ambulance rescues have reportedly been carried out from the remote sanctuary in recent years. There are some objects along the way to assist walkers as they make their way down the tricky slope.

Ropes flank the walkway on steep parts of the journey, while fences can be handy when trying to keep your balance along more beaten parts of the track.

Further feeding into the alluring Narnia feeling you may experiencing as you read this, there is also the strong possibility of being greeted by wild Exmoor ponies. These beasts however are not there to provide you with advice and wisdom as you continue your journey. They have been introduced to the wider Hastings Country Park (which encompasses Fairlight Glen) to help manage its large inaccessible areas. By grazing the area's grassland they help to regenerate its natural plants and prevent it from becoming overgrown with bracken, gorse and shrub. Exmoor ponies are able to bear the harshest of winter weather, but walkers are advised to not approach them and to keep their dogs on a lead.

The surrounding area is dominated by tall cliffs which stand 100m tall, which is a key purpose as to why the area is so deserted. Along with its clear rugged terrain, the area around Fairlight is also subject to regular cliff falls due to its exposed position to Channel waves.

As a result, there is no infrastructure in the area or in the Hastings Country Park above which adds to its eerie, abandoned atmosphere.

As you continue down to the bottom of the perilous, steep path path you are finally greeted with the stunning views at the sheltered cove. This is where we should probably add that it also acts as a naturist beach, so don't be alarmed if you see a few visitors that aren't 'dressed for the weather'. The whole area is littered with a whole array of incredible rock formations - that wouldn't look out of place in the Mediterranean.

The path to the top of Fairlight Glen

Chicory, Cichorium intybus, in an arable field

An ancient Oak with many lichens; Mostly common Ramalina fastigiata & R. farinacea. This Quercus robur in the south east shows that it is not just oaks in western Atlantic woods that can drip with lichens!

plus Xanthoria paientina

Pendulous Sedge, Carex pendula

The path in the dry part of Fairlight Glen, above the Dripping Well, with ferns and foxgloves

Heart's Tongue Fern, Asplenium scolopendrium

Lesser Pocket-Moss, Fissidens bryoides

Probably Black Spleenwort, Asplenium adiantum-nigrum

Probably Endive Pellia, Pellia endiviifolia, very common in the glen

Hart's-tongue Fern, Asplenium scolopendrium

The Dripping Well

Fairlight Glen at Hastings Country Park is home to Dumortier’s liverwort - one of the rarest plants in the UK and on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s ‘Red List’ of endangered species. Sussex is home to one of the rarest plants in the UK | SussexWorld ( On the three occasions that I have visited the Glen I have not found it.

Probably Common Pellia, Pellia epiphylla, possibly Greasewort, Aneura pinguis

Conocephalum conicum, Great Scented Liverwort, with female reproductive structures, archegonia

Possibly the fly Liancalus virens

Hart's Tongue Fern, Asplenium scolopendrium and liverworts, Common Scented, Conocephalum conicum, and Common Pellia, Pellia epiphylla

Steps down from the Dripping Well

Probably Hairy Buttercup, Ranunculus sardous

Probably Broad-Buckler Fern, Dryopteris dilatata

Hoverfly on Red Campion, Silene dioica

Remote Sedge, Carex remota


Soft Shield Fern, Polystichum setiferum

Moss: Common Smoothcap, Atrichum undulatum

Broad Buckler-Fern, Dryopteris dilatata

Probably Dead Moll's Fingers, Xylaria longipes

Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum

Pendunculate Oak, Quercus robur

Two lichens were prominent on this Oak

Probably a Rinodina sp. lichen, possibly R. roboris.

Probably, Lecatantis subabietina

Buttercup Ranunculus sp, probably R sardos with insect

Another Oak, Quercus Robur with many epiphytes

Orthorrichum sp. probably O. affine moss and Parmotrema perlatum lichen, on this oak

Swollen Thigh Beetle, Oedemera nibilis, on Common Dandelion, Taxacum afficinale

Landslip and beach

Below where the north-south path down the glen meets the east-west path at the top of the cliffs there is a landslip.

Major landslip and cliff erosion events occurred between 1997 and 2005; since then the footpath to the beach, from where the north-south oath meets the east-wet path, has been closed for safety reasons. People still use the path to the beach, partly because the beech is a nudist beech, but they are warned by council signs saying that they do so at their own risk. The following photographs were taken from the path down to the beech. The path is extremely steep and slippery. I have taken this path on a few occasions as the mudstones and siltstones have interesting botany; but it is a dangerous walk and I recommend that you do not walk this route

The geology comprises siltstones and mottled mudstones interbedded with thin sandstone layers of the Ashdown Formation (approximately 134 to 145 million years old).

In southeast Sussex, the argillaceous [consisting of clay] part of the Ashdown Formation is well-developed and a series of clay seams, the informally named ‘Fairlight Clays’, is well exposed on the shoreline cliffs at Fairlight Cove. Here, this argillaceous part of the Ashdown Formation comprises dark grey finely-bedded mudstones and mudstones, commonly red-stained, with abundant iron carbonate pellets at some levels. Geological Field Trip to Landslip at Fairlight Cove | Southern Testing

The mudstone and siltstone seem particularly propitious for horsetails

Probably Great Horsetail, Equisetum telmateia

Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum

The mudstone and siltstones have many fissures

Common Cantaury, Centaurium erythracea

Cladonia sp. lichen, possibly Cladonia humilis

The cliffs at Fairlight Cove

Ribwort Plaintain, Plantago lanceolata

Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echiodes

Field Horsetail, Equisetum arvense

Frullania dilitata, Dilated Scalewort, liverwort and Wood Bristle-moss, Orthotrichum affine, on beech

Marble Screwmoss, Syntricha papilosa, usually grows on mature trees

Water Horsetail, Equisetum fluviatile

The path to Hastings

An ancient oak



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