VIEWS OF THE SOUTH DOWNS
by Barry Van-Asten
Having completed the South Down's Way walk (including the bridleway route section with the villages of Alfriston and Jevington) from Eastbourne to Winchester (approximately 100 miles), I made some little ink sketches along the way which I have put together.
Some of the highlights along the route include Beachy Head (534 feet) and lighthouse (built 1902), Belle Tout lighthouse; Birling Gap; the Seven Sisters; the Cuckmere Valley and Estuary and Firle Beacon (713 feet), which is excellent for kite-flying.
My companion and I camped at a farm in Plumpton in a field surrounded by cows and no doubt 'big cats' which prowled by moonlight down the lanes towards the train station and the racecourse. We walked from Ditchling Beacon (813 feet, one of the highest points on the Downs) through heavy hail and showers to the Jack and Jill windmills and sheltered in Pycombe Church of the Transfiguration (12th century with 13th century tower) and its Norman lead font (1170), one of only three in Sussex. With the weather clearing it was on to Devil's Dyke for lunch and finishing in Upper Beeding.
The next walk began at Shoreham by Sea and a look at the church of St Mary de Haura, circa 1100 in New Shoreham. From there we rejoined the end of the last walk at Upper Beeding and walking on to Steyning Bowl and seeing the mysterious view of Cissbury Ring we had lunch and then pushed on to Chanctonbury Ring. Further on I took a look inside an old cement and steel world war II bunker and walked on to Rackham Hill and Amberley with its Black Horse Pub.
The walk from Amberley took us to Cocking Hill and we ended the walk in Chichester for dinner [we spent another day visiting Chichester to see the cathedral and the splendid 'Arundel Tomb' of Larkin's famous poem]. We continued from South Harting Down doing a reverse section as it was more compatible with public transport and walked to Beacon Hill; Pen Hill and Buriton Farm; Philliswood Down and the memorial to the German pilot killed in world war II named Hauptman Joseph Oesterman. At the Devil's Jumps we climbed one of the larger barrows and there was a strange peacefulness all around. The walk ended at Hilltop Farm and we explored more of Chichester, doing the circular wall walk.
We camped at Southbourne and at South Harting Down walked in the direction of Queen Elizabeth Country Park where we stopped for tea and on to East Meon (Ye Old George Inn) and Exton Church, ending at Millbury's Inn and a long journey back to camp.
The last section of the walk began at Winchester and then taking public transport to Hinton Ampner where we looked in All Saint's Church and walked some of the 'Wayfarers' Way' to get back onto the South Downs Way and officially began at Millbury's Inn where we had lunch. The walk finally ended back in Winchester where we had a celebratory dinner at 'Alfie's' Pub!
Walking the South Downs Way has definitely been an unforgettable experience!
The South Down's Way
There are many churches along the South Downs Way. One good example of Medieval, Saxon, Norman and Early English architecture was St Andrew's Church at Jevington. The church was restored between 1872-73 and the West Tower dates from 900-950 AD and the outer walls have good examples of herringbone flint work; the walk to Jevington was particulary beautiful with the woods filled with wild garlic. Another fine church and a place which became a good base for exploring the Downs was Alfriston, and its church, also St Andrew's. The 14 century parish church was founded circa 1360 and stands on a raised mound in the village green known as the Tye. Legend says that the church was originally to be built to the west of the village street, but mysteriously the stones which had been laid, were removed during the night by some 'supernatural' agency, supposedly the Devil, and placed upon the Tye. Four oxen were also noticed with their behinds touching, forming the shape of the cross, so the position of the church seemed to have been chosen by Divine approval.
Near the church, on the south side is the old Clergy House, built around the same time as the church and supposedly haunted. It is a good example of a 'Wealden' house with a beautful garden which includes an ancient Judas tree. The house is also famously the first property to be owned by the National Trust.
Some of West Dean Church dates back to Saxon times but it is mostly Norman (1200). The square tower in the west end has a splendid gabled spire, unique in Sussex.
Sadly nothing remains of Exceat Church, that once stood on a hill to the east side of Cuckmere Haven. There is a marker in Portland stone (1913) which reads: 'Here formerly stood the Parish Church of Excete, built probably in the XIth century and abandoned in the XVth century [the parish being incorporated with West Dean in 1528] the foundations were uncovered under the supervision of the Rev. G.W.A. Lawrence rector of West Dean and the Sussex Archeological Society and the site reserved by the ecclesiastical commissioners 1913.'
Southease Church, 966 AD, is a beautiful parish church with a distinctive round tower (added circa 1150), one of only three in Sussex. The interior is a superb mix of Norman, 12th - 14th Century and modern architecture. The font is 12th century and the wall paintings (west and north walls), uncovered in the 1930's by Dr E. Clive Rouse are also 12th century.
Long Man of Wilmington
The hill figure known as the Long Man was cut into the turf and is 229 feet high. The naked man holds two poles or staffs which are taller than himself. It is not known for sure why or when the Long Man was cut but one theory is that the staffs he holds are what's known as a 'dodman', an instrument for surveying ley lines.
Sissbury Ring is an Iron Age Hill Fort, the second largest in England. It is said that while the Devil was digging Devil's Dyke in an effort to flood the Weald, the earth that he removed fell to the ground and formed Cissbury Ring, along with Chanctonbury Ring and Rackham Hill.
Night of the Pagans: Chanctonbury Ring
Chanctonbury Ring is 883 feet high on the ridge of the South Downs and the beech trees were planted in 1760 by Charles Goring, the sixteen year old son of the estate owner. Unfortunately the great storm of October 1987 felled many of the trees but it is still very impressive and beginning to recover from this devastation; the low bank and ditch of the ring are clear to see. There are many tales concerning the ring from ghostly sightings to UFO's and I saw it as a site of pagan activity, both past and present. But whatever you believe, there is definitely a strange and eerie atmosphere connected to Chanctonbury Ring and a 'supernatural' calmness; I noticed that no birds were singing in the clump of trees (it was a beautiful summer day) and having an impulse to touch the trees of the outer ring I felt there was a presence walking with me; there was no breeze, in fact it was quite still and peaceful but outside the Ring there was a slight wind. I stood at the centre of the Ring in a clearing and felt as though I were being watched. The site was an Iron Age hill fort and many people have lived and died here.
Barrows, Mounds and Dew Ponds
One delightful detour was following the River Ouse from Southease train station and diverting off to the lovely little village of Rodmell to look at the parish church of St Peter's, (12th century). But the main attraction at Rodmell was Monk's House owned by the National Trust, the beautiful house once owned by Virginia and Leonard Woolf. They bought the house in 1919 and Virginia's ashes were interred in the pleasant garden beneath two great elm trees (unfortunately one blew down in 1943). Following the visit my companion and I walked the way back to the River Ouse, a walk Virginia often took until on 28th March 1941, suffering from depression, she took the walk for the last time and was found a few days later floating in the River. And so after a drink at the Abergavenny Arms, in honour of Virginia and Shakespeare (it was 23rd April and a lovely sunny day) I walked the 'Woolf walk of death route' saluting the 'Bard of Avon' while smoking an excellent Cuban cigar! We walked into Lewes, that ancient county town of East Sussex with its Norman Castle remains and medieval streets and Georgian buildings to that mecca of hospitality, good food and real ale: the Snowdrop Inn! Also well worth visiting is the Lewes Arms; the White Hart Inn; the Ann of Cleve's House and Southover Grange and Gardens.
Five Bronze Age round bell barrows in a clearing in the woods. They are named because the god Thor liked to sit on Treyford Hill and one day, the Devil, seeing the five barrows began jumping from one to the other; Thor threw a stone at him and the Devil fled.
The Meon Valley
The beautiful valley of the River Meon in Hampshire and the chalk hills of the Sussex South Downs have some really beautiful wild plants which become more and more familiar as one spends time amongst the hills and woods and trackways, such as the ox-eye daisies, yellow rattle, bird's-foot trefoil, purple milk-vetch, rue-leaved saxifrage, lesser and greater knapweed, thistles, burdock, poppies and orchids!
St Michael's church in Amberley is 12th century and the remains of Amberley Castle adjoin it.
all images Copyright Barry Van-Asten