Strange as it may seem, my, generally open, social nature does not extend to most of my journeys into the countryside. This is aside of my annual walk for the Alzheimers Society- which friends, who I am most indebted to, faithfully attend.
Since being a child I have enjoyed long and happy times of solitude. This has extended to adult life and is most conspicuous, or inconspicuous as you may suggest, when I’m in the heart of Sussex. There is little better than I hill in summer with rolling country all around and not a soul to be seen.
The only sentient beings I am generally happy to share that space with, or rather have little choice to share that space with, are the animals who reside there.
I’ve met many a creature on my travels in Sussex- and that includes a camel (pictured here for those who still don’t believe). I’ve been scared witless by some angry cows and found myself in a military movement of killer geese.
All this often makes me wonder about our relationship with animals and how nature really intends it. One things for sure, I don’t feel obliged to nod and say hello when one is nearby on my ventures (although I often do) and I feel more as though as I am invading their space than they mine.
The Jean Fennell Memorial Walk began in 2009 and this year will be the seventh outing. The walk aims to raise funds for dementia sufferers, and their carers. My dear Mum fell victim to the disease in 2004, eventually passing away in 2008 after a cruel period of suffering.
The walk has seen the sunrise, mud, angry cows and confused sheep. We have walked hills, rivers and woods.
This year the intrepid walkers will take on the wilds of Mid-Sussex, including ferocious sheep, errant golf balls, and a couple of very scary geese.
The walk starts at Balcombe, heads down along the Ardingly reservoir, and stops for wow and wonder at the Ouse Valley Viaduct.
A cross country jaunt down to the picturesque Cuckfield then heads the weary numbers towards Burgess Hill as the thought of wholesome grub drives their stomachs, if not their legs.
This event has raised more than £5000 in vital support for the work of the Alzheimer’s Society, both nationally and locally. Dementia is a challenge facing society as we all live longer, and underfunded charitable services are in desperate need of resources.
Do join us if you wish, if not, please give whatever you can afford. Nothing is too small.
‘Up in the morning early,
Start at the break of day;
March till the evening shadows
Tell us it’s time to stay.
We’re always moving on, my boys,
So take the time from me,
And sing this song as we march along,
Of Sussex by the Sea.’
Sussex folk ‘won’t be druv’ (driven). So don’t mess with us……..
I’d love to be able to claim that I was Sussex born and bred. But I can’t. I was actually born in Surrey, whisked across the border with Hampshire for six weeks, and only after that stolen into the glorious northern forests of the splendid Sussex County. At the age of two I was then brought to Brighton for permanent lodgings.
I meet very few people in this life who don’t’ choose to tie their existence with some kind of outward identity. This can take many forms, perhaps their family or their town of residence (or origin). One of the most common tribal forms of identity is a sports team, most commonly football. This is probably at it strongest when, for people like myself, that is tied with their hometown, and in the case of Brighton & Hove Albion, their home county too.
Philosophers and psychiatrists have doubtless dissected the need for identity for centuries, and I’m not one to debate such matters. A sense of belonging obviously brings security and stability, even if only within our psychology. Most of us are doubtless aware of this, but for the most part choose to indulge it. As esoterically aware as I like to think I am, I definitely fall into that category.
So what of Sussex? This place of magnetic loyalty, this place of beautiful downland landscape, rolling forests, and stony seashores. Well, It’s only natural that the first place we learn to explore as we grow up is the immediate surroundings.
As a youngster, after he had been to visit home to check on the welfare of my mother, my very kindly Godfather used to often pick me up from school and take me on a ride throughout the countryside. I used to live for those days. As a family we never owned a car, so certain parts of rural Sussex were sadly off limit.
It was at this time that I became fascinated by the departure that the countryside offered from the urban sprawl. I used to live for these days out, and even as an adult, although totally in control of when I come and go, I still do.
Much of Sussex (South Saxon) was once covered in dense forest. As a result of agricultural encroachment over the centuries this has been eroded, although some dense areas still exist, particularly in the North of the county. St Leonard’s Forest, just south of Horsham, is a wonderful place to get lost in during May, the time of sweeping bluebells. This once happened to me, and rather than finding myself worried I just enjoyed the experience. Perhaps that’s because there was plenty of daylight left… There are some useful rambling trails and the location often offers a totally secluded experience of splendid isolation (Unless a Dear comes rampaging across your path, as once happened to me, leaving me in temporary shock). I once recorded the birdsong in this forest. I wish I still had the audio, it was something to behold.
To the other wandering extreme, the hills of the South Downs are a place to be at sunrise. To stand on Ditchling Beacon, or on the South Downs Way above The Ouse, with it’s misty aura, is a sight to behold at sunrise. Catching the right sort of weather for this experience renders planning pointless, I have managed to do it once this summer, ironically on a planned event, and it was more than worth it.
It seems to be a most English pastime to be disparaging of your own pastures, something I have found myself doing about parts of England myself, In recent times I have tried to curtail this habit, this self-effacing cultural habit, because such damning and sweeping assessments are often blind and frankly incorrect. There is much to be thankful for when it comes to living upon these shores.
However, Sussex, the very mention of the county, brings a chest puffing session of pride. It’s my county and I care much for it. Especially the quirky fusion of abstract culture that the town of Brighton (and Hove) affords my character.
So what provoked me to write this short piece of unadulterated praise, apart from the traditional mucky Bank Holiday weather that renders meaningful pursuit…meaningless?
Well, it’s back to the tribal Football thing.
As I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes attend away matches involving Brighton & Hove Albion. It’s a chance for a day out. At Birmingham City, a week or so ago, I heard the Albion fans singing the strains of Sussex By The Sea. However, instead of using the sanitised football version, they were attempting to sing some of the original verses in encouragement to others to do the same. In the greater scheme of things it probably doesn’t matter, but my pride was re-kindled upon hearing the verses of that splendid tune sung in their proper form.
The tune itself always raises the hairs of the neck, not just for me, for many folks when it gets played at the AMEX. The only frustration is that many make no effort to learn the words. Hopefully this will change now. For Brighton and for Sussex. Does it really matter in the ultimate scheme of things? No. But for the endless want of identity, it goes a long way to fuel that tremendous sense of belonging to these wonderful pastures. Give it a go.
|Sussex – Rudyard Kipling(1902)|
|GOD gave all men all earth to love,
But since our hearts are small,
Ordained for each one spot should prove
Belovèd over all;
That, as He watched Creation’s birth,
So we, in godlike mood,
May of our love create our earth
And see that it is good.So one shall Baltic pines content,
As one some Surrey glade,
Or one the palm-grove’s droned lament
Before Levuka’s Trade.
Each to his choice, and I rejoice
The lot has fallen to me
In a fair ground—in a fair ground—
Yea, Sussex by the sea!No tender-hearted garden crowns,
No bosomed woods adorn
Our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs,
But gnarled and writhen thorn—
Bare slopes where chasing shadows skim,
And, through the gaps revealed,
Belt upon belt, the wooded, dim,
Blue goodness of the Weald.
Clean of officious fence or hedge,
Here leaps ashore the full Sou’west
We have no waters to delight
Here through the strong and shadeless days
Though all the rest were all my share,
I will go out against the sun
I will go north about the shaws
So to the land our hearts we give
God gives all men all earth to love,
So far, so good. The early summer of 2014 has afforded some pleasant weather at the most appropriate times.
Glynde is amongst my favourite Sussex villages. Useful for public transport links, namely the train and the odd bus, it serves as a useful starting point for many a country jaunt. To the south there is the energy sapping Beddingham Hill, for a view towards the sea, and to the west the resplendent Mt Caburn- for a view to just about everywhere.
I used to attend an annual camp at Glynde, when I was in the Boys Brigade. A number of years later I was to play cricket there for a period of time. To me, it’s a special place. The village has many an attractive old construct, the most holistically appealing of all being the popular Trevor Arms, for obvious reason….
The path to Lewes is determined by what a person wishes to see. For fields of Llamas and Glyndebourne Opera House head up the B road out of the village for a mile or so, then cross country to Lewes. For spectacular Sussex views, from high vantage points, follow the map to the top of Caburn and onwards from there .
At sunrise, or in the heat of the day, this short walk is an absolute must. There are watering houses at either end, and the transport links are very practical.
Distance: About 4 miles
Duration: Under an hour and a half, but you’ll want to stop and look.
As much as the South Downs is a focal point for many a local Sussex walker, it can be a bit ‘samey’ after a while. I also love woodlands, water, and places of historical interest. The walk from Balcombe station to Haywards Heath offers all three.
I first stumbled across Ardingly Reservoir in the mid-80s, much the same as the Ouse Valley Viaduct, but, in the former’s case, only returned in recent years.
The walk, well under four hours long (depending on how long you spend gazing at the glorious viaduct) takes you through Balcombe itself, across the Haywards Heath Road, and through the rolling meadows, the lush Alder woods, and on to the eastern path around the reservoir. It takes about an hour to get around the reservoir itself, but you wont tire of it-especially on a wet summers day (Yes, a wet day…)
At the bottom of the reservoir there is a choice of heading straight through Rivers Wood, whilst admiring the variation of natural tree crops, or heading out towards the viaduct and entering the woods half way in from there. To be honest, if you miss out the viaduct then you must be either running late, or have lost your marbles. This spectacular piece of Victorian architecture is a special to me as it was the first time thirty years ago. I’ve written more about it, from a point of social history, in the link below:
From there, full of awe and wonder, you can wind your way back southwards through various copses and woodland eventually finding yourself in the Urban sprawl of Haywards Heath. Take your time and, as ever, plot the route on an OS Explorer Map.
Definitely recommended for a day of light rain. There is much woodland cover, and early in the morning the countryside is so liberating.
Distance: About 7.5 miles
Duration: Varied, depending on stops. Quickest time would be just under three hours.
Not everyone likes walking, but a little incentive and the promise of ‘it’s only a short ramble’ can often be a clincher for them to add to the numbers. Certainly, the promise of no hilly terrain can add to the enticement.
The Beacon is a place that most people in the southern part of East Sussex should be aware of. The start or the finish of many a ramble, or just a place to go and spend a couple of quiet hours. The views northwards from the Downs are quite something, and if you miss Brighton after a short absence you can always look backwards and see the place in all its glory. A point of note for those reliant on public transport is that there is an hourly bus that runs from Brighton on weekends and Bank Holidays. So no excuse then.
The walk to Pyecombe is genuinely short, about an hours gentle stroll. It takes you across the top of the hill along the South Downs Way. The views northward are beautifully available for most of that trip, as is the tiny urban monoliths to the south.
As pretty Pyecombe comes in to view the thoughts of the easily distracted novice may turn to lunch- and a pint. Pyecombe was made for this. So, after you have spent a short time obligingly accompanying your fellow walkers to look at the ancient church in the centre of the village, a visit to the The Plough at the bottom of hill will cause great relief.
The BP service station that serves the A23 is nearby and there is a hourly/two hourly (Sundays) bus service that stops at the dinky brick shelter at the garage to ferry you Brighton bound afterwards.
An outstanding short walk, particularly for those who don’t like walking….
Distance: Just over 3.5 miles
Duration: About an hour.
If the Dyke was the work of the devil, though hardly a malevolent creation, then the South Downs is a fitting response from the Almighty. And being almost religious in my devotion to the South Downs Way, I’m more than happy to sing its praise.
As you amble your way along from the Dyke through to the Adur, the views northward seem to barely change in feature. But it doesn’t matter, for these panoramas will encapsulate you. And indeed this is basically a summary of the whole reason for the walk itself.
The chalky nature of the area is at its most prominent here, and walking boots, rather than trainers, are definitely preferred. It is very easy to become complacent on such terrain, what with the fast drainage and the absence of muddy fields, but the rocky paths will often mean that as much as your footwear wont need a wash afterwards, your ankle may need a plastering…
Starting from the Dyke Inn, which would be a more preferable end to the walk, I simply headed west along the South Downs Way, Caroline in tow. She commented that this had been a walk she was familiar with, but for me, despite my Sussex wanderlust, it was my first journey on this route into West Sussex on a country excursion-certainly that I can remember. Most of my country sojourns take me north and east. I’ve never understood this sub-conscious prejudice.
The journey itself is very easy to follow on the recommended Land Ranger Map, as the only departure from the South Downs Way is a voluntary one, to take snaps from the edge of the hillside. The terrain itself has many inclines, but whatever your transport to the Dyke is, you can thank it for taking the away the proper climbs. There is very little exertion here.
Having meandered your way along to Edburton Hill, somewhat less inspiring than the wonderful view down the hill to the village itself, it’s then on to Truleigh Hill and past the YMCA, which externally, looks like a suitable setting for a teenage horror film. The descent to the Shoreham Road then begins, and the option of catching the bus back in to town, or continuing north-west to the quaint Bramber, or the antique Steyning-both splendidly visible from the hill itself-opens itself up.
No complex instructions needed here then.
Now, once finishing the jolly jaunt, for Caroline and myself, the bus was due, and the pub was calling. But whatever your chosen end, a warm summers weekend would certainly be enhanced by this cute little ramble.
Distance: About 4.5 miles
Duration: Around one and three quarter hours.
The walk from Pyecombe to Devils Dyke starts just off the roaring tarmac off the A23 at Church Lane, with the aesthetically pleasing Plough Inn sitting on the southern end. The 271/273 bus stops near here and there is a BP service station on hand, so the start of the walk is well facilitated.
I decided to take a look at the church at the top of the lane before heading off on the South Downs Way to cross the A23. Whilst sorting out my bits and bobs the vicar came by in full regalia, acknowledging me warmly. I would have asked for a picture, as she looked so dapper, but decided not to as posting pictures of clergy can be met by trollish derision of their character nowadays. The church itself in Pyecombe is listed on Wiki as 12th-13th century and well worth a look. An excellent landmark early in a short walk.
Crossing the A23, I deliberately took the walk up Newtimber Hill, avoiding the slightly shorter route of the more southerly South Downs Way. Unfortunately, the southern route gives you a far greater exposure to the sight and sounds of the A23. This is something I am conscious of on walks that are only slightly out of town. Even when you arrive in Seddlescombe, the South Downs Way takes you up near the Dyke Golf Club, and the sites and sounds of the town are still not far, so a little bit of thinking and this can be avoided too.
As I descended into Seddlescombe, from the top of Newtimber Hill, the Dyke comes in to view and the unevenness and hilly terrain make the journey so much richer. Everything is a beautiful shade of green. I found a secluded dewpond to stop and relax by for a while; even Google Maps couldn’t find me.
From Seddlescombe, rather than follow the South Downs Way, I again took a detour, so as to take in the full glory of the Dyke. I think it was the first time I have walked directly through it. It is an awesome sight as the pictures show. The ascent at the end of the route may be slightly taxing, but the well-placed Dyke Inn, and its panoramic views, offers wholesome reward…..
Distance: Around 3.5 miles
Duration: About 90 minutes, but longer if you want to stop and admire some outstanding scenic moments
It’s easy to become lazy and go for the easiest option when trying to enjoy a sunny day. Brighton doesn’t help this very much. For example, a simple wander in to town, with a stroll around the Lanes, can make for a pleasant enough afternoon. Yet, as much as this town is a cultural bubble that offers so much entertainment, it is a shame that so many of us forget what lies in the hinterlands.
A number of years ago I vowed to try and take time out of the Brighton on a weekend. To try something different. Initially I decided to visit some of the outlying towns, as I’m the sort of person who enjoys a good charity shop and so this option offers many possibilities. For a few weeks I got to enjoy some short bus and train journeys and a little more awareness that life does exist off the Yellow Brick Road. Even the dullest of provincial towns can be made pleasurable by a chocolate doughnut and a well-made mocha in a café that offers service with a smile.
Yet, as much as other local towns may offer endearing qualities for the easily pleased, the countryside locally offers the ultimate get-away experience. It took me a while to realise this. Perhaps it was my lazy nature, but it did seem like a lot of effort to get myself together for a five-mile jaunt. Once I’m out there, though, the term splendid isolation, especially during winter, is never truer.
From the edges of the town, easily accessible with public transport, we can embark on all sorts of invigorating strolls. Amongst the most obvious of starting points is Ditchling Beacon. For a while now Brighton & Hove Buses have ran a bus that goes there fairly regular during the summer months, In fact I think it now runs all year round. Once there, the South Downs opens up, and a number of feel good walks, short and long, make themselves available. My favourite walk takes me the 6 miles or so from there to Lewes. It only takes a couple of hours, but for most of the journey you can see for miles far and wide, and a warm summers day brings a splendid experience on the route to Blackcap.
My most regular walk takes me eastwards from north Woodingdean to either Kingston, for lunch at the Jugs, then on to Lewes, or to Southease and the River Ouse. Its excellent for a casual stroll or a 2-hour stride designed to meet the infrequent services that might stop on a Sunday at Southease station. Once you get to the top of the hill above Kingston you are greeted with the wonderful sight of the valley below. I once made that walk at sunrise (see photos below) and it was an experience I will never forget. The early morning mist rolling on the Ouse, Beddingham Hill shrouded in low cloud, the sun rising over Newhaven-and not a soul around. There are a few angry cows on the descent into the valley, but they are well worth the risk.
It takes quite a lot of effort to remove ourselves from the cosy warmth of our own abodes and stride out with our thoughts to the local countryside. During my journeys I am often surprised at just how few people I meet, even on what would be described as well beaten tracks. It is so worth it though, because once you’re out there the marvellous isolation gives a clear head and an appreciation for nature that the town could never afford.