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Home » Features, Top Story

The South Downs Way

Published by on Friday, 2 May 2008One Comment
Gliders on the Downs Photo: Corinne Attwood

Gliders on the Downs Photo: Corinne Attwood

The South Downs Way, stretching for a hundred miles from Winchester to Eastbourne, is one of Britain’s National Trails. Justifiably designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it offers stretches of peace and isolation almost unique in densely populated southern England.

It has been travelled for over 8,000 years, back into the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age – the high and drier chalk ridge offered much easier travelling than the wet and thickly wooded Weald below – but the greatest threats to it from human occupation came in the last century.

During WW2 large areas of the Downs were used for military training, however the biggest changes came after the war, when mechanised agriculture, heavy subsidies, and the extensive use of artificial pesticides and fertilizers allowed larger areas to be ploughed than ever before. Fortunately the decision to begin the designation of the South Downs was taken in April 2000, the Countryside Agency deciding that a National Park would be the best way to protect the Downs, build on the achievements of the past and conserve and enhance the area in its widest sense for future generations.

Local author and photographer Belinda Knox presents a guide to the Way, pointing out interesting and idiosyncratic sights along the route. The book also gives an outline of the history, geology, flora and fauna of the landscape, as well as some of the famous people associated with particular places along the Way, such as the writer Virginia Woolf, the painter Vanessa Bell the biographer Lytton Strachey, the painter Duncan Grant, novelist E.M. Forster, T.S. Eliot and Maynard Keynes (Charleston farm house). It contains interesting snippets of information, such as the fact that until the 1930s, Alfriston still practised the old funerary custom of burying local shepherds holding a small piece of fleece, so that St. Peter would have compassion on them for their lack of attendance at church.

There are also some offbeat tips to enhance your experience of walking the Way; for example, if you encounter a sheep which is lying down and unable to stand up due to the weight of its coat, you can save its life by pushing it back up into an upright position, as they are vulnerable to predators when on the ground.

There is even a recipe for the famous Banoffi Pie, which was invented in 1972 in the Hungry Monk pub in Jevington. This beautiful book, lavishly illustrated with stunning photographs (including a couple of Brighton), will help readers to appreciate this wonderful landscape, which we are so fortunate to have right on our doorstep.

Some of the most beautiful areas and interesting sights on the Way are quite close to Brighton, such as the White Horse, between Seaford and Alfriston, the Long Man of Wilmington, and Chanctonbury Ring, 800 ft. (240m.), site of a temple used by ancient Romans as well as Britons. Legend has it that Chanctonbury Ring was created by the mounds of earth thrown up by Satan as he was digging Devil’s Dyke. Residents can get to the South Downs Way by bus from Brighton to Devil’s Dyke (no. 77), Stanmer Park (no. 78), and Ditchling Beacon (no. 79), the highest point along the Way at 813 ft. (248m.).

Nearby is the village of Clayton, which has a house with a railway line running through the middle of it, featured in the song from the late 1950s sung by Alma Cogan, which some residents may remember. Bus no. 77 runs hourly, from 10am to 8pm from the pier, twelve minutes later from the station, daily from 5th July to 31st August, weekends and Bank Holidays only, from 10am to 5.30pm, in April, May, June and September, no service October to March; bus no. 78 runs hourly from 10am to 5pm from the Steine, c.5 minutes later from the station, weekends and Bank Holidays from 6th April, Saturdays only from 27th September to next April; bus no. 79 runs hourly from 10.15 am to 5.15 pm from the Steine, c. 5 minutes later from the station, days of operation as no. 78.

The South Downs Way

The South Downs Way by Belinda Knox
Publisher: Frances Lincoln

ISBN: 9780711228535
Format: 267 mm x 250 mm (10.5 inches x 9.9 inches)

One Comment »

  • Really intersting article. Also to note the bomb holes scattered across the downs from world war 2 and the monarchs way which runs for around 600 miles which takes in a large part of the south side of the downs.

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