Tag Archives: south downs way

Two great podcasts today

29 May

Whilst sorting through the files and folders on my hard drive today I listened to two new podcast episodes. I must admit that I am rather biased about these two podcasts, because they are both subjects close to my heart.

First was the next episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme Ramblings, in which Clare Balding walked part of the South Downs Way from Ditchling Beacon to Devil’s Dyke. It was wonderful to hear her talking about some of the places that I had seen on my walk last week, and some of the things I had mentioned on my blog post.

Next up was the latest podcast from The National Archives, this was a talk entitled Lost London Pubs given by Jack Adams at the Pub History Society Conference I attended back in February and wrote about here. It was great to hear the talk again and I hope that some of the other talks will appear over the next few weeks.

It is very rare to get a podcast that is so close to home, relevant and interesting, but to get two come along at the same time is unheard of, but nevertheless welcome.

South Downs Way: Falmer to Pyecombe

25 May

South Downs Way sign

Today’s walk was unforgettable, but mostly for the wrong reasons. The start from the A27 between Falmer and Lewes in East Sussex, was inauspicious after the bus driver failed to stop at the right bus stop, apparently he thought I had pressed the button by accident. Guess not many people take the bus to the South Downs Way.

Ditchling Beacon

The walk itself was very good, the hills seemed pretty gentle although one of the hills on this walk, Ditchling Beacon (seen above), is said to be the highest point in East Sussex, but it didn’t really seem like it.

The weather was pretty good too. The sun shone and there was very little cloud, but once again things were a bit hazy. There was quite a strong breeze at the start, but that seemed to disappear later in the day.

I had really been looking forward to this part of the route, I have never walked it, there was so much to see along the route (and nearby) and of course it is close to real ancestor territory (Lewes and Hurstpierpoint to mention but two).

Trig point and Mount Harry

There were three trig points either on the route or nearby, the one pictured above is on Blackcap (with Mount Harry in the background). The views from all three were good, but because of the haze they weren’t as spectacular as they could have been.

There are two hill figures on this part of the route as well. One has been lost, known as Ditchling Cross, it was originally carved into the chalk on the hill side above Plumpton. I took a detour (just north of the path) to try and find it, having found traces of it on aerial views on Google Maps and Bing Maps. It is now marked by an indent in the hill side, the upright being more visible than the cross-piece.

The other hill figure was grown on the side of the hill, rather than cut into it. In 1887 to celebrate the Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee two rows of trees were planted in the shape of a V. From the hill top there is not much to see, and I wasn’t going to go down the hill and climb back up just to get a photo. I have several postcards of it, and it can be clearly seen on Google Maps, albeit upside down.

There were many dew ponds along this section of the route. Dew ponds are a vital source of water for livestock on the Downs, and I shall probably write a fuller description in the future due to their history and importance, especially if you come from generations of agricultural labourers like I do (although I am not sure if I have any hill farmers in my family tree). For now you will just have to make do with the photo below.

Sheep drinking at dew pond

Along with trig points, dew ponds and hill figures, there were also to two windmills (Jack and Jill) on the side of the hill above Clayton, near the end of the walk. Jack is in private ownership (and in quite bad shape by the looks of it), but Jill is open to the public on Summer Sunday afternoon. Another important part of our agricultural heritage.

The walk ended at Pyecombe in West Sussex. In theory this should have been the most convenient part of the walk for me, I could catch a bus home from Pyecombe without any problem. Unfortunately it didn’t go according to plan.

I arrived at the bus stop on the A23 with five minutes to spare, but knew that the bus would almost certainly be late because of the heavy traffic coming out of Brighton. It was late, about 20 minutes late, and to my dismay the driver didn’t see me waving franticly on the roadside and drove on past.

I couldn’t stand another hour in a lay-by with nothing but a bus stop for company and the thunder of traffic passing just a few feet away. Rather than risk another bus passing me by I decided it would be better to get away from the main road and walk about a mile up a quieter road to the next bus stop, where I could guarantee I would be seen.

Keymer Post

The finger post on the left is known as Keymer Post, and it marks the boundary between the counties of East and West Sussex. North points to the village of Keymer (where my grandparents were married), south is Brighton, west is Winchester and east is Eastbourne.

So far I have completed almost 33 miles of the South Downs Way, which is about a third of the total distance, and now I am walking in West Sussex, my home county and the landscape of many of my ancestors. The idea of walking all the way across West Sussex seems almost inconceivable, but it is not much further than I have already walked. After that there is still about 30 miles of Hampshire to go before I finally reach Winchester.

… and whilst we are on the subject, where do I get my indecisiveness from?

22 May

Why do I find it so hard to make a decision? Is it something I inherited from one of my ancestors? If so, which one?

All of these questions crossed my mind as I tried to decide what I was going to do today. In truth I had known that I had to make a decision for several days, but had been putting it off.

My two options for today were walking another section of the South Downs Way or going to the postcard fair at Woking, Surrey. There were of course other options, such as staying at home and doing nothing, but I had at least narrowed it down to these two possibilities.

I could always toss a coin for it, but the logical side of me thinks that I should be able to make the decision without using luck. The problem is that although I can see all the advantages and disadvantages for each of the options, it still doesn’t help me make up my mind either way.

So it makes me wonder, did my ancestors have the any difficultly making decisions? If I had a time machine would I be able to go back and find my ancestors sitting on the fence?

Their decisions probably wouldn’t have been quite so trivial as mine, but is indecisiveness something that gets passed down through the generations, or something you learn from those around you?

South Downs Way: Southease to Falmer

19 May

South Downs Way sign

It felt so good to be out walking today, it was a short walk from Southease (between Lewes and Newhaven in East Sussex) and Falmer (between Brighton and Lewes in East Sussex), only about seven miles in all.

As it was a shorter distance than usual it meant I didn’t have to rush, or worry about whether I was going to be able to get back in time for the last bus home. It gave me time to have a look around the parish church at Southease. Although the churchyard is a bit overgrown, the church is still a joy to look at with it’s unusual round tower, and best of all it was unlocked.

Southease church

Although the sky was clear, hardly a cloud to be seen, there was still quite a bit of mist, which once again made some of the views disappointing, it seems to be my fate never to have crystal clear views across the county. However not everything was lost, the mist itself led to some interesting views, like the one below, which shows Beddingham Hill and Firle Beacon shrouded in mist.

Firle Beacon and Beddingham Hill disappearing in the mist

The route of this section of the South Downs Way was generally in a north-westerly direction and apart from the short climb up onto the hills, about a mile from Southease, the path was quite level, or is it just me getting used to the rise and fall of the hills?

It is always interesting to see something different whilst out walking, whether it is natural or man-made. Today I was surprised to see the construction site at Falmer that will eventually become the home to Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club.

Falmer Stadium under construction

Of course this took my thoughts back to family history, because the proposed site for The Keep (the new East Sussex, Brighton and University of Sussex archive) is quite near to the new stadium.

Finally a word of warning. If you are thinking of going walking near Southease in the near future then make sure you check the National Trails website because the bridge over the River Ouse is soon to be closed for a week during restoration work.

South Downs Way: Exceat to Southease

6 May

South Downs Way sign

Yesterday I walked another section of the South Downs Way (SDW). I have no walk planned for the coming weekend and the weather looks to be getting worse, so I thought I would seize the opportunity and get another section of the SDW under my belt.

This section of the SDW began at Exceat between Seaford and Eastbourne in East Sussex. There is a visitor’s centre at Exceat, with a shop selling souvenirs (including postcards!), a restaurant/tea shop, cycle hire and toilets. The SDW heads north from the centre, with a steep but short climb up to the edge of Friston Forest. The views looking south towards Cuckmere Haven (see below) are well worth the effort.

Cuckmere Haven from Exceat

About three miles north of Exceat is the village of Alfriston. It has been quite a while since I last visited Alfriston (probably due to the infrequent bus services), and as I was only passing through I didn’t spend long there yesterday, just long enough to get a couple of bottles of water and explore the independent bookshop Much Ado Books.

Much Ado Books It is a wonderful bookshop selling both old and new books, that had a nice selection of Sussex books on it’s shelves, including a copy of Thomas Geering’s Our Sussex Parish, it always pleases me to find a copy of that “out in the wild”. It was a shame that I didn’t have long to browse, but I did come away with a copy of Walking the Triangulation Points of Sussex by David Bathurst.

From Alfriston the SDW heads west and then north-west up to Bostal Hill, another steep climb. Sadly by this time the weather had become decidedly overcast, the sunshine had vanished behind a thick blanket cloud and there was a cold wind blowing across the hills.

I wasn’t alone on the hills, apart from a few other walkers and paragliders (jumping off the top of the hill), it was good to see flocks of sheep on the hills. Aside from the cuteness of the lambs, it was so re-assuring to see sheep on the Downs where they should be, and have been for decades, if not centuries.

What ewe looking at?

Continuing west across the top of the Downs took me across Firle Beacon, Beddingham Hill and Itford Hill, taking in two trigs points on the way. From Itford Hill the SDW descended into the river valley (River Ouse), but crossing the river will have to wait until next time, because at the foot of the hill was Southease railway station which was the end of my walk and the start of my journey home.

Lewes from Itford Hill

The view above was taken from Itford Hill and is of the town of Lewes under cloudy skies, with the River Ouse and the Lewes to Seaford railway line in the foreground. It is such a shame that it turned into such an overcast day, compared to the view at the top of this post.

The Shoreham Cross

4 May

Saturday’s walk along another stretch of the North Downs has re-awakened another of my passions, a love of hill figures. Hill figures come in a variety of shapes (mostly horses), sizes, ages, material (mainly chalk) and are found mostly in Southern England (mainly in Wiltshire).

The starting point of our walk was Otford, which is just south of Shoreham, Kent. Shoreham is home to a hill figure, a chalk cross on the hillside. My first glimpse of the cross was from the train the week before, but it was only last week that I got chance to take the photo below, from Otford Mount.

Shoreham Cross

This hill figure is 100 feet high and 58 feet wide and was constructed in 1920. It serves as a war memorial to the men of Shoreham who lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars.

Shoreham Cross close-up

I wish we had more time to actually go and get a closer look at the cross, and the memorial stone. I am sure the chance will occur another time, and it looks like it is being well cared for and should be there for many years to come.

I know we will be passing several other Kent hill figures, and there are a couple of figures near the South Downs Way as well, so you can expect to see more hill figures on this blog in the future.

More wandering, starting the South Downs Way

27 Apr

As if walking the North Downs Way wasn’t enough, I have started walking the South Downs Way (SDW) as well. I say started, but I don’t know when I shall finish, or indeed when I shall walk the next part, but I have at least made a start.

Start of the South Downs Way

The photo above shows the start (or end) of the SDW, in Eastbourne, East Sussex. It is right on the western edge of the town, and is about 1½ miles from the railway station mainly through residential streets.

I have decided to do this walk alone, in fact it was partly the solitude and time to think that I wanted to experience and was my reason for starting today. It also means that I can go at my own speed and stop at places of interest on the way, without having to worry about inconveniencing anyone else. I know that when I get further west I will be in ancestral territory and my pace will no doubt slow down dramatically.

This first section was according to the guide book 7½ miles, from Eastbourne to Exceat, by way of Beachy Head, Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters. I have been to all these places before, but have never walked them all in one go.

There is so much history in this landscape. From prehistory to the Second World War. The cliff top at Beachy Head is littered with monuments and other features that attest to this rich history.

My pace today wasn’t particularly fast, partly because I haven’t done much serious walking yet this year, but mainly because I kept stopping the take photos. I had forgotten how beautiful and striking the landscape was. The photo below is of one of the most striking features, Beachy Head lighthouse.

Beachy Head Lighthouse

Birling Gap is a small group of buildings that have gathered around an access point to the beach. The buildings are gradually disappearing into the sea as the cliffs slowly erode, but whilst they remain they act as a honey pot to tourists and visitors to the coast.

Heading west from Birling Gap are the Seven Sisters, a range of cliffs with which I have something of a love-hate relationship. I love the challenge of tackling the rise and fall of the hills, and admire the fabulous views, but once I get started I usually regret it, when my legs start to complain. Every year they seem to get steeper!

Seven Sisters

The best views are of course not from the Sisters themselves, but from Birling Gap (shown above) or Seaford Head (on the far left of the photo). It is possible (although I am not sure that it is advisable) at low tide to walk along the foot of the cliffs.

Last year after my holiday in South Devon I thought that the Sussex coastline was quite dull in comparison to that of South Devon, but today I have changed my mind. I think I have definitely fallen in love with chalk!

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