I decided to take advantage of the dry, bright and unseasonably warm weather and get out for a walk. I have already said that I want to keep my walks more local and more convenient this year, and today’s walk was an excellent example of this because it was essentially a walk from one bus stop to the next.
It would have taken less than ten minutes on the bus, but because of the rather circuitous route I took it was more like four hours, partly because of the frequent stops I made to take photos and the necessity of having to carefully pick my way along some rather muddy paths.
The route was from Pyecombe in West Sussex to Patcham in East Sussex (actually on the outskirts of the City of Brighton and Hove), by way of Wolstonbury Hill, Clayton, the Clayton Windmills (Jack and Jill), a short section of the South Downs Way, part of the Sussex Border Path and the Chattri Indian War Memorial.
This was only the second time that I have been up Wolstonbury Hill, but like so many of the hills along the South Downs it has held my attention since the first time, and I have been meaning to pay it a visit ever since. Last time I was there it was a hot June day, and whilst today was not exactly cold, visiting on a winter’s day certainly shows the hill in a different light, quite literally.
From Wolstonbury Hill dropped down to the village of Clayton, famous for its railway tunnel on the main London to Brighton railway. There are not a lot of buildings in Clayton, but there is a delightful little church, sitting at the foot of the hill.
My next destination was the top of the hill, home to the two Clayton Windmills Jack and Jill. Jack was looking very much worse for wear, it is in private hands and currently up for sale if you fancy living in a historic windmill. Jill is in safer hands and was looking absolutely stunning in the bright sunshine.
From the windmills I headed south by way of the South Downs Way, then skirting round Pyecombe Golf Course before joining the Sussex Border Path which leads on to Patcham past the Chattri Indian War Memorial. This was the main reason for my walk today, it has been on my list of places to visit for years, but I never quite got around to visiting.
The history of the Chattri is well documented and it is a truly fitting memorial in a superb setting and it good to see it is well looked after and it actually looks like it is quite a popular destination for visitors judging by the number of people I passed on the way. There is an element of pilgrimage involved in visiting as there is no vehicle access to the memorial and the nearest car park is about a mile and a quarter away.
So that lead me down to the village of Patcham, a place I have passed through many times on the bus into Brighton, but never stopped to explore. I didn’t really do much exploring this time, but there were some quite nice cottages and a few shops. The approach to Patcham was not particularly nice having left the tranquility of the Downs one has to cross over the busy A27 Brighton-by-pass (fortunately there is a footbridge) and pass behind the back gardens of several houses, with their accompanying overspill of garden and household waste.
Overall though this was a great start to 2012, a nice gentle walk over the Downs (about seven and a half miles), lots of interest along the way, and only a couple of paths were the mud was a problem, which considering it is early January was quite fortunate.
Having reached the top of Wolstonbury Hill the rest of my Sussex Day walk could only be downhill.
I considered the best way home, I could go west and down to Newtimber and Poynings and catch the bus. However that would have meant crossing the busy A23 which I wasn’t keen to do.
So instead I headed east, a path lead south a short way from the top of the hill and joined an east-west path which slowly descended towards Clayton. About half a mile along the path, another path lead north, into some shade and continued downhill and eventually out onto New Way Lane.
About a quarter of a mile east was the village of Clayton, there were only two things I knew about Clayton, the railway tunnel and the twin windmills of Jack and Jill. I discovered there was also a lovely little church with some quite stunning wall paintings, and a splendid graveyard with wonderful views of the South Downs, in fact it was almost on the Downs.
A path lead north from Clayton along the side of the railway line for about a mile, straight to Hassocks railway station, not surprising really considering it was following the railway line. It was just after four o’clock when I arrived at Hassocks railway station, just enough time to visit the local newsagents to buy some more drink, before catching a train to Brighton and a bus home.
When I left Hurstpierpoint Cemetery I didn’t really where I was heading. I knew that I was ultimately going to end up at Hassocks railway station, so I could get home, but I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to get there.
The shortest and quickest route would have been to head east out of Hurstpierpoint on the main road, but I wanted to be out in the countryside, so I decided to follow a path just north of the cemetery. Besides it was still early afternoon, far too early to be heading home!
When the path got clear of the houses to the south the views opened up to the South Downs and there looming up in front of me was Wolstonbury Hill, just begging to be climbed.
The walk so far had been pretty flat, Hurstpierpoint Cemetery was really the last genealogical connection, so now it was time to put the family history to one side and to personally challenge myself with a climb up the hill.
It was a nice gentle route to the foot of the Downs, past the magnificent Danny House (currently a retirement home). All the time Wolstonbury Hill getting closer and seeming more and more unclimbable. I reached New Way Lane and approached the foot of the hill, there was no turning back now.
No turning back maybe, but no way forward either! The footpath was blocked, closed to allow repair work, for six months, how could the West Sussex County Council do this to me? Here I was ready to ascend Wolstonbury Hill and they had closed the path!
Of course there was more than one route up to the top, only the northern and western sides were closed, I continued east along the lane and found another path heading south, before long it started to climb and I knew I was on the right path. The path was well shaded, but not particularly smooth, not far up the hill I came to a junction of paths and I wasn’t entirely sure where I was, eastward seemed to take me out into the open and back downhill again, that was no good, so after consulting the map I pressed on south again up further.
A short distance further I came to a gateway that opened out onto the side of the hill, and I could see the path leading right to the top. This was it, after another application of suncream (and a mouthful of drink) I headed out into the blazing sun and launched myself up the hill.
That last section was one of the most exhilarating climbs of my life, the sun was hot, there was little breeze, my leg muscles were complaining, but I was all alone, not another soul in sight, enjoying the beautiful Sussex landscape that emerged once I had cleared the trees.
It felt fantastic to be pushing myself to climb this hill, I had never witnessed the views from the top before, but I am sure many of my ancestors had before me. It had been a struggle but the reward was well worth it. It was a clear day, a little bit hazy in the distance but that didn’t matter, and I could see for miles in all directions. I wandered around the earthworks at the top of the hill, visited the trig point and just savoured the moment. There was a slight breeze here, but little shelter apart from a few gorse bushes. I found some shade and sat down, quenching my thirst with more drink and applying more suncream.
I sat and admired the view, it was breathtaking. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what half of the places were, what mattered was that it was Sussex, my Sussex, my ancestors Sussex. I could think of no better place to be on Sussex Day. The sense of achievement was tremendous, I felt physically and emotionally that I was on top of the world.
Phew! Even by my standards that was quite a walk. Sitting on the bus on the way home my pedometer had registered 38,731 steps, that’s just short of 19 miles. Just to round things up I got off the bus a stop early and made it up to 20 miles with an extra little walk.
Sitting on the bus my legs were beginning to ache, not a lot of leg room. I just hoped they would still move when it was time to get off! Still nothing that a nice long soak in the bath won’t sort out.
My digital camera must have very nearly reached it’s capacity, although I did have a spare memory card with me, and spare batteries which I needed. So expect to see plenty of photos on this blog in the next few days and weeks. They are mostly of the Sussex scenery, but there are several churches and several ancestral connections.
I will try and plot my route on a Google Map, but for those interested the key places were: Henfield (starting point), Blackstone, Sayers Common, Hurst Wickham, Hurstpierpoint, Wolstonbury Hill, Clayton and Hassocks (finishing point). I will give a full description when I have recovered (an early night tonight I think) pointing out the genealogical highlights along the way!
I am really pleased I went walking, it was a beautiful day, perhaps a little warm at times (and a bit of a rush to get back home). I visited several areas I had never been to before and reacquainted myself with some I haven’t visited for a long time. Most of all however I enjoyed being out in Sussex, in what I would consider typical Sussex countryside, on Sussex Day.
Here is one photo to be going on with, Sussex stretched out beneath me, as I surveyed the countyside from the vantage point of Wolstonbury Hill.