Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Cissbury Ring From Findon

Setting Off

Sometimes I am in the mood for a walk that is purely all about the views and doesn’t necessarily provide lots of historical or natural interest.  The Downs to the north of Worthing are definitely a case in point.  Largely devoid of trees or landmarks there is nevertheless an overwhelming feeling of space and freedom and this latest walk was definitely out to capture as much of that mood as possible.  This is walk 4 from the Pathfinder Guide volume 52 ‘More Sussex Walks’, rather misleadingly called ‘Cissbury Ring From Findon’.  I say misleadingly because the walk actually starts from the car park at the top near to Cissbury Ring and more than a mile from Findon.

My girls joined me on this walk as they were anxious for some fresh air too after a week of being cooped up indoors courtesy of the wet weather.  Today was a different prospect – big skies with puffy white clouds billowing across the landscape and lighting which showed off the South Downs at their very best.  From the car park we headed due east, not a direction we normally go from here.  The chalky path was surprisingly tricky underfoot due to the rather jagged looking flints that poked up to provide some rather nasty tripping hazards for anyone not paying attention.
Hawthorn Berries

Along the path was a very wintry looking landscape becoming rather devoid of colour as the lushness of the vegetation has diminished considerably.  A few of the hawthorn bushes were manfully hanging on to their red berries but the early lustre of shiny autumn fruit had been replaced by matt versions…  The girls wandered along behind me chattering to themselves leaving me to admire the landscape and the magnificent clouds.
Magnificent Clouds

At Stump Bottom we paused briefly to take a look at a rather interesting looking dewpond.  I have never really understood why they are called dewponds, for they cannot be fed by dew.  What is indisputable though is that they are vital on the dry landscape of the South Downs.  Water cannot normally collect on the Downs as the underlying chalk is so permeable.  The days of the dewponds wholly servicing the refreshment needs of livestock are gone though and many, including this one, have become mini-ecosystems in an otherwise alien environment.

Lychpole Farm
We pushed on to the crest of the hill and then took a turn down to the right into a valley now occupied by Lychpole Farm.  This rather well appointed farm is tucked down into one of the dry valleys of the Downs and judging by the size of the farmhouse I would suspect that the original farmer did quite well for himself.  As we headed down into the farm we passed the only person that we met along the whole route before the end at Cissbury Ring.  Given that this was a Saturday afternoon with pleasant weather it was perhaps surprising that there were not more people about.

Farm Equipment
Once through the farm we wandered along a tarmac road through to Beggar’s Bush admiring the array of farm machinery that was in evidence as we did so.  Before reaching the main road we headed off on a track that took us to the foot of Lychpole Hill.  This is where the mud started in earnest!  For the next mile or so it was a struggle as we picked our way through the brown stuff in what is clearly a bit of a frost hollow.  There was no sign of the sun as we wandered along in the shadow of the hill.  It was also evident how tight the loop of walking is as Lychpole Farm almost looked within touching distance.
Into the Trees

After walking across a field that seemed to go on forever the path then passed into the woodland alongside Tenants Hill.  The underfoot conditions didn’t really get any better as we passed through the largely damp woods.  The trees had largely lost their leaves now and much of the understorey within the woods was dominated by old man’s beard and various other dead looking weedy plants.  Sadly there were no fungi even though we looked hard to find some.

Looking Back to Lychpole Farm
The path eventually came out at the ramparts of Cissbury Ring, our local beauty spot and much loved place to walk.  The official route would have had us walk to the centre of the old fort and then down to the car park from the trig point.  For us though we could not go to Cissbury Ring without walking the ramparts – that is the best part about visiting!  Whenever we come we always muse about what life must have been like for the hardy souls that lived up here in 300BC.  On a cold day like this it must have been very quiet with most of the inhabitants hunkering down in their huts with a big fire going.  I suspect though that the location would have been surrounded by trees so perhaps it wasn’t quite so windswept back in those days?

Cissbury Sunset
One of the main reasons for wanting to walk around the ramparts is that by now the sun was setting and I am of the firm belief that this is perhaps the best place in all of Worthing to see a sunset.  The orange disc cast wonderful light across the West Sussex coast and picked out the outline of the Isle of Wight in the distance.  It was quite a treat and a fitting finale to our short walk in our back yard.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Brightling Park and Fuller's Follies

Brightling Forest
Autumn has crept on and walks have been at a bit of a premium but we did find time to explore Brightling Park, somewhere I had been meaning to take a look around for a long time.  We managed to find a bright sunny day without any obligations for our walk and picked it out of the East Sussex and the Downs book from the Pathfinder Guide Series (volume 67 walk 4)

Our walk started in a pocket car park on the edge of Brightling Forest.  In the distance we saw the first of the buildings that we had come to look at; the so-called ‘observatory’, which is one of the many follies that are scattered throughout the park.  Brightling Park was once owned by ‘Mad’ Jack Fuller, an eccentric politician and philanthropist who was the supporter and mentor of Michael Faraday in the early 1800s.  During the time he owned the park he commissioned a number of follies and they all still stand today.  Unfortunately the walk didn’t get any closer to the Observatory but this is now a private residence and perhaps serves the most useful function of all the remaining buildings.


Our walk initially took us through the woods of Brightling Forest, now reaching its autumn zenith in terms of colours.  This is also the time of year where underfoot conditions always seem to be wet, no matter how nice the day is, and we were glad of our boots.  After wandering along a forest break and then a rather narrow path we eventually came out into an open area with wide ranging views across the East Sussex Wealden landscape to the sea beyond.  This is 1066 country – the land that was once conquered by William of Normandy and his band of adventurers in the 11th Century.  The villages and towns in this area would have been the first to feel the force of the invading army.  Now all seems so quiet that this tumultuous event in British history seems to be hard to place in this landscape.
Fruits of the Season

Closer to us the folly collection became apparent with the passing of a small summerhouse in the forest and then further off we could see The Temple.  Alas it is only possible to get a distant view of this structure but it looks regal in the landscape even 200 years after it was built.  Far from being a worshipping place though there are stories of all night parties, card games and general debauchery going on inside during Fuller’s lifetime.

Around the hill we were standing on was a small water channel and we made sure to stay on the outside of it as we passed around the small woodland contained within.  My children were delighted to find some enormous mushrooms within the ditch – I told them they were parasols and we were lucky enough to find some at various stages of opening.

At the far end of the field we crossed through the woodland and on the other side we had the seemingly endless view to the north.  I rarely come to this part of Sussex and had forgotten how beautiful the countryside is around this part of the Weald.  Although no longer the impenetrable forest it once was the Weald is still pretty well dominated by woodland and the only breaks appeared to be small villages and churches that dot the landscape.

We met a fairly busy country lane and walked the short distance along it to reach Brightling Church.  The church itself is pretty typical of those found in this part of Sussex, being fairly squat and with a castellated tower that probably acted as a lookout point.  What is remarkable about the church though is the large pyramid that is housed in the front.  This is the final resting place of John ‘Mad Jack’ Fuller, who built the mausoleum during his lifetime.  Legend has it that he is sat bolt upright in a chair inside the pyramid, wearing best suit and top hat with a glass of claret in his hand waiting for dinner.  Surrounding him is broken glass scattered across the floor of the tomb, designed to discourage the devil from taking his soul!  My kids lapped this story up!
Temple Close Up

Across a couple of fields from the church and we arrived at a tower partially hidden by a clump of trees.  This is said to have been built by Fuller as an observation tower for his newly acquired purchase of Bodiam Castle, located several miles away.  Fuller apparently bought the castle to save it from demolition in the early 1800s.
View to the Sea

We climbed up the tower, which has had an observation deck installed inside.  Sadly looking out over the landscape is not as easy as it would have been for Honest John (another of his nicknames), not least because of the trees which have grown up around the tower.  The opportunity to climb up inside was very welcome though as well as quite surprising.
View North

We headed downhill and back across the Brightling Road to follow a road down to the main house on the estate.  I think there must have been a shooting event or something going on because this road was surprisingly busy and we had to step off to one side several times in order to keep out the way of the cars.  When we got to the estate farm we were very relieved to leave the road behind us as stepping off every minute or so of walking was rather a trial.
Brightling Cottage

Our onward route took us past the Temple once again, this time on the hill above us rather than below.  Initially we followed the path across fields but eventually descended back into Brightling Forest crossing over some small iron stained streams as we did so.  These streams gave us a clue about Jack Fuller’s wealth for he was also an industrialist who owned iron- making foundries when this part of Sussex was the centre of the UK iron industry.
Brightling Church and Pyramid

We trudged up through the forest finding more fungi in the ditches alongside our path.  It also got increasingly mucky as we went along and in places it was pretty hard going through the mud.  Eventually we came to the end of the forest track and had to make a minor detour away from the circuit in order to see the final folly of the day, known as the Sugarloaf.  This curious structure is said to resemble the conical shape that sugar was sold in during the 18th Century.
Brightling Tower

As with all the other tales surrounding the follies this one is also rather colourful.  During a gambling session in London Fuller is said to have laid a wager with friends that he could see Dallington Church from his house at the centre of Brightling Park.  Upon his return he realised that such a view was impossible and he therefore erected the folly to ensure that he won the bet!  The folly now looks rather strange in the landscape; just a curiosity from a time long ago.  Amazingly though it wasn’t always this way as it was a two storey dwelling until the 1930s.  I’m not sure how comfortable it was though as it looks scarcely big enough to live in.
Tower Close Up

By now the sun was going down rapidly and so we continued on our way.  The last stretch of the walk wasn’t so good as again we had to walk along the road once again to get back to our car.  In cleaner times this can be avoided by double backing through the forest and taking other tracks back to the car park.  Having picked our way through the mud once though we were in no mood to do that again.  Despite the nuisance of the road we did get some wide ranging views across to the South Downs near Lewes so it wasn’t all bad.
Tower View
Despite its short length (4 miles) this was  fascinating walk full of history and improbable tales from a very eccentric man, which appealed to the girls very much.  The autumn landscape seemed particularly appealing for the walk too, somehow it lent some additional atmosphere to all the follies and helped tell the story.  The views across the surrounding countryside are also magnificent – this truly packed a lot into a short length.
Sugar Loaf

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Firle Beacon and Charleston Farmhouse

Firle Village

Time this autumn has not been a great friend to me as I seem to have had precious little of it. I have had too few walks and too little time to write them up.  Hence with this one I am actually scrolling back almost two months to when the weather was warmer and there were still hints of summer temperatures in the air.  Actually if I was to pick a favourite time in the year for walking it would probably be late September and early October for conditions underfoot are nice and easy and the heat of summer days has passed.  So it was that I found myself with an afternoon to spare and some pretty decent weather that cried out for a Downland walk.  I have spent a lot of time on our local Downs this year so cast around for a walk on my old stomping ground around Lewes.

Firle Church
So it was that I alighted on Firle for a quick up the Downs along a bit, back down and close off the loop kind of a walk.  This walk is number 9 in the Pathfinder Guide Volume 67 (East Sussex and the South Downs).  Firle is one of those impossibly pretty villages that lie at the foot of the Downs and has been luckier than most in that it sits at the end of a cul de sac road that means that it has not been overrun with traffic but allowed to quietly exist without too much fanfare.  Of course it also helps that it is mostly owned by the Gage Family as part of an estate that has Firle Place at its heart.  It is rare to have a village like this in the 21st Century.

Firle Tower
I parked in the village car park on the edge of the village and walked along the main street to the church.  As I did so a vintage bus passed me dressed up as a wedding vehicle.  Sadly I didn’t catch it in time so wasn’t ready to take a snap as it went by.  When I arrived at the church at the far end of the village I paused for a while listening to the hymn singing from the wedding service inside and watched the clouds billowing and constantly changing shape on the wind above me.  A more idyllic moment it would hard to imagine.

At The Top Of The Ridge
Eventually I managed to pull myself away from the churchyard.  I was so distracted by the sights and sounds around me that I hadn’t remembered to look for the graves of the Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell, Quentin Bell and Duncan Grant who are all buried here.  Maybe I’ll have a look next time I come?

Firle Beacon Looking West
My onward path from Firle initially took me along the old coaching road from Lewes to Eastbourne that led along the foot of the Downs.  Although today this might seem a strange route, I believe that the road was routed this way to take advantage of the water supplies offered by the spring-line villages that line the foot of the Downs.  For thirsty horses I imagine this was a major consideration.  The Downs, for all their dry conditions, would have offered very little in terms of practicality or hospitality for weary travellers.

Firle Beacon Looking East
At the copse at the top of the hill the path took me up the steep scarp slope of the Downs, slowly at first but soon quite steep.  My views were restricted to the eastward side of the copse and every so often I would get a fright as one of the many pheasants that live here would suddenly fly up in front of me making a huge racket as they did so.  As I puffed my way to the top the farmers were madly trying to prepare their fields while the window of good weather lasted.  I enjoyed my good fortune of having a little free time to myself while I watched everything going on.

Firle Beacon Bottom
Eventually I made it to the top of the Downs.  I have to say that this is probably one of my favourite stretches of the South Downs, probably because it is so familiar and nostalgic for me.  By this time the clouds had also relented a bit and the sky was rather sunnier than it had been back in Firle.  Looking back across Lewes, the town where I grew up, was a picture perfect scene with crystal clear clarity in the air and scores of puffy white clouds decorating the sky.  These are walking conditions that I never tire of and I was in fact a little disappointed that I didn’t have longer to enjoy the view.

Winter Preparations

Being a Friday afternoon I largely had the place to myself although there was another couple of bods up by the trig point when I got there.  They were engrossed by their lunch though and didn’t pay me a second glance.  I drunk in the view instead – from the top of Firle Beacon it is possible to see much of East Sussex, from Hastings to Heathfield and Brighton.  Only the outer fringes towards Rye and north of the Wealden crest are out of sight.  To the south the towns of Newhaven and Seaford weren’t so easy to see because of the glare of the sun on the sea.

Maize to be Gathered
I wandered along the South Downs Way for a short time feeling like I was on top of the world and enjoying the views all around me.  Soon enough though I reached the point where my walk would take me back down the scarp slope to Tipton Farm.  At the foot of the Downs the last of the maize field were brimming with corn and looking like they really needed to be harvested.  As I walked from Tipton Farm to Charleston Farm I passed a woman with a pushchair, rather an incongruous sight in the depths of the couryside.  I soon twigged though that she was probably a visitor to Charleston Farmhouse, the residence of the Bloomsbury Set, and taking the baby out to get it to sleep.
Charleston Pond
Despite the lateness of the season and the fact that it was a Friday afternoon there were plenty of people around looking at Charleston Farmhouse.  The famous Bloomsbury Set, led by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved to the house in 1916 as they were inspired by the artistic possibilities all around them.  For their time they led very unconventional lives and continue to fascinate present day generations.  I have looked around the house before so didn’t do so this time but I was thankful for the presence of the cafĂ© and took advantage with a welcome cuppa.

Charleston Farmhouse
Feeling fortified my onward walk took me across the fields of the Firle Estate back to the village itself.  On the way I passed first the tower built for the gamekeeper of the Firle Estate (built in 1819) and then the huge house at the centre of the estate, Firle Place.  The gamekeeper used to use flags to signal his staff from the small castle like tower that he called home.  Nowadays the tower serves as a private residence and what an amazing place it must be to live in.

Firle Horse Trials
As I got closer to Firle Place I soon discovered that there was a lot of horsy activity as the participants in the forthcoming horse trials.  Although not much of a horse lover myself I have to confess that it looked like the ideal surroundings for such a show.  Lots of horse boxes were already gathered for the event due to take place that weekend.  I watched with some fascination as I crossed the event showground and had a good look at the house itself before moving on to the village.
Firle Place
By now the wedding had finished and all was quiet again in the village.  I grabbed some refreshment from the village shop (yes, it still has one!) and wandered back along the main street enjoying the sunshine picking out the dark blue/grey hues of the flints that most of the houses are built with.  This is a brilliant walk and manages to pack such a lot into its short five miles.  It is definitely going to go on the list of regulars!

Monday, 10 November 2014

Wolstenbury From Hurstpierpoint

Hurstpierpoint Village Sign

One of my favourite viewpoints in all of Sussex is Wolstenbury Hill, sadly bypassed by the South Downs Way.  With a beautiful sunny day upon us I was pleased when my girls picked walk 10 out of the Pathfinder Guide Volume 52 (More Sussex Walks) as it gave us the opportunity to pop into the village of Hurstpierpoint, take in the views from Wolstenbury Hill and pass by the old Elizabethan house of Danny.
Hurstpierpoint Church

We parked in the free car park in the centre of Hurstpierpoint and wandered initially down towards the church and turned left at the roundabout down Brighton Road.  Fortunately there was a narrow pavement for the road was very busy and didn’t make for particularly pleasant walking.  Just at the end of the housing we crossed the road and headed along a narrow path at the back of some housing.  I am writing this a few weeks after we actually completed the walk and so much of the landscape I am about to describe will by now have completely changed as the season progresses.  This was late September and the air temperature at least seemed like late summer and there were still barbecues still on the go in the back gardens, while the church bells rang out for a wedding at the church.

Wolstenbury Approaching
As we walked along the hedgerows the crops had been harvested but many of the bushes themselves were still heaving with wild fruit.  Luckily we had come prepared with tubs and collected large juicy blackberries as we made our way along the track around the perimeter of Washbrooks Farm.  This farm caters for small children and we have had plenty of enjoyable visits ourselves there in the past.  We could hear the far off peals of laughter and sounds of children playing, which was rather a joy to hear.  Butterflies were still servicing many of the remaining flowers on the field edges, although by now everything definitely had a rather tired look about it as we head into autumn proper.
Beech Nuts

The loop around Washbrooks wasn’t the most inspiring start to the walk but things definitely got better as the looming presence of Wolstenbury came back into sight.  We re-cross Brighton Road and headed through the delightful (if slightly scarily named) surroundings of Bedlam Street.  Somewhere in the field beyond this point is the remains of a Roman  Villa apparently, although with no immediate access we didn’t investigate the mark on the map.  There is a Roman Road that runs across this part of Sussex roughly east to west so perhaps not a huge surprise that there is a villa here.
Wolstenbury Caterpillar

At Randolph’s Farm we were directed around the edge of the farm and then on to a very pleasant track through some woods with the hill getting ever closer.  The children were getting rather anxious about its size, especially when I told them we would have to climb to the top!  Bribery with sweets helped along this section and especially as we started to climb.

View North From Wolstenbury
Anyone who knows the South Downs will be aware that they are not the biggest of hills but the climb up the scarp slope is quite an undertaking.  We took it slowly with the girls taking a look at flowers and butterflies on the way to try and distract them from getting too puffed out.  There were also a couple of strategic moments when we had to wait for families coming down the narrow path and this helped too.  What did not help though was the fact that part way up the hill we took a wrong turn and started heading in the wrong direction – we corrected ourselves by heading across a field of rough pasture but it wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience and the girls struggled a bit.

View West From Wolstenbury
Eventually we got to the top and the view was magnificent all around.  Being an outlying hill along the ridge of the Downs is definitely very helpful.  This allows for a proper 360o view and starting out from the point behind us we could see the high rise buildings of Brighton city centre.  Moving around we could see the Downs above where we had walked to the Chattri Memorial earlier in the year, the Jack and Jill Windmills and then down into the clay vale.  The line of Greensand villages stood up above the low lying countryside with the High Weald off in the far distance.  Finally off to the west the line of the Downs continued past Devil’s Dyke to Chanctonbury Ring and beyond.
View of Jack and Jill

Having caught our breath and drunk in the view we headed straight down the hill once again and back towards Hurstpierpoint.  This proved to be a steeper descent than the way up but did provide for some running entertainment for the little ones.  At the bottom of the hill we passed through a small wooded area and then along a road for a short while. 

The remaining part of the walk was across fields of rough pasture, mostly with sheep keeping down the growth although in at least two of the fields they were replaced by alpacas, still a rather incongruous sight in the British countryside to my eyes.  The main point of interest along this part of the walk though was Danny, a large mansion that has had an interesting history.  Built originally in Elizabethan times it was significantly remodelled in Queen Anne’s time.  Prime Minister Lloyd George rented the place in 1918 and the house became the unlikely setting for the drawing up of the Armistice that concluded the Great War.  The house is now divided into apartments, which seems rather dull by comparison.

The route across the remaining fields was pleasant and we had to pay attention to our navigation due to the plethora of paths.  We eventually came out into the centre of Hurstpierpoint once again and wandered back through the main street.  For a relatively small place it has some rather interesting shops although the ambience of the village centre is rather spoiled by the amount of traffic passing through.

Back to Hurstpierpoint
This is a pretty and largely untaxing short walk, with outstanding views from Wolstenbury Hill and an interesting view of Danny.  There are few problems with navigation (so long as you take the right path up the hill!) and certainly child friendly as my kids proved.  A popular choice and probably one we might try again!