Today we are back on the South Downs; we think we deserve the relative ease of walking over chalk downs after yesterday’s slog over shingle banks along the coast between Eastbourne and Normans Bay.
I am a boy born with chalk below my feet in Wiltshire, and think there is something special about walking on chalk downs. Admittedly they are not the rugged peaks of the Lakes or the Yorkshire Dales, but as long as it is dry under foot walking on chalk can be equally stunning.
I recently acquired a very old copy of W.H Hudson’s “A Shepherds Life”, (I have a more recent print but love the beauty of old books). I will not try to compete with Hudson’s description of the beauty of chalk downs, I recommend the book it is a cracking read.
Our walk today commences from Jevington; there is a small free public car park in the village, which is ideal. We leave the car park walking away from the village on the footpath that climbs over the Downs into Friston Forest. We make good progress uphill and soon there are views back over Jevington nestled in the valley below.
We are soon in woodland; the first section is mature beech trees, probably my favourite type of woodland on a sunny day.
We follow the track in a southwesterly direction, there are other routes on both sides but we keep to the main track and then emerge on a section of open downland with cracking views.
After this brief section we are in woodland again following the path towards West Dean. On arriving in the village we turn right and head towards the attractive church.
As I have previously mentioned, I like churches for their architectural splendour, we can hear a bugle or trumpet (my lack of musical knowledge fails to accurately identify the instrument) playing in the church so I enter with caution not wanting to disturb a service. The two occupants tell me they are practicing for a special ceremony to commemorate the Canadian Troops, barracked in the village, who lost their lives in World War II. The farm across the way is now known as Quebec Farm in recognition of the men that were barracked in the barns and surrounding fields.
It is a brief, but fascinating conversation, the type that is so easy not to have, but I always walk away from chats like this learning something new. The most worrying thing was the parting words “there have been sightings of adders on the South Downs path this week”. It is the sort of comment that sees me reaching for my walking pole and approaching every stick with caution. I am not sure I would rest easy in the outback!
Leaving the church we go along the road, soon turning right up a track and then left along the South Downs Way. This is nice easy walking along a wooded path; the only impediment is my checking every stick lying on the path.
The track soon leads down to the edge of Charleston Manor and then the path turns right to go alongside the edge of fields. Very soon on the opposite side of the valley there is a White Horse carved into the downs. This is known as Litlington White Horse and is one of sixteen White Horse chalk carvings remaining in the country, eight of these are in Wiltshire. This one was cut in February 1924 replacing an earlier one that was lost on the site. It was camouflaged during World War II and needed repair afterwards, over the years further restoration has taken place. It is 93 feet long and 65 feet high and is really striking.
We follow the South Downs Way into and through the village of Litlington to the edge of the Cuckmere River. The South Downs Way continues towards Alfriston following the course of the river.
Our approach into Alfriston is dominated by the view of St Andrew’s Church, apparently it is known as the cathedral of the Downs, and it is easy to see why. We had originally intended to pop in to have a look, but it is a very busy spot with families so we will return outside of the school holidays.
Continuing on the South Downs Way we walk eastwards away from Alfriston and are soon on an uphill track, after crossing a minor road we continue on the chalk track as it heads up to a covered reservoir.
This is a steady climb on a warm spring afternoon and we are soon treated to cracking views back into the valley below us. This is a stunning spot and we stop to get our breath back and just take in the view. This is a place that highlights the beauty of the English countryside. It compares favourably with any view we have seen on our travels.
We are so taken with the view and following the clearly defined South Downs Way as it leads us over Windover Hill that I only realise later that over the brow of the hill to our left was the famous Long Man of Wilmington chalk carving.
We carry on across the Downs following the South Downs Way as it crosses fields and then turns down a track to enter Jevington. This is the track that we walked up a couple of days ago and we are soon passing the Church of St Andrew and turning right to get back to the car.
Our walk has covered close to nine miles, it has been a cracking afternoon out. At the end of the year when we reflect on our walks this one is sure to be in the top ten! Happy days!
11th April 2017
[To follow our walk you will need Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Map OL25 – Eastbourne & Beachy Head.]
© Two Dogs and an Awning (2017)