Rambling the nature and historic landscape of the South Downs
The iconic chalk hills of the South Downs (Sussex) are one of Britain’s most recognisable natural landscapes, enjoyed by many outdoor lovers who come to this relatively unpopulated corner of southeast England to ramble. There are a number of national nature reserves in this area, including Kingley Vale with its amazing ancient yew forest and Castle Hill with its traditionally managed grassland.
Lewes Downs, home to Mount Caburn, is where you can see a historic chalk downland that has been worked for centuries. This is one of the most important archaeological chalk sites in the UK and provides a nice balance of history and recreation for travellers. Also nearby is Lullington Heath, one of the UK’s largest chalk heaths and another fine example of this unique geology.
Today, the South Downs offers ramblers, walkers and hikers a well-managed trail network with more than 2,000 miles of signed paths that are easy to access at many points. The main bridleway, and longest of the group, is the South Downs Way. Another popular, long-distance walk is the Monarch’s Way, which starts in Worchester and ends in Shoreham-by-Sea after crossing miles of classic chalk lowland landscape.
While walking is the main activity in these national nature reserves, more active sports such as mountain biking, horseback riding and paragliding are also popular. Among the iconic landmarks of this area are the Long Man of Wilmington, an impressive carving of a human figure in the chalk hills, and Clayton Windmills. These draws are popular tourist attractions for people out for a Sunday drive.
This corner of England doesn’t support much of a population, which is why it’s so popular with hikers. Brighton and Hove, famous for its beach resort scene, is the main urban area in the area. This seaside city is the easiest place to find accommodation, food and entertainment when you need a break from the surreal tranquility of the Downs.
For a more historic atmosphere, check out one of the lovely Sussex Downland villages like Ditchling, just six miles from Brighton. This quaint old village has medieval buildings, narrow lanes and plenty of sights to explore, from its old church to its two classic English pubs. Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint are other Downland villages in the area that are worth checking out.
There are several wonderful old castles in this part of Sussex which are well worth spending an afternoon exploring if you have your own transportation. Bodiam Castle is a classic, moat-enclosed stone fortress that is owned and managed by the National Trust. This is a great daytrip for the kids as it oozes medieval charm and little ones can even get their hands dirty trying on armor.
Arundel Castle is another beauty. It’s privately-owned but the owners allow people to visit the site. Rye Castle dates back to 1249 and has a great little museum inside detailing medieval English history. And if you want to actually sleep in a medieval castle, then there’s no better place than Amberley Castle, which operates as an upscale boutique hotel and a fine dining spot.
More info: www.southdowns.gov.uk