After settling in to our new housesit we were ready for a big day out and a bit of a challenge. The imposing South Downs lie just to the north of Brighton and Hove and one of the most famous spots is called Devil’s Dyke. Located right on the top of the Downs with unimpeded views north almost to London and south to the English Channel. A circular walk seemed a perfect idea.
The South Downs National Park
The South Downs run from Beachy Head in East Sussex to the Itchen Valley in Hampshire covering an area of around 260 square miles and stretching for 67 miles with the National Park being the newest in the country. They are only called the South Downs to differentiate them from another range of hills about 40 miles away which unsurprisingly are named the North Downs.
From the top of the Downs you can see the counties of Kent, London, Surrey, Isle of Wight, Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex. Not bad eh? Can’t imagine there are many places in England where you could see 7 different counties. Any ideas?
With our current ‘home’ being an urban stay in the middle of Hove we had a walk of 2 miles through suburbia to the base of the Downs. The A27 dual carriageway seems to be a sort if urban-divide between the city of Brighton and other towns and the National Park so as soon as we crossed the footbridge we were suddenly in the middle of the countryside.
Apart from a couple of dogwalkers and some golfers on a nearby course the walk up was unbelievably quiet. Patchy sunshine and a light wind made it perfect hiking conditions as we climbed the three mile path right to the top of the downs. I think most people drive up Devils Dyke Road and just park in the National Trust car park at the top for a short wander but by the time we arrived we’d already completed 5 miles.
The Devil’s Dyke is actually a one hundred metre deep V-shaped chalk valley that was caused by river erosion over thousands of years and has been a bit of a tourist attraction since Victorian times. Iron Age settlers lived and farmed here over 2,000 years ago and you can still see remains of the hill fort as you wander around the hill.
The myth goes that the devil was digging a huge trench in order to flood local towns when he stubbed his toe on a large rock. In temper he kicked the rock over the hills towards the sea and abandoned his dastardly flood plans. The rock ended up in Hove where it was named the Goldstone and remains to this day in Hove Park (Its “Hove, actually”).
After a picnic break on the grass enjoying the amazing views and watching a group of Asian tourists posing for countless selfies, we headed off to explore. There are remains of two incredible Victorian tourism experiences to see;
- The Funicular Railway – A narrow-gauge funicular railway ran from the village of Poynings right to the top (Dyke Railway).
- The Bicycle Railway – A very strange attraction that allowed visitors to sit on one of the newly-invented bicycles as it went around a fixed track. All part of the Victorian funfair that sprung up at the top in the late 1800s (Victorian funfair).
- Britains first Cable Car – As part of the Victorian fairground and the brainchild of James Henry Hubbard, the first ever aerial cable car in Britain was installed here in 1894 (Devil’s Dyke aerial cableway).
We headed for the self-guided walks though and decided to walk the impressively-named Chasm Explorer route that dropped right down in to the dyke and lead all the way through to Saddlescombe. Incredible views from the top and the bottom of the chasm and hardly any other walkers. Where on earth did everyone go when they got out of their cars at the top? Lunch in the pub maybe?
Two thirds of the way through the dyke we came across a couple of bumps in the path. Apparently these were the Devil’s Graves. He and his wife are said to be buried here and the rumours say that if you run around them backwards seven times then he will re-appear! Of course he will.
Halfway around the Chasm Explorer we left the Devil’s Dyke National Trust site and crossed into another NT property at Saddlescombe Farm and Newtimber Hill. Although we’d researched the footpaths and bridleways we had no idea about this other place. Apparently it’s over 1000 years old and was once owned by the Knights Templar. So as we skirted the farm and car park we nosed around and looked out to see if it was worth visiting at another time. Jo was particularly taken with the Wildflour Cafe coffee shop and cute little outdoor space so it looks like we may be back.
Sussex Border Path
From Saddlescombe the South Downs Trail heads east but we turned south on the little-known Sussex Border Path. This is one of those Long Distance Walking routes and although it does actually run around the perimeter of both West and East Sussex there is a central spur that dives off south into Brighton down the county boundary.
So we picked this up just past Saddlescombe and followed it across the top of the hills all the way down to the edge of the city, once again enclosed within the A27. A beautiful quiet rural walk that doesn’t appear to be at all well known. Just us and a few friendly cows to keep us company.
Devil’s Dyke Hike
It was certainly a day to remember with hours of walking through quiet untouched countryside with added historical sites halfway, just the sort of walk we really enjoy. The only downside was the final hour walking back through the suburban landscape into Hove. After the fresh air and amazing views of Devil’s Dyke it was a complete counterpoint to the whole experience.
From start to finish we completed a 14 mile hike up and back down the incredible South Downs. Legs aching a bit on our return but with a real determination to return and do it all again in a couple of weeks time.