My return to Ditchling Beacon on top of the South Downs has taken around 18 years. This time I was on foot rather than using pedal power but for Jon it was his first visit but more of that later.
Jonno had done his research thoroughly, as always, for our circular route from Hassocks through Ditchling up onto the South Downs then back through Clayton to Hassocks. The 10 minute train ride from Hove to Hassocks was easy, apart from losing one of my favourite earrings whilst face masking and un-face masking. Shame! Hassocks is a lovely town just over the border in West Sussex. It had a sort of sleepy rural feel compared to Hove and Brighton. The word hassock means tuft of grass and this is evidently what the town is named after, although we didn’t spy any distinctive tufts.
We walked about a mile and a half through Hassocks and adjoining Keymer. My namesake hairdressers was not open so the long awaited trim will have to wait a few more weeks!
A little further on we had crossed back into to East Sussex (who’d have known?) and we arrived at the village of Ditchling. Ditchling sits at the foot of the South Downs and is a pretty village with a beautiful flint church.
The Ascent Begins
At this point there wasn’t any sign of an uphill path. Jon loitered by the signpost thinking, “Really? Where does the uphill bit start?” A few minutes on a narrow footpath and our quest came into view.
It was really just after one little unassuming gate that the path began to get steeper. Jonno forged ahead – it’s not that he is leaving me behind (although he is a bit) but he prefers to get hills done and needs to step out. My little hobbit legs tend to carry me more slowly so he does a section and waits for Bilbo to catch up then off we go again.
It didn’t take long at all. Part of the path was up through shady trees and wisely we had chosen a cooler day with a gentle breeze. One last stretch of hill and then we would be able to enjoy the miles of 360 degree views of the sea to the south and inland across to the North Downs.
As the name suggests this was the site of one of the early early warning beacons of invaders but now the only structure is the Ordnance Survey Trig point and a small National Trust car park. Somewhere in the vicinity was the remains of an Iron Age Fort but, as in so many cases, time and the changing geology had buried all traces of it.
We were at the highest point of East Sussex and the views were vast. I am not sure is was the weather but we seemed so much higher and could see so much further than when we were about 5 miles away on the top of another part of the Downs, Devil’s Dyke.
There are endless footpaths and bridleways to take as well as the South Downs Way but we had decided to walk west towards the Clayton Windmills.
The walk along the top of the downs was glorious with lots of grassy open space to sit and enjoy the view or tuck into a picnic.
Nestled just off the ridge of the South Downs are the Clayton Windmills but known as “Jack and Jill”. Jill is a post mill and it was originally in Brighton but was moved to Clayton by a team of oxen in 1852. This windmill has been beautifully restored and is open to the public one day a week. It seems to shine like a white beacon on the hillside. Jack, on the other hand, is a tower mill and is owned privately as a residence.
Here’s an interesting quiz fact (well I thought it was interesting), if a windmill is referred to by a name it will always be a female name. The exception being this one, Jack. You never know when you may need that bit of useless information.
It was a great spot for our much needed picnic which we were well and truly ready for before heading back down to Clayton then through a few footpaths to the station in Hassocks.
London to Brighton Bike Ride
Although I made a promise not to bleat on about a pre-JWalking experience, I think a bit of background is needed here about why this was a return visit for me. Back around 2002 in my former life, I had read on the staff noticeboard at the FE college where I had just started working that a team (of amateurs) were being rounded up for the London to Brighton cycle ride. It was in aid of the British Heart Foundation and training rides would be arranged leading up to the event. Why not? I thought. It’s for a good cause and a way to get to know people.
After a few training sessions, this resulted in me cycling the 50 miles to Ditchling Beacon, followed by the mighty struggle to get up the one mile of roadway to the top of the Beacon on the South Downs, then more or less free-wheel with relief down the last 5 miles to the sea front in Brighton.
I should say that I did not make it quite to the top by peddling. It is such a busy narrow section of the course where riders are tiring and just stop and jump off their bikes regardless of road position so getting to the top without stopping, even if you have the stamina, is like dodging through a minefield. I do remember flaking out on the grass at the top in just about the same position as the main photo. I must admit I preferred the ascent on foot much more.
I was going to finish up by saying that I hope it isn’t 18 years till I get back again but that’s so not true – we are going again next week to explore the area to the east towards the Black Cap and Lewes. Note to self: 1) No to earrings. 2) Yes to a bigger picnic!!