Written by and thanks to our Guest Blogger - Tanya Oliver aka Heelwalker
From high heels to higher hills – a different perspective on walking. I am a professional writer and consultant with a passion for walking and hiking in our beautiful countryside and I love high heels as well!
Sussex is a beautiful historic county. The contrast of the hills of the South Downs, the coastal plains and the woodlands of the Weald gives it a variety of textures and sights that make any visit worthwhile. There are also pretty villages and historic towns to explore and of course the bustling city of Brighton and many famous historic places. I have been walking the footpaths of Sussex for many years and have had some wonderful experiences.
One of my favourite places in Sussex is Ashdown Forest, which is an area of ancient heathland and forest that reaches a height of 732 feet above sea level and covers 6,500 acres. It has a rich heritage including iron-making and being a hunting forest from Norman times. Part of its history also includes the much-loved Winnie-the-Pooh. A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepherd’s tales of this famous bear and his friends captured the magic of the forest for all time. Who could not fall in love with a place that inspired such imaginative stories? You can see everything from the Enchanted Place, One Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s Gloomy Place and Pooh Bridge. The Pooh walk is captured in this blog Ashdown Forest. Here I confess Winne-the-Pooh is my leadership guru – he has a relevant phrase for many of life’s challenges (but then “the things that make me different are the things that make me” ~ Pooh). However, there is much more to Ashdown Forest with miles and miles of rolling countryside – you can walk for as long as you like on well-trodden paths or get more off the beaten track and amongst the heather and gorse. On a clear day the views stretch for miles and simply take my breath away.
Moving away from the Weald are the glorious chalk hills of the South Downs which cover an area of 260 square miles (including parts of Hampshire) and are distinctive by their short grassy slopes and dry valleys. The South Downs have been inhabited since ancient times and also have a vast population of grazing sheep and rabbits! The South Downs Way is a famous footpath in this area stretching from Winchester to Eastbourne. I have not attempted the whole South Downs Way (it is on my ever-lengthening “walks to do” list!) but I have explored various parts of it and areas around it on the Downs. Cissbury Ring and Chanctonbury Ring are two areas definitely worth a visit. I walked from one to the other recently for the first time and would recommend it particularly for a family walk as the paths are good, there are no steep gradients and the route is easy to find. I had the benefit of my Dad doing my route map for me as he knows the area well but for those without such a resource, the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map will serve a useful purpose!
Cissbury Ring is the largest Hill Fort in Sussex and I understand the second largest in England. The earthen fortifications were formed around 250b.c. and are still in evidence today. Cissbury Ring is just outside the town of Worthing and the village of Findon. There is a path around the top of the fort that is about a mile long and gives views out to the coastal towns, the sea beyond and also across the grassy chalk downlands. It is simply beautiful. Its history also includes being a camp during World War II for some of the soldiers who were to be part of the Normandy Landings.
From the top, you can also look towards Chanctonbury Ring, which is another Hill Fort, this time surrounded by a ring of trees. There were more trees there before the Great Storm of 1987, which had a devastating effect on the trees in the south-east and saw some of the oldest and grandest trees ripped out of the ground. (I remember from my primary school days it being a time when we had no electricity and did not have to go to school!) but it is still a very striking sight. The walk between Cissbury and Chanctonbury Rings is about three miles and for much of the route you can see your destination clearly ahead. Whilst I can appreciate the history and beauty of Chanctonbury, I confess the highlight for me were the Dew Ponds. These are artificial ponds created to supply water for animals and livestock. There is one very close to the Hill Fort trees and marked by an information board as Dew Ponds are Sites of Special Scientific Interest. This one was created in 1870 but restored in 1970 and is now, I believe, maintained by the Sussex Society of Downsmen.
It is clear to see from Cissbury and Chanctonbury where the rolling hills of the South Downs meet the sea. The coastal area of Sussex has much to recommend it, particularly the striking white chalk cliffs. It is impossible to talk about the coast without mentioning Beachy Head and the famous red and white striped lighthouse at the foot of the cliffs. This lighthouse was built in 1902 as the existing Old Belle Tout lighthouse on top of the cliff was not effective enough. The Beachy Head lighthouse is one of the most iconic sights in the area and is in my view a national as well as local treasure. The stripes are under threat at the moment however owing to the cost of maintaining them and a campaign to “Keep the Stripes” has been established – please support it if you can and help save this part of the heritage of Sussex and England.
An excellent coastal walk is in the area of Beachy Head and is called the “Seven Sisters”. It is a walk with seven little hills (more if you include Beachy Head) and for those with an interest in history, there are fascinating tales of smuggling and shipwrecks covered in the information boards. The details of this walk can be found in this blog The Seven Sisters. It is a beautiful walk from Birling Gap to Cuckmere Haven where you can see for miles out to sea, the stunning chalk cliffs and on arrival at Cuckmere Haven, see the last few lazy metres of the meandering River Cuckmere reaching the sea. The Cuckmere Valley itself is well worth a visit in its own right. This part of the coast is also an area of Special Scientific Interest owing to the chalk bedrock being home to some nationally rare species of flora and fauna. I would also say the bravery of the sheep is pretty unique as they graze incredibly close to the cliff edge even on very windy days!
For something completely different on the Sussex/Kent border is Bewl Water - a reservoir created between 1973 and 1978 by building a 900 metre long and 30 metre high dam. The perimeter of the reservoir is 17 miles, making it the largest inland water area in the south east. The official walk around Bewl Water however is less at 13 miles. It has over recent years become an excellent centre for watersports, fishing, biking, conservation and what are termed “adrenaline activities”.... The mind boggles! I have walked this route on many occasions but have never seen the water levels as low as they are at the moment in early 2012. I have also participated in some of the raft-building and rope-balancing activities. I am pleased to report the raft floated! For more on this reservoir walk I have written about it separately here: Bewl Water.
So there are plenty of places to walk and admire the many and varied views in Sussex. There are also some historic sites to visit. The town of Battle and Battle Abbey need little introduction and one of my favourite places to go is Bodiam Castle near Robertsbridge. But these are all for a different Sussex walk in the future - watch this space!
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