South Downs Way: Jack & Jill to Ditchling Beacon

The South Downs Way is a 100-mile path for walkers and cyclists and extends from Winchester to Eastbourne.  We have now traversed 7% of that path.  While that may not sound like a lot, it really has taken us some time.  That’s because we do the round-trip (return), not the one-way (single) path.  We might cover more ground if we took advantage of public transport to deliver us to one spot and pick-up at another.

The second phase of our South Downs Way walk also started at the Jack and Jill windmills.  However, this time we headed east towards Ditchling Beacon.  The beacon, a small post in the ground, formed part of a chain of bonfire signals used to warn of the approach of danger.  Back in the Georgian/Regency days, this could mean the possibility of an invasion from the French, or even the coming of the Preventive Officer, depending on who used the site.

After the strenuous walk of the previous week towards Devil’s Dyke, we decided to take it easy.  This part of the South Downs Way encompasses the Ditchling Beacon Nature Reserve.  Parts of the reserve can be quite steep, but we only stayed at the top where the path is relatively flat.  But it afforded wonderful views.  From where we were, we could see out to the sea (English Channel).

Cows and sheep were grazing contentedly all around us.  The cows didn’t bother us, but we tried to avoid attracting their attention as we’ve heard the warnings about people being trampled to death.  The sheep and little lambies were, well, “sheepish”.  But our eldest managed to sneak up on a lamb and touch its fur before it ran away.

It was not the best of days in terms of weather.  It was quite windy and there was a slight chill, which did not help.  The kids had not been very willing to go for a walk because of the Devil’s Dyke experience, but after chasing lambs, they were in a better mood.  The younger one started to have a tantrum by the time we approached the beacon because she thought daddy and sissy were leaving her behind.  When told to run ahead and catch up, she started throwing hysterics and crying, “I can’t.  I can’t breathe.”  As we took a few steps forward and an ice-cream truck came in to view, that was the end of her histrionics.

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The South Downs Way: Jack and Jill to Devil’s Dyke

This weekend we decided to make good use of the present spell of good weather to navigate part of the South Downs Way in West Sussex. We started at the site of the twin windmills, Jack and Jill, atop a hill in Clayton overlooking much of Mid-Sussex. There was ample free parking, so we left the car and headed west along the Hassocks Link Trail to pick up the South Downs Way towards Devil’s Dyke. Jill, the white restored windmill, was open to visitors but we decided to see it another time.

Heading west, we came first to a series of stables and paddocks where piebalds and bays grazed in the surrounding pastures.  Beyond the stables, the trail joined the South Downs Way at a four-way junction. To the left was a bridleway, ahead the South Downs Way went towards the Ditchling Beacon, but we chose the right branch which bisected Pyecombe Golf Course. This picturesque trail, flanked by heather and wild flowers, seems to be popular with mountain bikers. Several passed us before we reached the PGC club-house at the foot of a steady descent over half a mile. Here, the South Downs Way crosses the A273 and loops right to the village of Pyecombe. We stopped in to look at the Grade I listed 12th century stone church which offered a cool respite from the heat.

Both our daughters took the opportunity to read sections from the church guide from the 17th century pulpit.  As their voices echoed back across the empty nave, I pondered who else might have preached from the same pulpit to the many generations of the faithful to have sat in the church over the last 800 years. One such may have been the Reverend Lewis Beaumont whose marble headstone sits in front of the altar (see picture below).

Leaving the church grounds through the centrally pivoted Tapsel gate, we followed the path parallel to the graveyard as it sloped down towards the A23. For anyone duplicating this walk, the Plough Inn is nearby and would make a good place to stop for refreshments and a rest before tackling the ascent on the west side of the A23.

We continued over the A23 and, after passing a farm entrance, turned right away from the road, past an elegant 17th century cottage to commence the slow ascent to the top of West Hill. It was about this time that little legs began to tire and piggybacks to the top of the hill were the order of the day.

On reaching the top of the hill, we expected to see our destination, or at least some sign of it. We looked, and looked, and looked!  Then, faint on the horizon we spotted the outline of a building we thought might be the inn at Devil’s Dyke.

I was tempted to title this post “Getting Lost on the South Downs Way between Jack and Jill and Devil’s Dyke” for there were brief moments when we felt completely adrift among endless hills and dells.  However, a little later, and a good deal more tired, than anticipated we did reach the Devil’s Dyke Inn to enjoy a much deserved dinner.

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