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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The kids’ holiday is almost at an end.  Because it is so short, compared to what they are used to, we really had to take them to a lot of places to compensate.  Yesterday, was probably the most jam-packed day we’ve had. They wanted to go to Scotland and the Isle of Wight this year.  We already did Scotland and northern England (I have yet to write about it) and yesterday, we went to the Isle of Wight.

The weather forecast had said “sunny intervals”, which usually means a mix of sun and clouds.  We were supposed to have rain Monday and Wednesday.  Well, it didn’t rain on Monday.  It came in early Tuesday morning.  However, it cleared up by the time we arrived in the IOW.  Driving through the downs of West Sussex, however, the clouds were worrying.

We took one of those humongous car ferries over.  When you see the number of cars and lorries crossing, you think to yourself, “How in the world will all these get on there?”, but once you drive through, it looks a little like a multi-storey car park.  It also explains why it takes 40 minutes to cross the Channel.  The kids have been on boats before, but not on a ferry like this, so it was a new adventure.  It was quite windy sitting on the deck, so we moved inside.  The rain came and went, forcing people in and out, several times.

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Gardens at Osborne House

Our first stop of the day was Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s family retreat, now an English Heritage property.  Parking was free, even for nonmembers.  We didn’t see all of it, because we wanted to make our way around the island, but we could have stayed all day.  The house was absolutely wonderful, though many rooms were unavailable.  But, like many of these stately homes, you have to line up as you walk around all the open rooms.  You cannot just view things at your leisure, and it would have been difficult with so many people.  Although, I must say it was not as crowded as when we went to Windsor Castle over 10 years ago.  We also went inside the Walled Garden.  Though the blooms were on their way out for most of them, it was still very nice.  I loved being around the fragrant flowers, especially the lavender.  They had several kinds of apples and pears growing in alternate trellises.  The highlight of this garden was when I spotted a hummingbird.  It was so small I thought it was a large bee at first.  But it made no buzzing and as I approached I could see the fluttering of the wings as it flitted from flower to flower.  My husband took several pictures and I hope at least one turns out well.  It was very difficult keeping up with it.  We did not take the little carriage ride, nor visit the Swiss House or walk all around the grounds.  The views across the Solent were absolutely wonderful.  Parts of the ground have been given over to a golf club.  We also learned that as members, we could book a cottage on the grounds, but there is an 18 month to 2 year waiting list.  Wow!  Like we can ever plan that far in advance.

We took the main road that forms a ring around the island.  We did not stop in Yarmouth, though it looked like a very nice town to visit.  Instead we went on into Alum Bay.  That was a mistake in a way, but we learned for next time.  Alum Bay is very touristy.  That says it all.  We paid to park – not too bad if you planned to stay all day, but with “one price fits all”, it was not ideal for us.  From there you could walk up a steep hill and get a great view of the entire place, or even visit the old Battery at the end, which is now a National Trust property.  They have monopolised the area, so that if you are a member, or willing to pay, you could get in and get good views and good pictures.  The kids did not want to do much walking, so we went into the center of the little tourist hot spot, where they had amusements and shops.  We wanted to walk down to the beach, but the kids saw the chairlift and wanted to ride down on it.  It was again more money out (we always like to limit our expenditure on unnecessaries).  At first we couldn’t see a footpath to the beach (it was cleverly hidden).  On our way down the chairlift, we could see the path and it may have been arduous, but it looked like a nice walk.  Anyhow, the kids enjoyed the little adventure and the thrill as we made a steep drop down.  It was quite windy at the top (several people lost their hats) and they both got a little scared.  The view of the Needles as we rode on the lift was amazing, but we couldn’t get any pictures.  we were told there was not much beach because it was high tide.  There was very little room to move, but we saw the coloured sands of the cliffs – shades of red/pink/yellow/white/green.  After riding back up (we had a moment when the lift stopped and we were at the very top), my husband went on his own to the top of the hill and took some pictures, while I stayed in the car with the kids while they ate some hot soup.  I should mention that every time I passed the candy shop there, I could smell the candy.  They must make it on site.  I didn’t want to explore it because I know the kids would have wanted some, and we really have to cut down on their sweets.  Next time, we would park in the free car park in Totland and take the bus up to the top, explore, and walk back down into the town.  It would have been more of an adventure and encouraged the kids to do more physical exercise.  Of course, we would need better walking shoes.

The older one wanted a sandy beach to play on, so we drove on, enjoying the wonderful scenery of countryside and seaside as we went from the western edge to the southern tip and around to the east.  We stopped in Shanklin and they ran around the sand like crazy kids just released from bondage, making sandcastles and digging for treasure.  Despite the chilly wind and the late afternoon/early evening hours, I was surprised to find that the water was quite warm.  When we lived in New Hampshire, I don’t think the water ever got warm.  And, in England, I have found that the water may not be very cold, but I couldn’t describe is as warm.  Afterwards, they played in the amusements, had a bit of dinner and we were on our way again.

It was getting dark, but our ferry was leaving very late.  We stopped at Ryde and while the kids played on the sand, my husband took some night shots of Portsmouth, lit up across the channel.  Then we walked around the little paddling pond where they had swan boats and literally, dozens of swans making their residence.  The swans swam towards us as we walked (they must have hoped for food) and our younger daughter got scared.  She is easily frightened.  It didn’t help that we saw a big rodent walking along the edge of the pond, then running into the grass.  We also saw another rodent popping its head in and out of one of the holes in the grassy verge along the pond.  I wouldn’t want to be that person we saw sleeping in one of the benches.

We were tired but the kids wanted to continue playing on the sands. We debated waiting out for our ferry or arriving early and seeing if we could cross.  Either way, we’d be arriving home very late, but it was a two-hour difference.  We tried to call the ferry office, but they had just closed.  They allowed one free change of itinerary, but after that there was a small administrative charge.  We chanced it and arrived early.  We had no difficulty getting on.  This time, we were aboard a newer designed ferry with TV screens showing ads for the Isle of Wight. It seemed to help pass the time.  The kids were still playful, but by the time we got out of the port, they were asleep.  They were tired and a little sad that the little injured butterfly, that they picked up in the grounds of Osborne House and named Leopard and tried to revive with a piece of grape, finally died.  They had carried this butterfly all around with them all day and refused to let it go.  We reached home at about the same time we would have arrived at the port had we waited for our ferry.  We were exhausted and went directly to bed, after carrying the sleeping kids in, nearly 19 hours since I woke up.

We didn’t do everything we would have liked, but we had a little taste of what the island offered.  Next time, we’d need several days, possibly a week.

When we visited the UK this time last year, we drove around Wiltshire and found a small village holding a Mayday Fayre.  Very “villagy” setting.  It had food, music, a few games and several table-top stalls.  But, having a British husband, I knew we were not getting the full traditional fayre treatment.

So, we hoped to do better this year.  It was with dismay, however, when I found that two places nearby were holding a fayre and neither sounded very traditional or interesting.  The Friday-Ad did not list any others.  So, I turned to the internet.  The problem with that is that many villages would not think to advertise there.  But, I figured, if they didn’t use technology and they wouldn’t even list in the papers, they probably either didn’t have one, or it was not worth listing. I guess I didn’t realise that some of these villages might be so well-known for having a grand fayre that word-of-mouth was adequate.  Since we are not too well-acquainted with anyone in our area, we didn’t hear about any.

Anyhow, I turned to technology.  I know we should plan our weekends way ahead of time, but nothing in our lives ever fall into place with our plans anyway.  So, I was searching for activities on Sunday.  I was quickly frustrated with the Google searches because I could not find anything nearby.  Some great fayres were being held in various counties around England, but none in our area.  A fewer smaller events were taking place in villages in our Sussex, but they were not close and they were for Sunday.  So, we had already missed out.  If the family was willing, I thought we might try one of the fayres in a neighbouring county.

But the kids were having too much fun with cutting the grass.  (Oh, yes, we couldn’t use the sheep, so we bought hedge shears – they were easier to store and a lot cheaper than a lawn mower.  The kids decided that they wanted to cut the grass, so we let them have at it.  Please don’t report us to the authorities for breaching child labour laws.)  They didn’t want to go anywhere because they found some snails and placed them in a jar and were using their cut-up grass to make salads for their new pets.

Monday morning and I turned to Google again.  After several pages of listings, I finally came upon a small village between Horsham and Crawley, called Rusper.  It didn’t sound big, but certainly bigger than the one last year.  Besides, it was a fairly short trip.  The kids were interested, but not overly enthusiastic.  The younger one liked the idea of a teddy bear parachute.

Well, that was the first stop of the day for us.  We arrived two hours into the festivities and looked around to see what was available.  One of the first events we witnessed was the end of the first Panto Horse race.  It was hysterical and they were calling for people to participate.  The older one had a blank expression on her face and was clearly not impressed with anything.  The younger one pressed for the parachute, so we headed over to the church.  There, Pooh Bear made his first parachute jump from St. Magdalene’s, boasting the highest church tower in West Sussex.  Pooh Bear even got a certificate of achievement for his bravery.

Pooh landed in time for us to witness the second Maypole dancing of the day.  A group of young girls expertly twisting and turning the ribbons around the Maypole was a new experience to me and our girls.  Things went very well until the last dance, when the girls had weaved an intricate pattern on the pole, then went out and each returned with an audience member.  Whether it was the number of dancers present or the newcomers having no idea what to do, it was hard to say, but there were a few moments of confusion as they tried to disentangle the ribbons.

We had already missed both Punch and Judy shows – we have yet to see one.  We went back to the little park where stalls were set up for Tombola, Lucky Dip, some kids’ games, and a few table-top sellers.  We missed the Tombola, but they took a turn with Lucky Dip and the younger one went to hook some boats.  We went back and forth to watch some Wellie Throwing, Panto Horse racing, and coconut shying.  Finally, our older one took an interest and tried the coconut shy.  She was unsuccessful but did manage to hit a coconut once.  Daddy had much less luck.

She also wanted to go in on the Panto Horse, but by this time, it was too late.  But she did jump in for the tug-o-war at the end.  There were several battles between the three pubs in the village.  Then there was the kids’ one, followed by women.  Now, the girls were winning their war when a group of older boys jumped in and pulled the boys back.  More boys joined in for the second war and still had a hard win.  Quite unfair when most of the boys looked to be about 10 years and over, while most of the girls looked to be about 10 years and younger.  Oh, well, they had fun.  They’re looking forward to more May Fayres and fetes.  Tonight, we have a circus.