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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It was a glorious day, yesterday. A bit breezy at times, but sunny and bright. The lambs were lazing in the sun early in the day, and frolicking in the afternoon. They were so adorable as they jumped, bucked and kicked as if they were horses at a rodeo trying to dislodge their riders. The weather being fair, we took a walk in a nature trail on the edge of our landlord’s estate.

This area is public and had two small ponds on either side of the path with daffodils growing wild. At the end of the path were tall trees that have not yet bloomed and I could not identify them. They were very tall and when the wind blew through here, it was as loud as a waterfall. The path ended with two gates, one on either side. To the right was a grassy area sloping down towards the A road, with some newly planted trees surrounding by their supports. To the left was another pasture that stretched towards our house.

We chose the left gate as we spotted a stile leading onto more grasslands. The gate had three different locks or fasteners and we laughed at the security. Crossing at a diagonal to the right, we went over the stile and saw another one ahead. We crossed that stile and were following a path at the bottom of a hill. The kids, however, decided to run towards the crest of the hill. “Come on, Daddy,” they called. “You’re supposed to follow us.” My husband called back, “We need to stay close to the edge.” Nevertheless, we followed them up to the top. From there we surveyed the lovely landscape all around us.

Suddenly, we hear a noise and turned around to see a flock of sheep charging at us from the left. “Uh-oh. Run!” my husband yelled. The kids screamed and we were racing down the hill with the sheep chasing. We could not help laughing as we probably looked ridiculous running down the hill with that flock following. (Where were the video cameras?) It might not have been so funny if it was a herd of cows, though those sheep were big enough to run us all down, including my 6’4″ husband.  We crossed over the stile and looked back to see that the flock had stopped some distance away but were still eyeing us. We made our way across the other stile, only to be confronted with another flock – this one even closer! We ran for the gate and as I struggled to undo all three latches, my husband had to divert the flock away from the gate. We didn’t want to be blamed for letting some sheep loose. We managed to get across safely, panting to catch our breath.

That was fun!

One of the most wonderful things about England that has not changed, despite the increase in immigration and the decrease in living space, is the use of public footpaths. These were created so that the public can have easy access, via foot, through fields and neighborhoods. These footpaths are clearly marked even though they may not be clearly visible if you rush by in a car.

What is so special about these public footpaths is that they are practically all over the country. There are books about some of them because they are located in very scenic areas. Imagine walking through someone’s property and seeing the view as if from their own windows. You do not have to own these properties (although it would be nice) to appreciate the landscape.

Of course, not all these footpaths go through scenic countryside. In the towns and villages, they may just be alleys. Nevertheless, they are convenient, if you are walking, to cross quickly and easily to the other side without going all the way around a block.

It seems the English are very protective of these public footpaths. Even with the increase in demands for living quarters for immigrants and welfare beneficiaries and the decline in availability of land, these footpaths and their signs remain untouched. Furthermore, the existence of these footpaths seem to encourage walking, not only for exercise but for leisure. I would like to cover as many of the scenic footpaths as possible and make notes of my observations.

It seems I’ve done more walking in the past two months in England than I did all of last year in the US. At this rate, there is no way I could possibly get fat. Not that I want to. But I find it amazing that they are complaining about the rise in obesity in England. How could anyone get fat?

There may be different reasons for obesity. But if one does not have a medical condition that predisposes one to it, there should be no excuses for being fat. With the lack of good parking spaces and the abundance of public transport, walking is a way of life over here. My mother-in-law walks everywhere, and if she needs to go further, she will ride her bike.

I will admit that for the first time in my adult life, I actually have time to walk for “pleasure”. That is, I am not doing it as part of a routine for school or work or other necessary part of daily living. I have taken a few pleasure walks in the past, but they were few and far between. Sometimes, they were part of an “exercise” routine to stay fit. But now, we are finding places to explore. It is an easy, inexpensive form of exercise and it allows you to slow down and enjoy your surroundings. I need to take advantage of the opportunities while they last.

Of course, walking can be a chore at times. Like, when I was climbing the uphill streets of Brighton today on our way to and fro the JobCentre Plus. It was quite steep and I was moving at a snail’s pace, huffing and puffing. These hilly walks are exhausting but I can feel my muscles getting tighter in the legs. It’s the best cure for cellulite. Walking can also be a pain when your kids get tired after a few steps and start crying, “I want a carry.”

Going back to the old country and getting back to basics. At least it’s a healthier lifestyle. Barring any medical problems, I should never get fat.