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Triumphs in Conservation

When an individual becomes 100 years old, they receive a birthday card from the King.  But what happens when an organisation reaches that milestone?  Well, in the case of our very own Friends of the South Downs, the answer is that its Centenary is celebrated by the publication of a book by Richard Reed. The author is uniquely qualified for such a task, given he has been Chair on three occasions, and a Trustee for an astonishing 59 years.  So not only does he write well, but also, he himself has been a significant part of the story of triumphs in conservation. The book is available here.

Friends of the south downs triumphs in conservation
A Centenary History of the Friends of the South Downs is available on our online shop

A Concise Account of a Century

The book is not a long one, indeed, in the preface, Reed describes it as a ‘much shorter account’ than two previous (unpublished) histories of the FSD. However, brevity does not stop the author from describing all the key events in its hundred years. Nor does it stop him including many intriguing photographs.  I particularly liked one of Captain Irvine Bately striding though a field of newly-cut hay wearing his very best 1920s walking gear.

Of course, any campaigning charity can only make change happen because of the leadership and determination of what we now call ‘social activists’, and the first example Reed gives was of our founder Robert Thurston Hopkins and his brother-in-law, the previously mentioned Irvine Bately. Although it was a very different world in which these two gentlemen lived, their action in 1923 created the then Society of Sussex Downsmen to resist untrammeled development across the unique landscape of the South Downs.

Reed does not duck difficult periods in the Friends’ history. The early optimism of 1923 was followed two years later by a membership fall of more than half. The threat of invasion in the Second World War resulted in construction of pill boxes and anti-tank obstacles all across the high ridges of the Downs.  In the 1940s there were disagreements with the National Trust over wire fencing for stock grazing. And, most surprisingly, the organisation was explicitly against the growing campaign in the 1980s to establish a National Park covering the South Downs.  

Triumphs in Conservation

However, Richard Reed’s book makes clear that the other side of the balance sheet was full of many successes. The battle in 1926 to protect the Seven Sisters from massive housing development triggered a major crowd-funding appeal, resulting in purchase of the contested swath of Downland at Crowlink.  After the War, the Society threw itself into speeding the work of restoring the Downs, and to working with other walking groups to re-establish and map rights of way and other footpaths.

The Society’s campaigning on numerous planning issues contributed to publicising the need for active Downland conservation. In 1966, South Downs became an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 1968 saw the Seven Sisters become a Country Park, and in 1972, the South Downs Way was opened. By 2000, the Society had become an advocate for a National Park, and successfully lobbied for the Western Weald to be included when it was created in 2009.

Reed concludes by describing the FSD’s increasing emphasis in recent years on encouraging access to the South Downs, especially by young people, in addition to its continuing conservation work.

This book is a great read (pardon the pun) and is yet another service Richard Reed has given to the FSD.  A story of triumphs in conservation. There could not be a better Christmas present for any member to give to their friends or family.

Paul Wilkinson, Trustee

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The Robert Thurston-Hopkins Award

The first of our Centenary prizes for academic work at Brighton University was awarded at the main University-wide graduation ceremony on Friday 28 July 2023 at the Brighton Centre. The Robert Thurston-Hopkins award for the highest achieving BSc/BA student in the Department of Geography, Earth & Environment, was awarded to Elizabeth-Jane Pallett (Lizzie).

Lizzie Pallet

Lizzie also won the BSc Environmental Sciences Prize. In her studies, she specialised in extinct volcanoes in Wales.  She plans to use our £500 prize to help fund her spending next year in Japan, learning the language.  She’ll follow that by studying for an MSc in Japan the following year, not surprisingly specialising in active volcanoes in that country.   

David Green and Paul Wilkinson, accompanied by Joanna Thurston Hopkins (granddaughter of the Society’s founder), attended the graduation ceremony.

The Robert Thurston-Hopkins award
David Green, Dr Kirsty Smallbone (Dean of the School of Applied Sciences at Brighton Uni), Lizzie Pallett (winner of the Robert Thurston Hopkins award), Joanna Thurston Hopkins, Paul Wilkinson

Lizzie told us a bit about herself:

FSD: Where did you grow up?

Lizzie: I grew up in North Cornwall, in a little village in a valley, and I was always surrounded by nature throughout my childhood. I loved being in the countryside, but it was hard to find work here that I was truly passionate about.

FSD: What made you realise you wanted to study geology?

Lizzie: I had always been interested in Japan for the language and culture, and in 2020 just before COVID struck, I took a six-week trip out there by myself to learn the language. I had never felt like I belonged somewhere more, being surrounded by the amazing mountains in such a geologically fascinating part of the world, in addition to the humble and hard-working citizens there. After having to return home in April just as COVID was hitting and I had to evacuate the country, I knew I had to go to university so I could return to Japan qualified to live and work there. I applied to the only university I wanted to study at – Brighton!

FSD: Why did you decide on Brighton Uni?

Lizzie: I had fond memories visiting Brighton as a child with my family, and I knew that coming from the countryside I would enjoy what Brighton has to offer – the beautiful Downs and the chalk cliffs, and the cosy coastal city that feels familiar without being too daunting (like London for example!) I knew I wanted to study something environmental after I had made a speech at a local council meeting to support renewable energy projects in our local area, as I remember feeling really passionate about it and that I might make a difference, but it wasn’t until I started my BSc Environmental Sciences course that I became fascinated with geology – particularly igneous rocks and volcanoes. So, though geology wasn’t a huge focus of my course, I decided to write my dissertation on the subject so that I could find out more. Despite the huge challenge it was to pursue an unknown subject as a year-long independent project (with the assistance of my fab supervisors Dr Laura Evenstar and Dr Jake Ciborowski), I was still motivated to finish it to the best of my ability. I knew I was passionate about the subject! I really hope to be able to start a career in geology in Japan (or Iceland – another very geologically fascinating country). I will be leaving to study Japanese in Hokkaido for three months from September and job hunting while I’m there.

FSD: You were surrounded by the South Downs landscape for much of your Uni life. What is your relationship with the Downs?

Lizzie: Throughout my university experience, I frequently took hikes into the Downs to wind down from studying and escape the city life – even lovely Brighton could be a bit overwhelming to a country girl like me. So, it was a great comfort to be able to get away from the traffic and energy of the city and traverse the rolling hills of the Downs. Visiting Devils Dyke, Ditchling Beacon and taking long late-night hikes to the Chattri Memorial are all great memories I have with the Downs, and I feel very lucky to have been able to study my degree amidst such a beautiful landscape.

Elizabeth-Jane Pallett: “Thank you so much for the Robert Thurston-Hopkins award. I am honestly blown away. I am so humbled to receive such a generous donation and I plan to put it to good use! Whilst I worked my utmost hardest to do my best at university, I couldn’t have imagined that I would be able to win such an award and I am so grateful for the recognition of my efforts and the money that will support me to achieve my goals. In September, I will be travelling to Japan for a three-month language course in Hokkaido to improve my Japanese skills so I can one day become a volcanologist in Japan – hopefully! This award will be so helpful in getting me one step closer to that goal. Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity, it means so much!”

Joanna Thurston-Hopkins:I was very pleased to see my grandfather’s name go on in the form of the Friends of the South Downs Robert Thurston-Hopkins award, with Elizabeth-Jane Pallett as the inaugural winner. She is a very worthy recipient, who is a credit to herself and her university. The event had an extra, rather unexpected, meaning for me personally, as not only did my father the Photographer (Godfrey) Thurston Hopkins go to Art school here in the 1920’s, but there was a strange moment when I looked out across the multitude of recipients of Doctorates, one of whom, (until she died in 2021) had been my mother, the Photojournalist Grace Robertson. Somehow, I almost expected to see her face amongst the sea of robes!  Thank you very much for giving me the chance to give back and connect with a part of my family history.”

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Your Opinion Matters

Friends of the South Downs was established 100 years ago by ordinary people taking action to protect our precious Downland landscape. Over the past 100 years, our charity’s growth and the achievement of National Park status has been down to the continued involvement of people who care. Now, as we make plans for the next 100 years, we are keen to discover your views on our charity and the issues that you feel most deserve our attention going forward. Your opinion matters to us. Please take a few minutes to complete this quick, anonymous survey. We value your contribution to our future planning and look forward to sharing the results with you in future.

Your opinion matters

The Friends of the South Downs is owned and run by its members and there are many ways in which you can help. We have many volunteering opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, skills and fitness levels. If you are able to give up some of your time to help us, you’ll meet many interesting and sociable people who really care and work hard to help protect the landscape and heritage of the South Downs.

We are almost totally reliant on our volunteers in helping us achieve our aims and objectives so anyone offering to become a volunteer is always made very welcome.

Here is an example of some of the typical activities you can help us with:

Walks & Strolls Leaders

If you have local knowledge of the South Downs and are good at organising events you can help research our annual programme and lead one or a few of our over 200 walks and strolls.

Trustees / Council Members

If you want to be part of setting the strategic direction of the Society and making sure that its aims are achieved then you would be welcome as a Council member. Your opinion matters. Council meets four times a year but in addition, most members are active in other areas of the Society’s work.

District Officers

Help us keep an eye on and comment on planning applications in your own locality.

Get in touch today!

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Not Just a Walking Club

I’ll come clean.  My enthusiasm for country walking is what caused me to join the Friends of the South Downs in the first place.  Yes, I was at that stage vaguely aware of the other work we do around the broader issue of conservation but it was definitely the extensive programme of walks and strolls which drew me in.  And, on joining, I quickly learned that the connection between the FSD and putting one boot in front of another on the South Downs was present at the very beginning of the organization, with the legendary walk near Peacehaven in 1923 undertaken by Robert Thurston Hopkins and Capt. Irvine Bately. But it’s not just a walking club.

Not just a walking club east meon george stride
East Meon Stroll / photo by George Stride

In my defence, starting from that narrow base, my increasing involvement with the Friends did result in me better understanding the range and scale of the work undertaken by us to make a reality of our objective of being ‘the only membership organization dedicated to protecting the South Downs’.  But, goodness, since I am a trustee who has just recently been re-elected, it would be more than somewhat embarrassing if I had not significantly improved on my initial ignorance.

However, knowledge sometimes isn’t sufficient to drive home a key realization; it needs to be reinforced by personal experience.  For me, this happened very specifically at Truleigh Hill YHA, just north of Shoreham-on-Sea, in May 2023.  On that day I was privileged to be present at a field trip made by schoolchildren from Herons Dale special needs primary school, and arranged by So Sussex, a company specializing in outdoor educational experiences on the South Downs. 

It was very humbling to observe the excitement and stimulation experienced by the kids, and to understand that this could not have been achieved inside a classroom.  Humbling also to know that this event, and other such trips in So Sussex’s ‘Explorers of the South Downs’ project, would not have happened without funding from the Friends, made possible by a recent legacy left to us.

One of the major themes in our Centenary celebrations is education and understanding, since the FSD believes that one of the key ways we can safeguard the South Downs in the future is to encourage the interests of children and young people.  As a result, Explorers of the South Downs is just one of a number of similarly themed projects we are supporting.

So not just a walking club!  

The Friends of the South Downs is owned and run by its members and there are many ways in which you can help.

We have many volunteering opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, skills and fitness levels; so, if you are able to give up some of your time to help us, you’ll meet many interesting and sociable people who really care and work hard to help protect the landscape and heritage of the South Downs.

We are almost totally reliant on our volunteers in helping us achieve our aims and objectives so anyone offering to become a volunteer is always made very welcome. Here are some of the typical activities you can help us with.

Paul Wilkinson


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The Pump Barn

Seven Sisters Country Park was transferred from East Sussex County Council to the stewardship of the SDNPA in 2020 and remains in public ownership. Since then, several improvements have been made including a visitors centre at Exceat, a food outlet, offices and toilets. But the authority, due to financial constraints, was unable to fund the refurbishment of the largest structure on the site of the visitors centre, the Pump Barn, a magnificent 18th century building.

Seven Sister Pump Barn
Photo by Ian Lancaster

Friends of the South Downs Trustees agreed at the end of 2022 to provide £60,000 to refurbish the Pump Barn. The centre has up to 750,000 visitors each year who visit the Seven Sisters Country Park and walk the South Downs Way. The Pump Barn is structurally sound, has facilities for local businesses, meetings, presentations and other activities. These are the facilities that we are funding, and will include a section dedicated to the Friends of the South Downs.

Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “Seven Sisters Country Park offers some of the most stunning views in the world but it could be so much more.

“We would like to make it a national centre for biodiversity, conservation and climate change, telling the story of this extraordinary landscape to a wide audience and using it to test out new approaches to the national challenge of climate change.”

Friends of the South Downs dedicated the newly refurbished Pump Barn on Monday 25 September 2023 with Alistair Appleton, who held an inspirational talk at the facility.

Generous legacies have enabled the Society over the years to provide financial support to projects it feels worthwhile. To the National Trust for Harting Downs and Devils Dyke, as well as to helping provide a bunkhouse at Gumber Farm, Slindon. Supporting East Sussex County Council towards converting the barn at Foxhole Farm to a Bunkhouse and improving the car park at High and Over, with Disabled access to the nearest viewing point. Small donations have also been made to projects such as the Jack and Jill Mills at Clayton, St Mary’s Church, Stoughton, the Sussex Rights of Way Group and others.

If you would like to consider remembering us in your Will, please see our Legacy Giving page.

Pump Barn photos by Graham Stockley
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Conversions of Barns and Other Rural Buildings

We are deeply concerned to learn of the Government’s plans to rip up the planning protections that keep our national parks beautiful by allowing permitted development rights for conversions of barns and other rural buildings. The Campaign for National Parks has now sent a letter, signed by FSD as well as other NP Societies, to Michael Gove expressing this concern. Read that letter here:

conversions of barns and other rural buildings

SIR – We are deeply concerned to learn of the Government’s plans to rip up the planning protections that keep our national parks beautiful by allowing permitted development rights for conversions of barns and other rural buildings.

National parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are our finest landscapes, and even small changes can have a disproportionate impact in these places. If these proposals go ahead, they will lead to a free-for-all on the development of isolated residential units in unsustainable locations without the supporting infrastructure, and could add significant pressures in terms of water pollution and traffic.

Where once there was a field barn standing isolated in a hay meadow, there will be a pocket of suburbia, and this will be repeated throughout the landscape, creating sprawl and spoiling everyone’s enjoyment of nature, open space and tranquillity.

We recognise the need to provide more affordable housing across the country, but residential barn conversions in remote places like the Yorkshire Dales National Park would do nothing to help and would instead cause irreparable damage to our fragile countryside.

National parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are living landscapes that must adapt over time, and the current approach to planning does a difficult job well in balancing progress with protection. The Government should shut the barn door on these disastrous proposals before the horse bolts.

What the Friends of the South Downs Do

We have a Planning and Conservation Committee whose primary objective is to influence the decisions made so that the beauty, amenity and tranquillity of the South Downs is either conserved or sustainably enhanced for public benefit.

To achieve this, our role is to consider planning applications that are made either within or close to the National Park boundary. This is done through a team of Volunteer District Officers, each covering a specific ‘District’ within the Park. Each Officer inspects new planning applications that have been made in their District to assess the likely impact. If considered necessary, a response to an application is submitted to either the National Park Planning Authority or the Local Planning Authority to whom planning decisions have been delegated. A response may set out our concerns including an objection, provide constructive comments and observations or we may present written support for an application on the basis that the Society considers that it will meet National Park purposes.

Would you like to join us as a member to support our work or volunteer with us? Get in touch today!

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Permitted Development Rights (PDR)

We were deeply disappointed to learn of the Government’s plans to extend the Permitted Development Rights (PDR) for any agricultural or rural building to Protected Landscapes (National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)). There is a long-established practice of not applying certain permitted development rights in these areas in line with national planning policy which emphasises the importance of protecting these areas from inappropriate development.

We were deeply disappointed to learn of the Government’s plans to extend the Permitted Development Rights (PDR)

Our Trustees are alarmed and disappointed, as, we are sure will be our members, to see the PDR proposals in relation to our National Parks.  We are strongly opposed to them.

Our Response to this Consultation

1.  The Friends of the South Downs (FSD) have over 1,500 members and their focus is the conservation and enhancement of the landscape of the South Downs National Park and its quiet enjoyment by everyone. To this end we support and uphold the statutory purposes and special qualities of the National Park. We support the work of the South Downs National Park Authority: we warmly applaud the Authority’s successful and effective Local Plan and the Authority’s work to enhance the natural infrastructure that the Park represents, to increase nature recovery and measures in relation to climate change. We have a close and beneficial relationship with the Authority.

2.  Our Trustees are alarmed and disappointed, as, we are sure will be our members, to see the PDR proposals in relation to our National Parks.  We are strongly opposed to them.

3.   We should not need to remind you that the statutory purposes of the South Downs National Park and indeed all our national parks – section 61(1) Environment Act 1995 – do not include scope for watering-down or compromise. They form the key statutory imperative that should guide all decisions where our national parks are concerned.

4.  We are very supportive of the work of Julian Glover and the important findings in his report, Landscapes Review. On page 64, he wrote:

 ‘The current Permitted Development Rights (PDR) system should also be reviewed and, if necessary, further PDRs should be added to the list of those currently withdrawn within national landscapes to ensure that the full application process applies before determining planning approval.

For example, forestry and agricultural changes allowed under permitted development can have significant impacts on landscape quality, and the South East and East Protected Landscapes forum has made a convincing case that these should be reviewed.’

5.   The Government’s response to Glover acknowledged in relation to Planning Reform that: ‘A strong and effective system must sustainably balance protections with supporting local communities and economies. The balancing exercise must be carried out differently in protected landscapes, to ensure their statutory purposes and special qualities are meaningfully protected. This involves giving greater weight to their special qualities in planning policies, procedures, and decisions.’

On the following page, under the heading ‘Permitted development’, the response went on:

‘The review also highlighted that certain Permitted Development Rights (PDR) may impact landscape quality, and proposal 6 suggested a review of existing rights.

We recognise that permitted development rights can play an important role in delivering new homes, particularly in rural areas. This benefits householders and businesses. We will continue to monitor the use of permitted development rights in protected landscapes and identify future opportunities to review their use.’

6.  Now comes this consultation. Still nothing has happened about implementing Glover beyond a response admitting that ‘this balancing exercise must be carried out differently in protected landscapes’. These proposals though offer no meaningful protection. In fact, they represent the very opposite; one of the biggest threats to the national parks in a generation. We are concerned that the proposals do not include detailed justification for the changes proposed, nor is there any environmental impact appraisal. Our view is that the existing regime works well and it complies properly with the statutory responsibility

7.  We are concerned about the conversion of barns. However, there is a planning process in place. It does work. We have seen barn conversions granted, but they have all had to go through a rigorous process to ensure there was no damage to the landscape and environment. What we are more concerned about here in the South Downs is the proposal relating to equestrian use. Over the years the SDNPA has dealt with numerous applications for stables. Of late, there has been a trickle of applications to convert those stables. For the most part those have been for tourism rather than as separate residences because of planning policies. However, If these proposals were enacted, it has to be anticipated there would be a wave of conversions. We would end up with unsuitable buildings in unsuitable locations, with domestic paraphernalia and little pockets of suburbia across the Downs, with increased vehicle movements. There would be little benefit in terms of housing numbers and to communities in the Park. The main beneficiaries in the South Downs would be horse owners, not farmers. The fragile landscape and tranquillity of the South Downs National Park are far too precious to risk being compromised in this manner. Even seemingly small or very small developments can compromise out of all proportion.     

8.  The FSD includes an expert planning committee, who review every planning application and decision within or near the Park. The committee sees no need to adjust the current exemptions and emphasise that any bona fide case for conversion or increase is easily put forward in a planning application which will be expertly assessed by the Authority’s professional staff. Any farmer or property owner will not be deterred from a worthwhile conversion scheme by the need to make a planning application; indeed, the pre-app process often brings forward helpful advice and suggestions. In short, the application process is not burdensome or unhelpful or contrary to the public interest.    

9.  The crux of this is that a bona fide scheme for conversion or enlargement within the South Down National Park can easily be assessed by planning application and no deserving farmer or owner will be deterred: a sound outcome is achieved and the provisions of the Environment Act are upheld.

10.  We have noted below the consultation question numbers that concern this response.

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Towpaths and Trails

From Canal to countryside, take a walk along the towpaths and trails of the Wey & Arun Canal – ‘London’s Lost Route to the Sea’ – and in woodland around Loxwood in West Sussex.

towpaths and trails friends of the south downs

As its name suggests, the Wey & Arun Junction Canal was created to link the two rivers, providing an inland waterway from London to the south coast. At 18 and a half miles, and with 23 locks, it took a lot of manpower to dig but was completed in only three years. Here’s a chance to experience the towpaths and trails on foot.

The original intention was to avoid coastal traffic that could come under attack in times of war, but by the time it opened in 1816, the wars with France were over. The coming of the railways meant it was no longer profitable and by 1871 it had fallen into disuse and was abandoned for the next 100 years.

A group of volunteers formed the Wey & Arun Canal Trust in 1970 and have been restoring it ever since. Today, a significant section is navigable again and it is a popular tourist attraction. The trust raises funds by offering trips in a boat named in honour of the original consulting engineer, Josias Jessop.

This walk starts at the Wey & Arun Canal car park, behind Onslow Arms in Loxwood. From Billingshurst, the Compass Travel bus 64 and 69 both head towards Loxwood as well, if you’d like to leave the car at home.

towpaths and trails friends of the south downs

You can access the PDF version of our Towpaths and Trails walk here. We are grateful to the number of our members who have very kindly taken the time to provide us with detailed information about some of their favourite walks and we are delighted to be able to share with you.

For each of the walks on our website, we provide a PDF download for you to take with you and use as general information and guidance.

Would you like to come along on one of our guided walks or strolls? We walk all through the year, offering over 200 interesting walks and strolls. Our walks range from three miles, to a full marathon, up to long-distance trail walks over multiple days. Contact us today!

Ian Lancaster

Walks Coordinator 

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The Belloc Way

The Belloc Way is taking shape. The project is not yet finished, but there is an end in sight. We have now walked its full length for the first time. It was just under 100 miles and we did so over six days, averaging about 16.5 miles a day and walking Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday of the first two weeks of August.

the belloc way photo by jeremy bacon
Photo by Jeremy Bacon

The core group was four. We were three men and one woman and on different days, we were joined by various other members.

The challenge all along was to devise a walk that was true to the spirit of Belloc, but which at the same time, would be attractive to walkers. I have therefore tried to avoid roads wherever reasonably possible; not always easy given that the original walk was almost exclusively on public roads.

The Belloc Way Week 1

The night before we started, we stayed at The George. It has new owners. Some of the Belloc memorabilia had been destroyed in the move and they knew little about Belloc himself. The first day took us to Blackboys by way of Brightling, Mad Jack Fuller and his follies. It goes through the High Weald and enjoys some lovely countryside and great views.  It was probably the part of the route I knew least. Perhaps because of that it was one of my favourite days.

High Weald phto the belloc way
The High Weald photo by Laura Libricz

Day 2 took us from Blackboys, through Uckfield by way of a surprisingly pleasant through path. Then it was over Piltdown Golf Club, where there is no shortage of signage, but it did not all seem to be entirely accurate! After that it was on to Fletching, which has to be one of the most unspoilt villages in Sussex. Sadly, at that point it started raining and didn’t relent for the rest of the day. Heaven Farm was far from that and by the time we reached Ardingly, we were all soaked to the bone.

ouse valley viaduct the belloc way
Ouse Valley Viaduct photo by Laura Libricz

The rain stopped overnight and it was sunny as we walked out of Ardingly down the hill to the reservoir with the Ouse Valley Viaduct in the background. In fact, as we neared the Viaduct it was apparent that much of it is currently swathed in scaffolding while repointing work is carried out. Then on to Staplefield, under the M23, Slaugham and Warninglid, before reaching the Crabtree and on to the old Railway Station at West Grinstead.

Week 2

Resuming walking on Tuesday the following week, took us to the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of Consolation and St Francis in West Grinstead where Belloc is buried and then on to Kings Land in Shipley where he lived most of his life. His descendants do still live there but clearly care little for living in an historic building as I had the front gate closed in my face as I tried to take a photo of it. That was fast forgotten though as we walked on through the Knepp Estate of rewilding fame, before crossing the A24 and on to The Fountain in Ashurst and then to Steyning.

First thing the next morning, it was Steyning to Washington, home to what was in Belloc’s day the Washington Inn and ‘the very best beer I know’. It is now the Frankland Arms and whilst it is a perfectly serviceable pub, you would be very hard pressed to describe its beer as the ‘best’. From Washington the route took us to Sullington where the priest came out of the church as we sat having a mid-morning break to offer us communion, a first, at least for me. Then it was on to Storrington, Parham Park and The Bridge at Amberley, another pub Belloc was fond of. The afternoon saw us push on to Bury, West Burton and finally to Sutton where there is a pub I am very fond of, The White Horse.

The final day, we walked out of Sutton on a lovely morning heading towards the Downs over a freshly harvested field. It was beautiful and would have been little changed over the centuries for all Belloc’s misgivings. The next stop was Duncton and The Cricketers (you should have noticed a theme by now); then Graffham, Heyshott and Cocking. Up on to Cocking Down and along the South Downs Way for a few miles before reaching the Devil’s Jumps and then down to Elsted and The Three Horseshoes, where the Four Men broke bread and pledged each other for the last time. From there, just like the Four Men: ‘ … and then again we took the road, and went forward as we had gone forward before, until we came to Harting.’      

It has to be said there was a sense of satisfaction when we finished, tempered by a realisation that there is still work to be done. I am proposing to do a commentary as an aide to anyone planning to do the walk. It would include maps, directions and some basic information about places of interest along the route. This is almost finished.

David Green, Trustee

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South Downs Way Annual Walk

Archaeology tells us that the route along the South Downs Way (SDW) has been used by humans for thousands of years. It was favoured as a relatively safe way of traveling across West and East Sussex, avoiding the dangers of thick woodland and the large areas of lowland marshes that were then common across southern Britian. So, I decided to join the South Downs Way Annual Walk in 2023. The mostly high, dry chalk and flint route along the top of the Downs was clearly an important part of Bronze Age life in this part of the country, providing a trading network that brought gold, silver, and jet from other parts of Britain into mainland Europe.

South Downs Way Annual Walk 2023
Photo by Tony Linturn

It was last year while on the Friends of the South Downs marketing stand at White Ways Bury Hill that I decided to join the Annual Walk this year. Speaking to many of the walkers who were doing the walk for the first time and others who had walked it many times in both directions, it was clearly an interesting and challenging experience for them.

Footprints of Sussex

Footprints of Sussex have been running the annual SDW walk for over 30 years. Together with their fabulous team ’Red Shirts’, they guided and supported us over the nine days from Eastbourne to Winchester, a total of 106 miles.   

I’ve walked long distances in my younger days but nothing like 106 miles across rolling hills and lush landscapes from sea level at places like Cuckmere Haven and Eastbourne to viewpoints like the chalk cliffs at Seven Sister and Beachy Head, Butser Hill (271m), Winchester Hill, Ditchling Beacon, Devils Dyke and Firle Beacon (217m) that provide amazing 360⁰ views across the Downs.

South Downs Way Annual Walk Tony Linturn
Tony above Pyecombe

So, in preparation for this challenge, I joined the regular Friends of the South Downs Walks and Strolls programme last September to be able to walk an average of 11.5 miles each day.

South Downs Way History

I found the SDW was steeped in history capturing numerous landscape features dating back to Neolithic times (around 3,000 to 2500 BC) including protective enclosures, ancient settlements, long barrows (communal graves) over 60 metres long and many hundreds of smaller round barrows for single or family burials which are marked on the OS maps as ‘tumuli ’on high ground along the SDW. There are many hill forts spread across the Downs dating back to 300 – 200 BC which are believed to have been trading places and seats of power for tribal chieftains as well as providing safety during periods of tribal rivalry and conflict.

The South Downs Way Annual Walk is also a very beautiful way to see the South Downs, trekking along narrow footpaths at the side of steeped valleys, across dried up river beds, wide open farm tracks through field of wheat, corn and other agricultural crops as well as through wild meadows filled with wild flowers such as Field Poppys, Fragrant Orchids, Round Headed Rampions as well as wild herbs and spices like Thyme, Garlick, Mint, Marjoram, Sage and ancient health remedies like Lady’s Mantle, Elderflowers, Lavender, Feverfew and Mignonette which were used by the Romans and Anglo Saxons to treat migraine, bruises and other everyday ailments.       

South Downs Way Annual Walk Wildlife

We also saw a myriad of wildlife including many different species of butterflies, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, and unusual looking snails. Rooks nesting in Beech trees, Jackdaws, Seagulls and Fulmars sweeping and souring along the Beachy Head cliffs, small birds such as Skylarks fluttering over the fields, Whinchats, Stonechats and Corn Buntings feeding and nesting, and larger birds like Red Kites, Buzzards and Kestrels hovering above looking for mice and other small creatures to feed on. Forget going to the zoos, this really is wild Britian in all its splendour.

We also saw many very old churches and other building dating back to Anglo Saxon and Norman times in and around thatched roofed villages that have stood in an unchanging landscape for hundreds of years.

I also met lots of lovely and interesting people over the nine days including retired doctors, scientists, teachers, nurses and midwives. Mothers and fathers who were taking a break from their busy families and pilgrims and travellers trying to reconnect their lives and make new friends along the way.

I must also take this opportunity to mention the Trustees and walk leaders like David Green, Paul Wilkinson, Janet Goody, Ian Wright, Gaynor Waterman and Ian Lancaster and others who motivated me to get fit and do the walk.  I’d like to say thanks to my trusty walking companion Nigel Watts, who helped me read the map, avoid getting lost and see things I would probably have missed had it not been for him pointing them out, and lastly, to my wife Gill, who made my pack lunches and who I shared the funny times each day. Yes, a very memorable experience indeed.

Tony Linturn

Member and Volunteer