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Strolling with the Romans

Would you like to go strolling with the Romans, along the road from Noviomagnus to Londinium? Stane Street, the Roman road that ran from Chichester (Noviomagnus) to London, was originally up to ten metres wide. Much of it is buried under modern roads following the same route.  The exact date of construction is uncertain; however, on the basis of archaeological finds, it was in use by 70 AD.

Stane Street photo by Judy Robinson

Stane Street shows that Roman roads were not always as straight as we used to believe.  A straight line alignment from London Bridge to Chichester would have required steep crossings of the North Downs, Greensand Ridge and South Downs and so after the first section, the road was designed to exploit a natural gap in the North Downs cut by the River Mole and to pass to the east of the high ground of Leith Hill, before following flatter land in the River Arun valley to Pulborough. Although at no point does the road lie more than 6 miles from the direct line.

The Stroll

There is something special about walking along a route that was constructed by Roman soldiers so long ago.  Along the way you get a great view of the Channel on the horizon, which seems to be remarkably close and at one point the Roman road cuts through an earlier, prehistoric linear earthwork .  The path descends into woodland and at the lowest point can be quite muddy until you start uphill again through the trees.  Its a moderate stroll but if you would like to extend it, the route connects to both the Monarch’s Way and the South Downs Way.

Bignor is also the location of a Roman Villa of domestic proportions where you can really get the feel of how people lived.  There are some good mosaics, a bath house and an example of a hypocaust (underfloor heating system). The site was discovered by George Tupper in 1811 when he uncovered the Summer dining room water basin after striking it with his plough.  

Today the Villa is still managed by the Tupper family under the control of Trustees.  It is open in the spring/summer months and has a tea room.  (check website for 2021 opening times). It well worth a visit and needs support, as it is an ongoing battle to preserve the site from the elements and damp etc.  You can see why the wealthy family who built it, chose the location, as it stands in a beautiful valley. Nowadays there is a vineyard right next door and as it is thought that the Romans introduced wine making into Britain, that seems very fitting.

What did the Romans ever do for us? Take a trip to this area and see for yourself.

Caroline Douglas, Trustee

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The Great South Downs Sit Down

View from the newly-installed Saddlescombe Bench

Many walkers tell Friends of the South Downs that there is very little provision to sit down and rest along the South Downs Way, which runs from Winchester to Eastbourne. Today, 19 May 2021, marks the day we proudly reveal the first bench in our ongoing project to provide seats at intervals along the entire length of the iconic route.

The first bench has been installed at East Hill above Saddlescombe Farm on National Trust land. FOSD Patron Lord Egremont cut the ribbon to launch the campaign. Vice-Chairman Andrew Lovett addressed the assembled group of representatives from the NT, South Downs National Park Authority and Trustees of FOSD, at a small, Covid safe, celebration.

Chainsaw sculptor Chris Bain / Photo by Dan Fagan – National Trust

After first gaining permission from the South Downs National Park Authority, we turned to the National Trust, as a major landowner along the route, to provide the initial sites. The first benches are being carved by local chainsaw sculptor Chris Bain. Each bench will be made of sustainable, locally sourced oak and feature a small hidden downland creature. Benches will be individually designed to blend into and enhance the setting in a sympathetic way.

Caroline Douglas, the FOSD Trustee leading The Great South Downs Sit Down project, said, “we are so grateful to Jane Cecil, the NT General Manager and the NT Rangers for all their help and enthusiasm in getting this project off the ground and to Chris Bain for producing such a beautiful bench. More progress has been made with finding sites, so watch out for other benches appearing over the coming months.”

When you visit one of our benches, please share pictures onto our Facebook or our Twitter page! If you find any spots along the South Downs Way that might be a perfect place for one of our benches, please contact us.

Bench dedication ceremony, 19 May 2021. Photo credit: National Trust
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Cycling in the Downs

Have you ever thought of doing sections of the South Downs Way on your bicycle?

For anyone not so keen on the uphill sections there are electric bikes available for hire in a number of towns located close to the South Downs Way. Midhurst is the recommended start point for this 20 mile roundtrip. E-Bike Adventures e-bike hire service and All Ride Now e-bike shop in Midhurst can help there.

From the hire shop, it’s just a short distance until you reach the turning for Bepton and you are then on a quiet country road running alongside Midhurst Common and out into open countryside. The route passes through Cocking and then up to the South Downs Way via Crypt Lane. Look out for the Time Column in Cocking and (disused) railway tunnel which hopefully will one day become part of the Centurion Way.

After crossing the A286, it’s a slow steady climb up the South Downs Way, but there’s plenty of reason to stop to admire the view to the West and North. You now have 5 miles of South Downs Way to enjoy. There’s dense woodland on your right and grazing pasture, ancient tumulus and plenty of places designated as SSI opposite. You reach a height of 234M at the intersection with the path to East Dean to the south and Duncton to the North. The views to the North East and West even on a dull day are fantastic. A short detour from here to Tegleaze Crown will take you to the highest point on the South Downs in Sussex at 255M. It’s downhill from here to Duncton via the quarry and A285. Check your brakes before you freewheel down and make a stop at the overview point at Fryan’s Hanger.

At the bottom of Duncton Hill after the 2 sharp lefthanders, turn left into Beechwood Lane. In ¾ mi, you’ll find a small gate on the right leading into Seaford College. Turn left and pass through the school grounds and along the track with Lavington Stud Farm on your right and pass the gatehouse. A right turn will lead you to St Giles Church, Graffham and on down the hill into the old part of the village.

Follow signs for Heyshott/Midhurst until you reach Heyshott Common. Follow the sign marked Footpath to Dunsford (the former home of Richard Cobden). Pass Canine Partners and along the path to Dunsford and up the road to Pendean. You arrive at Oaklands Lane where you turn right passing over the disused railway to Pulborough until you come to Church Road on the left. It’s a short sharp rise but you’ll sense refreshments are (hopefully) just a few minutes away so it’s little bother. From Church Road turn left onto Selham Road and it’s a few hundred yards down to Chichester Road and South Pond in Midhurst. For your well-earned coffee and cake the time will come again to try Gartons in the Market Square. The time will also come again when there are plenty of pubs for something stronger.

Chris Steibelt, Trustee