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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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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

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Be a Friend

Celebrating our Centenary this year, we have some exciting events planned as well as funding some projects that will make a real difference on the Downs. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our members for their continued support and invite all our new friends to join us today. Be a Friend of the South Downs.

Be a Friend of the South Downs

As a member, you have access to over 200 walks and strolls a year. Your membership helps support our team of District Officers who monitor planning applications throughout the South Downs National Park. Your membership also helps support our extensive educational programmes with schools.

The Friends of the South Downs has agreed a major programme of spending totalling over £100,000 in our Centenary year, to benefit the Downs in the short term and the long term. The Friends can spend this money because they are fortunate to have recently received two substantial legacies. You can help us make these legacies go even farther by supporting us. Be a friend.

Bigger Items of Spending in the Plan

  • £60,000 to the National Park Authority for the refurbishment of the iconic 18th century pump barn building at the Seven Sisters country park, which will be used to showcase the Downs for visitors and provide space for activities.
  • £20,000 for projects to encourage children to learn about and appreciate the South Downs.  We’re running the projects with bodies like the National Park Authority and Youth Hostels Association.  We’re aiming at children for groups who are less likely to visit the Downs.  The plan is to teach them about the landscape and history, and most of all encourage them to appreciate and value the Downs.

Be a Friend and Support our Projects

  • providing attractive wooden benches, converting stiles to gates to improve access and placing information boards at significant locations.
  • helping make a path more accessible for people with limited mobility, planned location Devils Dyke. 
  • Contributing to the cost of staging a play based on Hilaire Belloc’s famous book The Four Men about a walk across the Downs.
  • Financing prizes at Brighton University for academic work relevant to the South Downs.

Upcoming Centenary Events

Be a friend and join today!

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The Four Men

Hilaire Belloc was a prolific writer, who, over the course of fifty years, produced works of fiction, verse, political polemic, history, travelogue and religious tract. His book, The Path to Rome, is often cited as his most important work. But his renowned 1911 novel, The Four Men: A Farrago is a very different book. It is confined to the much smaller geographical area than The Path to Rome – the county of Sussex. Yet, at the same time it journeys much further than The Path to Rome – exploring the mystical and unseen world and the destiny of man. Belloc’s chosen vehicle for this odyssey is the chance meeting of four men.

The Four Men the Belloc Way Friends of the South Downs

One of our trustees and walks leader, David Green, has designed a linear walk called the ‘Belloc Way’. The route draws inspiration from The Four Men. The novel recounts the journey of four men who embark on a 90-mile pilgrimage across Sussex, starting from Robertsbridge in the east and concluding at South Harting in the west. Along their path, they encounter various points of interest and engage in sharing stories, songs, jokes, and reflections on life, history, and culture. These travelling companions never reveal their real names but confer on each other descriptive epithets that most clearly describe their personalities.

The Belloc Way walk will take place over six days during the first two weeks of August 2023. Here’s a link to our Walks programme. While four committed regular walkers have pledged to complete the entire route, we warmly welcome other participants to join them for individual legs of the journey. This will provide an opportunity to learn more about Belloc’s remarkable life and his significant contributions to the literary world.

Each of the six stages of the Belloc Way are between 15 and 17 miles. Would you like to come along? We invite experienced walkers to join us for a taster walk on this journey. You may learn more about Hilaire Belloc and The Four Men and you will see the benefits of becoming a member of the Friends of the South Downs.

We are the only membership organisation dedicated to protecting the South Downs. We offer over 200 walks and strolls for varied fitness levels throughout the year. But we are more than just a walking club.

We make a difference on the South Downs:

  • With our body of District Officers throughout East Sussex, West Sussex and Hampshire who submit articulate, informed responses to planning applications which ensure that the Park is protected whilst allowing sensible projects
  • By raising the profile of the park through regular talks, publicity and programmes for children.
  • Through physical projects, including benches along the South Downs Way, replacing stiles with kissing gates, rebuilding part of the South Downs Way and planting trees

Membership starts for as little as £2.50 a month. If you have any questions or would like to volunteer, please contact us for more information.

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Our Youngest Downlanders

“It is rather wonderful that some of our youngest downlanders have been able to celebrate the Centenary of the Friends of the South Downs, by marking out ‘100’ on the greensward of the Downs. Bury School, nestling, as it does in the heart of the South Downs, has worked with FSD on two of our schools’ projects and are now taking part in our latest educational project called South Downs for All. Only last month, I accompanied some of the Year 5 and Year 6 children on an eight-mile walk over the downs from Slindon to Bury. A great school with a real commitment to sharing the joy of the South Downs with all their pupils.” Chris Hare, Project Manager

bury school friends of the south downs south downs for all

Our latest educational project, South Downs for All, is a programme aimed at bringing together eight South Down schools and the FSD to enable more children to enjoy the South Downs and learn about the heritage of this wonderful landscape. Chris Hare is also project manager of South Downs Generations, a unique partnership between FSD and four West Sussex Primary schools. That project brings together young and old to explore our common downland heritage.

Year 5 and 6 children at Bury School proved their downland credentials by walking from Slindon to Bury, a distance of some 12 km. The day was perfect – warm but not too warm.

We walked by Slindon Folly on Nore Hill, built for the Countess of Newburgh over 200 years ago, and trod the route Roman soldiers took 2,000 years ago along a surviving stretch of Roman road at Stane Street, that once led all the way from Chichester to London.

There were plenty of stops, including one at Bignor Hill, where the fingerpost points to destinations written in the original Latin.

Finally, we descended Bignor Hill and came across a bubbling stream, fed from a spring in the Downs. On returning to Bury School at just after 3:00pm, all the party – adults, as well as our youngest downlanders, were pleased to rest weary feet and limbs. But all agreed: it had been a great day.

bury school south downs for all our youngest downlanders
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Walks and Strolls Programme

Our latest Walks and Strolls programme for the third quarter is now live. We offer over 200 walks and strolls over the year of varied distances for most fitness levels. Centenary celebrations continue this quarter with themed strolls in various locations.

Friends of the South Downs alks and strolls programme

The first one takes place in August and begins in West Chiltington, after which participants will enjoy lunch provided at the Society’s Pulborough office. The second Centenary stroll takes place near Petworth and our patron, Lord Egremont, has granted exclusive access to the private wood at Flexham Park. The third Centenary stroll will actually be two separate strolls on the same evening, aiming to meet up at Devil’s Jumps near Cocking to enjoy the sunset.

One of our trustees, David Green, has designed a linear walk called the ‘Belloc Way’. The route draws inspiration from Hilaire Belloc’s renowned 1911 novel, The Four Men: A Farrago. The novel recounts the journey of four men who embark on a 90-mile pilgrimage across Sussex, starting from Robertsbridge in the east and concluding at South Harting in the west. Along their path, they encounter various points of interest and engage in sharing stories, songs, jokes, and reflections on life, history, and culture.

The ‘Belloc Way’ walk will take place over six days during the first two weeks of August. While four committed regular walkers have pledged to complete the entire route, we warmly welcome other participants to join them for individual legs of the journey. This will provide an opportunity to learn more about Belloc’s remarkable life and his significant contributions to the literary world.

Our Walks and Strolls programme is available in PDF form for you to download, print and save. If you’d like more information about joining us and walking with us, please contact us here.

As well as our Walks and Strolls programme, we also offer a selection of self-guided walks which you can enjoy on your own or with friends. For each walk we provide a download including a map, description and images to help you find your way.

Friends of the South Downs walks and strolls programme
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Our Centenary Year

Our Centenary year in 2023 provides a great opportunity to celebrate the South Downs and the role of the Friends of the South Downs, and to publicise what we do. To mark our Centenary year we are planning significant events and activities to celebrate the beginnings of the Society.

Seven Sisters from Cuckmere Haven Friends of the South Downs

It’s difficult to imagine a world in which people could build without restriction on a landscape of outstanding beauty, yet that is the threat that our predecessors faced almost 100 years ago.

After witnessing the construction of Peacehaven on the chalk cliffs to the west of the Ouse, our founder members feared what would happen to the rest of the eastern Downs in that time without effective planning controls.  To counter that threat they joined together in 1923 to form ‘a society for the preservation of the Downs’, which soon became the Society of Sussex Downsmen.  We later changed the name to the South Downs Society and are now known as the Friends of the South Downs.

Peacehaven our centenary year friends of the south downs

One spring day in 1923 on the chalk cliffs overlooking the Channel, two men, brothers-in-law, walking east from Brighton, were dismayed to come upon the new settlement of Peacehaven, developed on what was once downland. There was only rudimentary town planning in the 1920s and Peacehaven had been sold in plots, with no control over the dwellings to be built on them. It was no more than a shanty town.

Their day doubtless spoilt, Robert Thurston Hopkins and Captain Irvine Bately returned to their homes in Brighton resolved to try to prevent any further loss of the precious landscape of the Sussex Downs. Thurston Hopkins made contact with Gordon Volk. A committee was formed comprising Robert Thurston Hopkins, his wife Sybil, Captain Irvine Bately, his wife Lilian, and Gordon Volk. Volk then approached Arthur Beckett, a prominent newspaper owner. Beckett agreed to become President of the new society. Late in 1923, a crowded public meeting in the Royal Pavilion enthusiastically resolved to form a society for the preservation of the Downs.Excerpt from Richard Reed’s A Centenary History of the Friends of the South Downs.

The threats to the Downs may have changed over the last 100 years but we still remain vigilant to protect the natural beauty of the area. To mark our Centenary year we are planning these significant events and activities.

South Downs for All:  a two-year lottery-funded project to encourage children to know and love the Downs. We’re working with two secondary and six primary schools to take children on field trips on the Downs.  The schools chosen have higher than average less well-off and ethnic minority children: groups which are less likely to visit the great outdoors.

A fascinating new book on the history of the Friends. Written by Richard Reed, who has been a member for a remarkable 75 years, the book traces our history from the struggles of the 1920s when there were few planning controls to the challenges of today.  The book is available to all members and available to purchase on our website.

Stimulating talks by prominent personalities. We have arranged tremendous online talks in 2023 by

  • Hilary Benn, the Labour Member of Parliament for Leeds Central who, in 2009, signed the order confirming the designation of the South Downs National Park. Register here!
  • Alistair Appleton, television broadcaster (Escape to the Country), psychotherapist and meditation teacher at Mindsprings in East Sussex
  • Isabella Tree, award-winning author of Wilding who, with her husband Charlie Burrell, run the rewilding project at Knepp Estate in West Sussex

Recreation of Hilaire Belloc’s Four Men walk We will walk in the summer of 2023 perhaps one of the first long-distance trails, Hilaire Belloc’s route from Robertsbridge to South Harting. We’re also thinking as well of ways to make the walk better known.

Making a length of footpath more accessible We plan to improve a selected footpath to make it accessible for wheelchair users. We’re still working out the details of the best site to choose and will keep you updated.

A cycling festival Cycling, particularly with electric bikes, can help people access suitable routes on the Downs. We are working with selected bike shops this summer to run events near the South Downs Way to demonstrate and try the latest regular and electric bikes.

Centenary appeal Would you like to help these exciting events and projects happen?  Please get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

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Sourcing Wood for our Benches

Benches for the South Downs, here at Saddlescombe with Chris Steibelt

Over the last year, our benches project was severely held up. Due to the Pandemic, there has been a huge rise in timber costs. Sourcing wood for our benches was a major challenge. Our supplier was not able to source locally grown oak at an affordable price.  After many phone calls to various contacts, I discovered the wonderful Northway Brothers who have a woodyard near Milland.

Doug and Erwin Northway are locals. They went to school in Midhurst and, having worked originally with a chestnut fencing contractor, they decided to set up their own business.  They are not easy people to find as they don’t have a website, don’t do social media and don’t advertise! Their business comes entirely from recommendations. Mine was from the Head Forrester at the Leconfield Estate in Petworth, home of our Patron Lord Egremont, where the brothers get their Forest Stewardship Council approved oak.

Doug and Erwin built their own sawmill machine when they set up the business and it is very impressive. They work in all weathers in an open shed, so it’s a pretty tough job but they seem very content with it.  

I arranged to go along and see the wood being cut for our project. Here are some photos of the process of sourcing wood for our benches. I learned a lot through meeting them and watching them work.

What’s next? We have other locations along the South Downs Way in the South Downs National Park lined up and we’ve been given the green light to go ahead and make the next benches.

Have you visited any of our benches? They are now installed at Saddlescombe, Harting Down and Ditchling Beacon. We’d love to see your photos. Visit us here on Facebook and on Instagram and on Twitter and don’t forget to tag us!

Caroline Douglas, Trustee