Tuesday, 6 January 2009

South Downs Way Day Seven Clayton to Southease

Jill Mill
This is my log of my Christmas section of the South Downs Way, a hike that I have been periodically returning to during 2008. Almost done now and from my base in Worthing I was able to do this section entirely serviced by public transport. I took the train to Hassocks and then used the very useful path back along the railway line almost to Clayton Tunnel from where I could access the South Downs.
Flying a Kite

This is my home part of the South Downs and the part I know best of all, since Lewes was my original home town. As you might remember Christmas 2008 was in the middle of a pretty cold snap and I was extremely lucky to pick perhaps the coldest and crispest day to get out on the Downs. Everywhere was white, almost like it had been snowing overnight. Initially I was sheletered from the Downs but I felt certain that I would feel the icy blast of the wind when I got to the top and I wasn't disappointed!

Keymer Post
I stopped briefly at the windmills, although all was quiet today. The only bod enjoying the wind today was a kite flyer just down the hill from me, perhaps trying out his new Christmas present?

Ditchling Beacon
As I moved on from the mills it was clear that I would be far from alone today, with armies of walker and a few horseriders out on the hills trying to shake off the excesses from last week. The sun was low in the sky and offered little warmth. I felt sure that the frozen dew ponds, being glumly inspected by herds of cows wouldn't be offering much drinking water today. When eventually I reached Ditchling Beacon I was surprised that the car park wasn't quite full, in stark contrast to summer Sundays when the adjacent road would also be struggling with parked cars and the bollards erected a few years ago to dissuade parkers would be futile.

Ditchling Pond
Beyond Ditchling Beacon a very strange thing happened when almost all the walkers and horseriders disappeared. Whether this is because Plumpton Plain and Blackcap are less interesting destinations than the Keymer Post and Clayton Windmills is anybody's guess but nonetheless I had fewer people to meet on the next part of the Way down to Housedean Farm and the dreaded A27.

Frost Hollow
The ridge known as Plumpton Plain is well known to me as a mud trap; one of the few on the South Downs. Today though it was mercifully free of mud, principally because it was frozen solid! I made good time on this section, although it was rather longer than I remembered. It was five miles from the Beacon down to the A27 and there was a whole new section that I had never previously tried. The re-routing came a few years ago to enable hikers to take the rather safer crossing of the A27 across the farm access road and the bridge across rather than play chicken across two lanes of traffic.

Ascending Castle Hill
Anyhow the new section of route didn't initially seem to make a lot of sense, doglegging around the back of Housedean Farm until I saw that I came out almost adjacent to the farm itself. Through the only section of woodland that I was to enter today I saw a rather strange sight when I saw a perfectly preserved and yet frozen solid Peacock butterfly.

Glimpse of the Sea
On the other side of the A27 and the Lewes-Brighton railway line I entered the rather surreal world of the frost hollow. This was a small area of Downland that had completely escaped the sun's rays, perhaps fpr several days and was as a result completely festooned with ice crystals. It made for quite a spectacle, although I was glad I was there during daylight hours and not in the depths of cold at night.

View to Lewes
It was about here that I became conscious of the time. I had set myself a goal to reach a particular train from Southease station and was fast running out of time. I faced a tricky choice; amble and enjoy more scenery or go for it and risk missing the train by a few minutes and have to wait an hour for the next one. In view of the cold I decided to go for it, although I hadn't really accounted for what a slog Castle Hill would be.

Southease Church
The view from the top was worth it however. What is disconcerting about this section of the South Downs Way is that you can almost see the entire day's hike all the way from start to end at various points along the way. At Castle Hill I could see all the way back to Ditchling Beacon and Plumpton Plain behind me, the north eastern edges of Brighton and to the south that strange piece of Downland that I have lived near for most of my life but rarely explored. Perhaps that is a future excursion that would have to be completed in 2009.

Southease Station
From Castle Hill I decided that as the rest of the way was pretty much downhill I would try and make my appointed train and set about trying to achieve it. It was to be a big mistake, for while I revelled in the warmth created by my rush and the confidence in meeting the appointed train it was to be an ultimately fruitless task, for the train drew away as I watched it from about 100 metres away. I spent the best part of an hour and a half rushing like mad to reach it, when I should have enjoyed the views from Kingston ridge instead. Ho hum...


  1. I remember a similar experience when walking the South Downs Way near Lewes many years ago. I was living in London and timing the end of the walk to coincide with the train 'home' on a Sunday was a logistical nightmare, especially as we like to make frequent pub stops.

    Great post and luverly foties.

    1. Many thanks Sian! I am resizing all the pictures to make them a lot smaller and hopefully I can combine my blogs then (in case you wonder what I am doing).

      Public transport is always tricky when doing linear walks. I try to get the bus/ train leg over with first so I don't have to worry too much about time