On our return from Spain we were lucky enough to find that spring weather seemed to be the order of the day and much of the wet stuff that we have endured all winter seemed to be well and truly behind us. However, much of the countryside to the north of us was still something of a swamp and so the next family walk that we took really had to be on the South Downs as that was the only area we could be sure would be dry.
As it happens this was no great hardship as it was a gloriously sunny day; perhaps the first that really hinted that the change of season was upon us? I had decided on a route that would take us on a circle from Clayton Windmills to the Chattri Monument and then back around in a circle via Ditchling Beacon. I felt that this would probably have enough interest for the girls and also introduce them to a few hills. So far we have worked on their distance but not got them to walk up and down hills.
I should have realised that when we arrived at Clayton Windmills that the car park would be absolutely jammed. Yet we struck lucky with just about the last space available, allowing us the opportunity to stick to plan A. Clayton Windmills are also known as Jack and Jill but they have not always lived side by side. Jill Windmill was originally built near Patcham but was moved to this location several miles to the north during Victorian times and before the advent of motorised traffic. To do so must have been quite the effort as the whole thing was dragged over by teams of horses. Since then the old girl has had quite a colourful history, with the most recent brush with disaster being the Great Storm of 1987 when the mill was saved from certain destruction by some brave volunteers who secured the sails.
Jack Windmill hasn’t been quite so lucky in the last few years. Unlike Jill, Jack has been in private ownership for many years and it looks like the maintenance needs have rather overtaken the owners. The mill has recently lost its sails but I cannot be sure whether this is a permanent issue or just to enable restoration. I rather hope the latter as the two look so much better together when they both have their sails intact.
|The Chattri Memorial|
After a good look at the mills we headed over towards the Chattri Memorial. We passed through a stud farm where the horse looked as if they were still suffering from the after effects of the rainy winter as their fields were pretty churned up looking. They also had rather a strange bedfellow in the shape of an armoured vehicle that had seemingly been left abandoned in the middle of the field. We also passed a very busy looking golf course on our way over to the Chattri along our rather zig zag path.
Surprisingly this is the first time I had visited the memorial and seen it up close. I have of course seen it from a distance many times but thought about visiting when I saw it featured on a recent programme about the Great War. The Chattri Memorial pays tribute to the brave soldiers from India who rallied to the cause of the British Empire during the war. Many of them died as a result of their injuries while they were being treated at the makeshift hospital that had been created at Brighton Pavilion. The Pavilion had been used for this purpose to try and make the Indian Soldiers feel as possibly at home as they could be. Following the demise of individual soldiers they were transported up to temporary cremators on the Downs so that the religious beliefs of the soldiers could be observed. Seeing the memorial in such a peaceful place with such a great view is rather poignant and in stark contrast to the conditions that most of the soldiers would have seen during active service.
|It's a Pig's Life|
We lingered at the memorial for some time and it was quite clear that this is a focal point for many walkers who pause to pay their respects. I don’t know why I should have thought this but seeing an Indian couple heading up to the memorial was particularly good to see. I cannot ever remember seeing Indian people walking on the Downs before, but this is clearly an important enough destination to have attracted this couple.
Eventually after a spot of lunch and a good scout round we headed back along the path that we arrived on, taking a right hand turn half a mile or so back. We descended down into Lower Standean, a hamlet dominated by the farm of the same name. This is a delightful spot and unbelievably peaceful considering how close we are to Brighton. The farm was mostly devoid of people but as we passed through a vehicle turned up and the occupants were carrying a lamb. This was quite a treat for the girls as they were able to have a stroke and acquaint themselves with the few days old lamb.
|That Kind of a Day|
Our onward route took us around some of the dry valleys of the Downs. These are curious features believed to have been formed by meltwater eroding the chalk during times of permafrost in the last ice age. There were no walkers now, only livestock. All the animals on show looked to be enjoying the sunshine as well, with most lazing around in sunny spots away from the still chilly breeze.
|View North From Ditchling Beacon|
Eventually we climbed back up towards the scarp slope of the Downs near to Ditchling Beacon. We gave the children some incentive to climb the hill by promising an ice cream at the top. As we slogged up the hill we saw a number of scouts on what I took to be some kind of hiking competition. Some seemed lost but we soon pointed them in the right direction. We also seemed to act as gate people for bikers and horse riders – clearly this section of path was quite a highway!
At the top of Ditchling Beacon we were relieved that the ice cream van was in place. I imagine that the owner had done quite a trade on this unusually warm day. We sat and enjoyed the view for some time at the highest spot in East Sussex. The Ouse Valley and cliffs at Seaford Head look remarkably close from here while to the south is the new feature in the landscape in the shape of the Amex Stadium, Brighton and Hove Albion’s stadium that was built in 2011. Strangely this is the first time I have seen it from way up here.
|The Amex Stadium From Ditchling Beacon|
The walk back from Ditchling Beacon to the windmills at Clayton is almost all downhill and probably one of the finest stretches of the South Downs Way of them all. The views to the north are fantastic and on this particular day they were especially clear. For some reason there was quite a bit of mist hanging around the coast but not so inland – the view was stupendous and covered most of the Weald of Sussex for thirty or so miles north and to the east and west.
|Kite Flying Above Clayton|
The South Downs Way is becoming a bit of a motorway in places though – there were so many walkers on this stretch. I am hoping for a long run of dry weather so that we can head for quieter places in the future. This was a good walk for the girls to do though – it was a modest distance (approx 6 miles) and with some reasonable climbs to help with their stamina. The mills and the memorial added some extra interest along the way but when asked both girls said their highlight was the ice cream J