Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Station to Station: Falmer to Lewes

Falmer Sunrise

I like to get out at least once during the Christmas holidays although this year looked like it might not be possible given the awful weather that we have experienced during December.  I rather guessed that most places in Sussex might be under several feet of mud so decided that I would try a new type of walking - station to station.  This is something I have been doing for a while where other walks have allowed me, but there are times when I just want to explore the countryside in an area where I would normally travel through by train.  This is the first then of an occasional series.
Falmer Church
The East Coastway line is the first I ever used as a train passenger in my childhood and I thought it would make sense therefore to go there first.  Additionally I knew that walking largely on the Downs would offer something of a respite from the mud!  I parked in Falmer village by the pond shortly after sun up (in reality not that early in the week of Christmas!).  Be aware that there is a 2 hour parking limit on weekdays here so be careful if leaving your car.  I reckoned on just about finishing my walk before the time limit was up thanks to my early start and getting some distance under my feet before the restriction starts (9am).
Looking Back to Falmer
Watching the sun come up over Falmer pond was quite a treat.  This little oasis of a village seems to have maintained its character despite the imposition of the A27 through the middle of it and the proximity of Brighton and Hove Albion's football stadium and the two universities of Sussex and Brighton close by.  I lingered for a short while enjoying the atmosphere before moving on.  There was a time not too long ago when this walk had a very unpleasant start as the only means by which you could access the downland ridge above Falmer was to walk along the verge of the busy B2123 road.  Thankfully that is no longer the case thanks to a new path built to facilitate walking to the stadium from Woodingdean.  It was the presence of this path that persuaded me that this walk should be done again.  If you decide to do it just be aware that the path is shared by cyclists and they come down the hill at a fair old lick!
Brighton Football Stadium
The path up the hill was a reasonable climb but steady rather than very steep.  Normally I would have turned off to the left about half way up and headed over to a small woodland.  However, I wanted to try and get a picture from Castle Hill across Brighton to Worthing beyond.  On a clear day it is possible to see the Isle of Wight from here too although when I reached it finally I was disappointed to see that it was too murky to see beyond Brighton.  Nevertheless the feeling of height and space up here is remarkable and it felt good to have some fresh air in my lungs after days of being cooped up at home.  Yet despite the sunshine it was not the cold crisp day that you might expect but a rather mild day such as you might associate with October.
Brighton From Castle Hill
Just before getting to Woodingdean I turned sharp left and headed to the crest of the hill and passed the communications tower.  I suspect this area has previously has a bit of a problem with travellers for every opportunity to install a defensive mechanism had been taken and there was bunding and padlocks everywhere.  I wandered along the mostly well drained track to the mast and turned to look at Brighton for the last time before setting my sights  on Lewes. 

Castle Hill Puddles
From here to Lewes I would be following Juggs Road; this was an ancient track used by the fishermen of Brighton (so called Juggs) to take their produce from the beach to the market in Lewes.  Back in those days Brighton was nothing more than a small collection of houses by the sea while Lewes was the biggest centre around back then - how times change!
Over The Hills and Far Away
At first the walk along the ridge was downhill and I had views southward towards the sea.  I have come to realise that I barely know this area of the South Downs despite living in the area for most of my life.  I think that may be something to put right in 2016?  The ridge I do know however and the views from here are some of my favourites anywhere along the South Downs; perhaps because they are so familiar to me.  I had the whole ridge to myself save for a Land Rover ahead attending to the feed for the cattle and sheep that always seem to be up here whenever I come. 
View to Lewes
Eventually I came to the end of the Downland ridge and reluctantly descended into the village of Kingston.  As I passed by a herd of cattle they gave me a rather noisy reception - maybe they thought I was about to steal the food they had just been given?  Dropping down the steep path from the Kingston ridge into the village itself was rather tough going as the chalky path was very slippery.  I felt rather foolish as I slithered down the hill to be passed by a couple of runners heading the other way looking rather more graceful in their stride than I was!  A word about the view across to Lewes though - this has been changed recently by the reappearance of Ashcombe Windmill, reconstructed after the original was destroyed in a storm nearly one hundred years ago.  I can only say that this addition to the landscape is a very welcome sight.

Mount Caburn
The bottom of the hill I wandered along through some well appointed houses (even sporting daffodils in the garden - who would have thought that in December?) to Nan Kemp's Corner.  This is supposedly the final resting place of Nan Kemp, the perpetrator of a very grisly crime that has become something of a local legend.  I couldn't even tell you whether it is true but I can remember the story being told to me when I was a young boy.  Nan Kemp was supposed to have murdered her baby and served up the baby in a pie for her husband to eat when he came back from a day toiling in the fields.  When she lived and how much the story has been embellished is a bit of a mystery but I guess there is some truth to it as it has persisted for longer than anyone can remember.  She was hanged of course, it is said somewhere near this spot.

Ashcombe Windmill and Lewes Prison
I crossed the road that leads through the village of Kingston and headed up past the windmill.  As I got closer I could see that it actually has six sweeps, rather unusual for a windmill in Sussex.  Apparently the owner of the windmill has constructed it in part to replace the original windmill but also to generate electricity to sell back to the grid.  I'll bet even the most vocal of anti-wind farm campaigners would have a hard time objecting to this one.

Kingston Daffodils
I rather thought that the field that you have to cross here would be rather muddy but I was thankfully mistaken - those ancient fishermen obviously picked this route on the basis that it was dry for most of the year and therefore provided an easier track than the present day route along the valley.  I was 'joined' on this section of the walk by two boisterous children - they rather disturbed my peace.  Having left mine at home today this was rather an unwelcome intrusion. I have to say that I am a lot less tolerant of other people's children - I must be getting old!

Ashcombe Winmill
Thankfully I outpaced them and left them behind entirely at the next gate.  The onward path was enclosed and again rather cleaner than I remember it being.  The roar of the traffic from the nearby A27 Lewes Bypass now began to be a lot more noticeable and further on the line of the old Juggs Road is severed by the gash that this 1970s road created through the landscape.  Instead of gently descending into Southover the road now has to detour down to a big arched bridge where I can remember cycling as a child to get the thrill of the descent.  The saplings that were planted alongside the road have now developed into small trees and the uninterrupted view that used to exist across to the Victorian prison is no more.

The Swan
At the bottom end of Juggs Road a small housing estate has been built that further diverts the old road and the junction with the road to Newhaven (formerly the A275) has been lost as a result.  I passed by the Swan pub, still seemingly in good health, before continuing along Southover High Street.  As a driving experience passing along this road is not a pleasure since speed bumps and other traffic calming measures were put in some years ago.  However, it does mean that walking along here is more enjoyable as there is a lot less traffic.  The buildings along here are quite a mixture of historical styles and it is a very interesting road to walk along.

Southover High Street
A little past the Anne of Cleves House, so called because it was handed to the fourth wife of Henry VIII as part of their divorce settlement, I took a right turn to head down towards the Priory Ruins.  I still get a thrill to be able to walk through the ruins after they were opened up to the public a few years ago.  For most of my life they had been protected by chain link and barbed wire fencing but the safety works that were carried out with lottery funding meant that people are now free to walk through them and enjoy the atmosphere of this Cluniac Priory, the first of its kind in the UK.  From here it was a short walk to the railway station and on board for the short ride back to Falmer.
Lewes Priory

For a shortish trip this had a little of everything - magnificent views; some personal nostalgia; new and exciting developments that in my opinion have enhanced the landscape and the most fantastic views from the Downs.  I can see that this is the sort of walk that I shall enjoy repeating in the months ahead

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for explaining the mystrey of that windmill to me, it looks lovely. I went for a walk in the area a few months back and when up on the downs near Kingston I spotted the windmill, but tried in vain to find it on the map. I wondered why it was not marked and was puzzled because it certainly did not look new - but it obviously is!

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    1. Thanks Jon - Happy New Year to you! I regularly pass this area to visit family and so have watched the re-establishment of the windmill with interest. Part of the reason I took this walk was to have a closer look!

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  2. I seem to remember from a previous post that you are a Brighton & Hove Albion supporter Paul? I think we all suffer from cabin fever during the Xmas holidays so it's good to get out walking in the fresh air.

    Baby pie is enough to turn anyone vegetarian if the legend is true. Becoming intolerant of other people's children is definitely a sign of getting older as I can certainly confirm. I must admit that I prefer to see nobody at all on walks.

    Bill

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    1. Happy New Year Bill! You are right about my football allegiance :)

      Sadly not as many walks over Christmas as I would have liked although we did get out once more (write up to come) . I think I prefer lonely walks too - I see a lot more I find

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