Monday, 3 October 2016

Devil's Dyke

Dyke View
The feeling of late summer had already arrived when I did this walk.  The change from early to late summmer is imperceptible but definitely occurs sometime during July.  The fields had changed colour and the landscape was starting to look a bit drier as the warmer temperatures finally kicked in.  With a gloriously clear and warm day I yearned for a Downland view and where better than one of the most famous ones of them all, Devil's Dyke, just to the north of Brighton?  This walk is number 7 in volume 66 of the Pathfinder Guides West Sussex and the South Downs.

This walk can be accessed by bus from the centre of Brighton but unfortunately I wasn't blessed with the amount of time needed to get up here by that method (the open top bus is a glorious way to travel though!).  The car park was pretty busy and the pub was churning out some appetising smells (I can't give you the lowdown on whether it is any good - it's always been too busy to try it out).  Devil's Dyke was alive with people flying kites, playing ball games or merely here to admire the view.  It is a fantastic view - the line of the Downs immediately to the west of the car park is one of the iconic Downland views.  I could also see across to Leith Hill, where we had walked a couple of weeks earlier.  I have of course featured Devil's Dyke a couple of previous times on my walks, exploring the old railway line that used to bring tourists up here, and also walking by on the South Downs Way.

I took neither route today.  I walked from the car park due east dropping slowly off the crest of the hill at first and then more steeply into some woodland that flanks the scarp slope of the Downs.  This was a rather steeper path than I expected and it took some concentration to ensure that I didn't end up like a rolling stone!  The path through the woods was still surprisingly sticky underfoot considering the lateness of the season.

Across the Clay Vale
Soon I reached the village of Poynings.  This is a most attractive village although a lot more gentrified these days than the one I remember as a boy.  I suspect most of the people living here are either wealthy commuters to Brighton or elderly people that have been here most of their lives.  House prices are probably high enough to prevent children growing up here to buy a property of their own in the village.  It was good to see the pub in rude health though so perhaps community spirit remains strong?
Spinning Top Clouds
I walked a little way along the main street and then took a path between houses to the fields on the north side of the village.  The difference between the South Downs and the area immediately to the north is quite startling.  The underlying geology here is clay and the villages were originally built to take advantage of the springs that emanate from the boundary between the permeable chalk of the Downs and the impermeable gault clay.  Groundwater has no place to go underground and a line of springs result.  The villages took advantage of this fresh clean water supply.

Fulking Cottage
During the winter months the clay vale can be very difficult to walk on but today conditions were pretty dry and a lot more pleasurable.  The path took me across a succession of fields, mostly rough pasture.  I was accompanied by a large number of rooks that I imagine roosted in the trees nearby.  Looking along the line of the Downs from this angle was a rather different prospect than it was high on the viewpoint at Devil's Dyke.  Despite their modest height the Downs seem to look a lot more impressive from below.  I could also now see the full extent of the old funicular that carried passengers up the side of the Downs near Poynings.  You can read more about this on an earlier blog entry at Devils Dyke - A Victorian Theme Park.

Village Pump
After crossing a line of fields I wandered into the last one which contained some horses very keen to make my acquaintance.  Unfortunately for them I didn't have any food to give them and so they soon lost interest. I turned right at a lane and then left just around the corner back into open countryside.  The path followed the edge of a field just away from the shade under some large trees.  More horses were here sheltering from the increasingly warm sunshine.  I continued for a little further before taking a sharp left turn and heading due south towards the Downs once again.  The path headed along some large hedgerow boundaries skipping from field to field for a bit.  The flowers along the hedgerow were plentiful and added a good deal of colour to proceedings.  Perhaps what caught my eye most of all though were the clouds - they looked like spinning tops drifting over the countryside - I'm not sure I have ever seen anything quite like them.
Shepherd and Dog

Just before I got to the village of Fulking the path took an abrupt turn to the right and I then had to negotiate a ploughed field - definitely a sign of changing seasons ahead.  At the top end of the field I passed through a lovely little village play area and then out on to the main street.  This is a road I have driven along many times but walked very rarely.  I soon realised why - the traffic through the picturesque village of Fulking is surprisingly heavy and walking through wasn't an especially pleasant experience.

Just around the corner is one of the most famous Downland pubs of them all; the Shepherd and Dog.  This extremely popular inn features in many books and calendars.  Surprisingly I have never been inside - it always looks too busy for my liking and even today it was heaving despite being quite early in the lunch hour.  I took the path up the side of the beer garden to begin the re-ascent of the scarp slope of the Downs.  Initially I passed through some cool shaded woodland but soon I was out in the open after passing a woman that warned me about her anti-social dog.  I was thankful I wasn't walking one of my own.

Which Way?

The path to the top of the scarp slope was a slog - in spite of the modest height of the Downs the slope is surprisingly steep and presents a pretty decent work out.  I stopped half way up to enjoy the wild flowers and in particular the spread of orchids that were still in full bloom.  As I sat and enjoyed my surroundings a group of young people came charging down the hill playing loud music from a sound system.  They really did their best to ruin the ambience and I couldn't help but wish we were back in the 80s when such a system would have been a Brixton briefcase held on a shoulder and surely too big to have entertained the idea of bringing it into the countryside.  I reckon my inner grumpy old man is becoming well-developed as I get older...
Climbing Out of Fulking

Soon I was back at the top of the hill and admiring the wide open views from the top of the Downs once again.  It was certainly a treat to do this walk on a fine summer's day and despite its fairly modest length (three and three quarter miles) it packs a lot in - fine views and two of the prettiest Downland villages you are ever likely to see.  Refreshments in the Shepherd and Dog look more tempting than the Devils Dyke Inn, but the only pub en route I can vouch for is The Royal Oak at Poynings - well worth a visit.

Almost at the Top

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