Regular readers of these walks will know that one of my favourite spots in Sussex is Black Down, the highest point. For me this is a corner of Sussex that has always seemed a bit of an enigma - so very different from the South Downs that I grew up with, but no less appealing. After a few days of wintry weather that my children were very excited about I thought it might be the one place nearby that managed to hang on to the white stuff. With a friendly looking weather forecast it looked like a good day for a winter walk. This one is walk no. 17 in Pathfinder Guide volume 52 More Sussex Walks and walk no.19 in vol.66 West Sussex and the South Downs.
The day certainly started out pretty well - the cloud looked like it was going to give way to sunshine as promised as we started our walk at the village green in the small village of Fernhurst. I have to say that if I had been with my wife and not the two girls I might well have been tempted just to stay in the pub as it looked so inviting overlooking the green. As it was the girls were keen to get up high as soon as possible to make their acquaintance with the snow. The path climbed slowly out of the village and as we reached the edge of the housing we got our first view of the brooding mass of Black Down. I have to say that it didn't look too promising from this angle and with warming weather I thought that any lingering snow would just be wet and horrible anyway.
|Range Rover Crowd|
I needn't have worried - by the time we reached Upper Sopers, a large house at the top of the first slope we found our first snow. That soon got the girls into a frenzy of excitement and snowball fighting ensued almost immediately. It was as much as I could to get them moving along and only then on the promise that there would be better stuff further on :) In truth I was slightly concerned about daylight - we had had a reasonably late start and I wanted to be sure that we would get round before it got too dark. The weather suddenly looked a lot less promising than it had earlier too - the bits of sunshine that we had had were now completely gone and we just had leaden skies.
It was with a bit of a heavy heart that I noticed that we were about to lose a lot of the height we had already gained as our path dropped steeply down to a set of fishing ponds. There was no fishing activity today but the countryside set were out killing something else. Their tell-tale vehicles were lined up in the adjacent field - what is with Range Rovers? There is something about these vehicles that scream 'I kill stuff for fun'...
|Splash of Colour|
Having dropped steeply we had an equally steep climb the other side much to the displeasure of all of us. Thankfully the underfoot conditions weren't too bad - much more in the way of mud would have been a problem with traction. As we climbed I heard the first of the shots ringing out through the woods. It drew questions of course - I explained that it was clay pigeon shooting and that seemed to satisfy the young ones. They were much more interested in meeting a couple of pigs at the top of the hill. These were a couple of Sussex Saddlebacks, a rare and local breed and most friendly too.
We eventually reached a road and walked along it briefly before swapping cold cheerless woods for more open countryside and a good deal more snow. The views out across the snowy landscape were quite something and I was rather fascinated by the two large houses overlooking the scene. I could see why the National Trust had taken on this stretch of countryside - it is definitely worth keeping as it is. We slowly dropped down to the Valewood Estate road and found some pretty marshy ground as we did so. I managed to get through unscathed but both girls seemed to find the water traps and soon had wet feet.
|Defiant Against the Cold|
We crossed the road and slowly climbed the other side of the valley. There were already very early signs of spring as the gorse was in flower, a welcome splash of colour on an otherwise bleak day. We were now making the final ascent to Black Down and the girls had ceased complaining about the climb, so absorbed were they in their conversation. Actually the last part of the climb is quite gentle and the countryside improves all the while. The snow got a little thicker too and the promised sunshine finally started too, bang on time for the best part of the walk.
I love the landscape across Black Down. The sandy soils support a heathland that is very handsome, sprinkled with some very large and stately looking Scots Pines. Somehow the winter conditions suit the place particularly well. Being sandy it is a joy to walk in the winter for mud is at a premium. Having walked for several miles without seeing anyone it was a bit of a surprise to see lots of people out. They were probably more sensible than us though - I'm sure they had all parked at the top rather than walk up from the village. They weren't the only company we had for we soon came across a herd of Belted Galloway cattle stationed up here to keep some of the growth in check I suppose. The National Trust seems fond of these grazers - they can often be found doing conservation work in these parts.
We walked around the top of the hill enjoying the snow and the sun peeking through every so often. Eventually we got to the wonderfully named Temple of the Winds. Sadly the 'Temple' is no more and only the viewpoint remains, but what a viewpoint it is! It is possible to see a sizeable chunk of our home county from the top and even into Hampshire and East Sussex. As we stood and enjoyed the view the sun highlighted different stretches of countryside as it poked through the clouds. It looked for all the world that the weather would clear and we would get the sunshine that the weathermen had predicted. What happened was quite the opposite - within minutes the rain had started and it got heavier and more persistent. This wasn't good news for we were at the highest and most exposed point of our walk.
|Black Down View|
We put our skates on and headed down the steep side of the hill. This wasn't easy as we seemed to have found all the mud that was missing from earlier in the walk. In fact as we went further and further down the hill it only got worse and we all had a hard time not getting absolutely filthy. The problems culminated in small daughter going over and getting covered - luckily she saw the funny side! I cannot say that the descent from Black Down was enjoyable - anything but... The trial seemed to go on for quite some time too - the path seemed a lot longer than any of us had expected. All I can say is if you come in the winter beware this stretch - it might be advisable to find an alternative route or save it for a frosty morning. The last time I had done this walk it was a sunny September day - a much better day for it!