Sunday, 15 October 2017

Alfriston, Long Man of Wilmington and Jevington

The Long Man of Wilmington
To my mind this is one of the classic walks in Sussex and at 8 miles long makes for a satisfying day-long loop, especially if you take the opportunity to explore Alfriston and the other attractions en route. It is walk number 21 in Pathfinder Guide volume 24 Surrey and Sussex Walks (it also appears in vol... East Sussex and the South Downs as walk number...).  Officially the walk commences in Alfriston but mindful of how tricky it can be to park there I took the decision to park next to the church at Folkington about a third of the way round.  In that way we could also enjoy Alfriston and some of the other places to explore further towards the end of the walk.
Folkington Church
Folkington is a tiny spring-line village just to the west of Polegate at the foot of the Downs.  There is a large manor house here but hidden from view below the church.  Most of the land around here still belongs to the estate and it looks like an idyllic spot well out of the way of the rat race.  Parking was even a premium here though too - even though church wasn't in session there were enough cars about to suggest that we weren't the only walkers around.  We turned left at the church and began the loop in a clockwise direction.  Our path was the old coaching road from Lewes to Eastbourne, long since defunct as the main route but a very pleasing one to follow as a walker.
Foot of the Downs Near Folkington
I am writing this some weeks after the event so you will now understand why I refer to late summer.  The fields were a blaze of gold as they had either just been harvested or were about to be.  In fact only a few fields further on the path and we could here the unmistakable sound of a combine harvester and attendant tractor going about their business. We couldn't see it in action sadly as the high hedgerows shielded us pretty effectively.  They also afforded some shade on what was building to be quite a hot day.  There was a sickly sweet smell in the air primarily on account of ripening fruit and some that had been shed and squashed into the path.  The air was full of the sound of buzzing insects all going wild for the bounty available at this time of the year.
Ripening Berries
The path looped around the foot of the Downs and eventually changed direction and headed slowly uphill to cross into the valley of the next village.  I imagine Jevington was a spring line village too, although nestled in a dry valley in the Downs rather than at the foot it is a less obvious location.  The so called spring line villages are so-called because at the foot of the Downs where the chalk interfaces with the older gault clay below the water table meets the surface and groundwater is forced out to flow across the impermeable clay.  The springs that develop along this line were valuable water sources in a landscape where there were few and villages grew up around them.
The Eight Bells
Jevington is not one of the picture postcard villages usually depicted in tourist books and pictures of the area but it certainly deserves more attention.  Its chief claim to fame is the home of the Hungry Monk restaurant, where the world famous banoffee pie was invented.  Sadly its last meal was served in January 2012, when it became a victim of the economic downturn.  The pub, The Eight Bells, still trades though and is a very agreeable watering hole.  Sadly it was still closed when we arrived as we were a bit early in the day.
Farm Vehicle
We passed the pub and took a right turn along a narrow path towards the church.  It was quite a relief as the road was narrow and without pavement as it descended a small hill with steep sides.  There would have been almost nowhere to go if a car had come speeding around the corner.  The church is a pretty Downland one built of flint and with origins from the Saxon period (although I couldn't tell you which parts!).
Jevington Church
From the church we were now on the South Downs Way for a short distance.  I have completed this section many times although normally I am coming down the hill and on that basis it isn't easy to get a feel for how steep it is.  We all plodded up and away from Jevington, glad that the hill was completely in the trees.  To be fair this was the only decent sized hill on the route and it wasn't that bad.  It was only at the top that we escaped the trees and before us was a magnificent view across the Downs and the unusual feature of Lullington Heath.  This nature reserve is a rare example of a chalkland heath and abounds with a number of rare species.  Our route took us across it and we certainly saw plenty of insect life, especially butterflies and day flying moths.
Chalkhill Blue
As we cross the heath we passed a group of middle aged women all laughing hard.  When we got closer to them they explained to me that they could see something rather suggestive in the clouds!  They admitted they were dirty minded as they cackled off into the distance!  Onward we went and I smiled about this encounter for some time.  Lucky for me my children were out of earshot at the time otherwise I would have faced a barrage of questions.
Standing Proud
At the top of the next hill we paused briefly at a dewpond and had a little drink break and enjoyed the view.  For me the highlight of the whole walk was to come next as we descended slowly to the village of Alfriston.  The view across to the village with Bo Peep hill, Windover Hill and High and Over guarding this most scenic of Downland villages was quite astonishing.  By now clouds had bubbled up and the sky was filled with cotton wool like cumulus clouds bobbing along on the breeze.  It did look like they would take over the whole sky as forecasted but for this section at least they were perfect in enhancing the scene before us.
Windover Hill From Lullington Heath
On the way down the slope towards the village we passed something I had not previously seen in the UK, a field full of sunflowers.  I wasn't sure that the crop was wholly successful as the field didn't look as flush with flowers as I have seen in France.  A few looked in rude health but for the most part they looked a bit straggly and not in great shape.  I wonder whether these exposed Downland conditions suited them?

Alfriston View
At the bottom of the hill and we met a road.  I can remember cycling these lanes as a boy but wouldn't consider it now for they are surprisingly busy.  In fact I am not even sure I like driving them very much either.   We had to walk alongside the road for a short distance; not a great prospect.  We turned left at the next junction and then again into a field after about quarter of a mile, much to our relief.  In the short distance we had to walk along the road we had to stand aside for at least a dozen vehicles.  Each of them were so large that we felt uncomfortable as they swept by.  When are cars that size going to be banned from these country lanes I wonder?

At the end of the field we turned left again and headed across the bridge over the River Cuckmere.  As one of the four main rivers that cut through the Sussex Downs this one seems the most improbable.  He were are only about five miles from the sea and the river is scarcely 3 metres wide.  The idea of it cutting its way through the Downs seems a little far fetched and yet that is clearly what it has done.  I wonder whether it had some help during the last Ice Age?  As we crossed the bridge our eyes were drawn to a large green caterpillar.  I have seen one of these before - it is from a privet hawk moth.  Even so we were mightily impressed with the size of the blighter!
Approaching Alfrsiton

Once in Alfriston we went in search of some refreshment and had a picnic lunch just outside the magnificent 14th Century church, called by some the cathedral of the Downs although that is a little overblown.  It was lovely sitting in the sun watching the world go by for a little while - there is always plenty of activity on the Tye outside the church.  Alfriston was where Eleanor Farjeon wrote the hymn 'Morning Has Broken' and in these surroundings it is easy to see why she was inspired to write such a joyous song.

Before moving on we decided to take a look at the Clergy House next door to the church.  The main claim to fame of this modest little house is that it is the first property that was acquired by the National Trust way back in 1896. It is quite a survivor, being originally built in the 14th Century.  By the time the Trust bought it for £10 it was in quite a state.  The house itself took only a short time to walk around for there are only a few rooms.  It was quite easy to imagine how it must have been to live there, unlike some of the grander houses under the ownership of the National Trust.

Kayak Instruction
As well as looking inside the house we also took the opportunity to wander around the garden.  This was very much a cottage garden and we were most interested in the kitchen crops that were being grown at the far end.  Insects busily tended all of the late blooming flowers and in truth I would have been quite happy sitting in a deckchair here for the afternoon reading my book and drinking tea rather than plodding on further.

Visit The Tye
The onward path did call us though and we retraced our steps across the River Cuckmere.  As we did so the thunder of the Red Arrows pierced the sky and they shot be on their way to the Eastbourne Airshow that was also taking place that day.  A few minutes later and another squadron of planes went by, a rather more sedate group of propeller planes that sounded like angry wasps.  On the other side of the river we looked again for the caterpillar but it was gone - hopefully not taken away by a bird?  We also gave some lost cyclists some directions and were pleased that they weren't going the same way as us.
Clergy House

We deviated from the official route slightly as we started climbing the hill away from the Cuckmere valley.  This is because I wanted to show the girls the tiny church of Lullington.  This has a claim to fame of being the smallest church in England.  I'm not sure about that but it definitely is the smallest in Sussex and sits only 20 people.  It was originally part of a larger church and the remains of the rest can clearly be traced in the area around what is left.  Apparently the remaining part of the church burned down, believed to be during the period of Oliver Cromwell's reign.  It strikes me as being quite a strange place even now.

After a little exploration we pushed on.  We paid the price for our detour by having to walk along the road again for a short distance before striking off to the right and commencing the climb of Windover Hill.  We did not need to climb to the very top though - our path cut underneath the main scarp slope so that we could be afforded the lassic view of the Long Man of Wilmington.  Before we reached that landmark we had magnificent views across the hamlet of Milton Street below us and across to Firle Beacon and Mount Caburn to the east.  This is one of the classic views of Sussex.  A little beyond that was another - the iconic figure of the Long Man.
Red Arrows

The iconic Long Man of Wilmington is one of the enigmas of archaeology for no-one can be quite sure when this chalk hill figure first appeared here.  An early theory was that it was drawn by the monks from nearby Wilmington Priory but this has been dismissed by most now as the man is not clothed.  Some say he is neolithic while the only definite date that he is known to have existed is 1766 when he appeared on an artist's drawing.  He may therefore be a lot newer than previously thought - the 2003 dig suggested that he might only date from the 16th Century.  However old he is he still commands a lot of attention standing proud on the side of Windover Hill and surveying the Weald.

Lullington Church
We passed through the village of Wilmington and past the Priory.  This is now a building owned by the Landmark Trust and rented out as holiday apartments.  I seem to remember it being open as a museum when I was younger but I never visited.  We stopped briefly to look at Wilmington church before picking up the coaching road at the foot of the Downs to return to our starting point at Folkington.  Sadly by now the clouds had completely covered over the blue sky and the remaining part of the walk through the woods that skirt the foot of the Downs was devoid of any sunshine.  No matter - by then we had seen most of the fabulous scenery that this walk has to offer.

1 comment:

  1. I would agree with you that this is one of the best walks in Sussex... Enjoyed your post and the lovely photos.....