Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Downland Hills From Devil's Dyke

View From The Dyke
I have had a lot of different weather for my traditional birthday ramble and remember a few years back walking in shorts and short sleeves it was so warm.  This was a first though as this time 'Beast From The East II' seemed to come out of nowhere for my annual outing and I had to dress up on a bitterly cold day.  Eager to make the most of the small amount  of snow that there was around the only destination that really suited the day was up on the Downs.  I didn't want to travel too far from home so walk 20 from Pathfinder Guide volume 52 More Sussex Walks was the perfect one.

As I approached the National Trust car park at the top of the Downs I realised that there was definitely a lot more snow up here.  The temperature was several degrees lower too and the biting wind promised to be quite a challenge for much of this walk.  A word of warning if you plan to park at the top of Devil's Dyke - if you are a National Trust member you will need your membership card with you to ensure that you can park for free.  You now have to show your card to the pay and display machine to get free parking - the sticker is not enough on its on.

Snowy Downs
The car park was very icy but thankfully there were enough spaces to enable me to find a safe slot in which to park. I made sure to avoid the worst of the icy patches as I didn't want to wind up having an accident before even starting!  I was very pleased that the wind was behind me setting off as I hoped that warmer temperatures later might help with lessening the gusts later on.  

March of the Pylons
I set off along the South Downs Way in what is traditionally the wrong direction for me. I have walked these paths many times but normally the crest of the Downs is an west to east walk for me.  My destination was Truleigh Hill, marked out by communication towers at the crest of the hill and a landmark for many miles around.  The view across from Devil's Dyke is one of those classic Sussex viewpoints that seem to be on most calendars or in pictoral guides of the County.  They rarely show the view in quite the way I saw it today though; with a covering of snow and leaden skies overhead threatening more to come.

Edburton Hill
One fortunate aspect to the withering temperatures was that  the underfoot conditions were very kind.  The hard ice ensure nice easy walking along the chalk ridge, with mud only appearing in very rare patches around gateways.  Being completely wrapped up against the cold wind helped me move along the ridge nice and quickly and I was at Truleigh Hill in less than an hour.  Along the way the wind teased and taunted the fallen snow, whipping it up from time to time and moving it around in much the same way that you might see on a sand dune system.  The last part of the walk to the crest of Truleigh Hill had seemingly not been walked by anyone as I had to negotiate some surprisingly deep drifts (past my knee) created by the wind.

Heading Up Truleigh Hill
As I approached the settled part of Truleigh Hill, a car approached. This was not a 4x4 but a humble Volkswagen Golf; the driver was clearly being quite brave trying his luck up here.  As soon as he left the main track though his luck ran out as the track he was attempting to access was surprisingly thick with snow.  It wasn't long before he was driving up behind me on his way back from what looked like a fruitless journey.  He was to be the last person I saw until I got back to Devil's Dyke later in the day.  Truleigh Hill must be an acquired taste as a place to live.  On a day like this it really is very bleak and I imagine winters would be very difficult on this windswept section of the Downs.  Yet clearly a number of people have decided that it is their own section of paradise for there are a surprising number of houses up here.

Just before heading downhill into the Adur Valley I turned left and followed a path through Freshcombe and Summersdean Farm.  There didn't seem to be much going on at the farm - probably wise on such a bleak day. Hopefully all the livestock were inside in the warm although I didn't see any evidence of any.

View From Truleigh Hill
Surprisingly as I descended from the crest of the Downs the snow thickness got greater.  The wind had clearly been at work here for the snow had been dumped here from all the fields around.  The natural hollow of the path seemed to be perfect for gathering snow and I went from admiring all the gathered snow clinging to branches and brambles alongside the path to really having trouble walking through it.  As I neared Thundersbarrow Hill the snow was so deep I had to abandon the path entirely and find a new route along the fence line where I was able to find ankle deep snow rather than waist deep.

Thunders Barrow, the long barrow after which the hill is named was almost invisible under the snow.  I took a path over the crest of the hill and immediately the sweep of the coast to Brighton and beyond became evident.  This must be a very different sight on a summer's evening.  For now it was very difficult to look at the view for any length of time for I had now turned into the direction of the wind a little more and I needed my hood to obscure the wind and hence the view.

Shortly after the crest of Thundersbarrow Hill the waist deep snow turned to boggy mud and the descent towards Southwick Hill was a fairly unpleasant stretch of walking.  I've often thought this stretch of the Downs to be quite bleak - the intensive farming hasn't really done the scenery any favours.  The path soon descended through puddle strewn and muddy sections - a far cry from the snowy conditions further up the Downs.

When I reached Southwick Tunnel (signalled by the traffic noises from below rather then seeing the tunnel itself), the path took an immediate sharp left hand turn to start the third side of what is essentially a triangular route.  The track down behind Mile Oak Farm was a lot friendlier as it was devoid of mud and puddles and even had the descency to go along a fenced off section off to the side of a heavily waterlogged part of the field that it crossed.  I was now at the lowest point on the walk and my onward route was very much uphill.

I needn't have worried about the gradient - the first stretch was nice and easy going with a solid track and a gentle slope. I actually managed this part a lot more quickly than I imagined.  As I climbed the snowy conditions soon came back and it wasn't long before I entered a completely white world again.  I turned left at the end of the track to head uphill on a very straight track almost completely obliterated by snow. 

Heading Back to the Top
The guidebook describes the next part as tedious but it was anything but on this snowy day. The drift across the path got deeper and deeper and I had to thank the bizarre decision by a horse rider taking his/ her steed up here for I needed all the foot holes created by the horse to make my way up the path.  The going here was very difficult indeed and I was very thankful to get to the gate that enabled me to escape to a nearby field.  Somewhere off to the left here is the mediaeval village of Perching but the remains were well and truly hidden today.  My archaeology would have to wait for another day.

Snowy Dyke
I crossed the 'lovely grassy path' as the guidebook describes it.  I assume the grass was there although I didn't really see it as the snow completely covered every blade.  It was quite a relief to get to the top of the ridge once again and once there I started seeing people again. Clearly there were plenty of people willing to have a little outing in the snow - just no-one mad enough to undertake a full scale hike like me!  No matter - I felt full of life by the time I returned.  The dose of cold air really did me a lot of good and I retraced my steps along the short stretch back to my car feeling very satisfied with my day.