Wednesday, 3 October 2012

6 - Ditchling Beacon, East Sussex - 3rd October 2012

The South Downs National park is a chalk ridge that stretches between Winchester and Eastbourne, for 90 miles the land flows up and down creating features such as Butser hill, Beachy head and the highest point in East Sussex - Ditchling Beacon.

St Margaret's Church, Ditchling
Now, before I tell you how my trip to Ditchling Beacon went I must point something out, something which has had me in a bit of a tizz for the past few days, you see I recently purchased a book which offers information to people wanting to visit the UKs County tops, an excellent find thanks to Nat, However on reading the book it seems that traditionally the only county tops to climb are the historic county tops. The historic counties are the UKs counties Pre 1970s and include such counties as Rutland, Huntingdonshire and a massive Yorkshire, After the 1970s many changes were made including splitting up Yorkshire, merging some counties and renaming others.
My first view of Ditchling Beacon

Now this is not a problem, however I now have 2 lists of county tops, Pre 1970s and post 1970s, each list with different hills and mountains in them, which list do I climb? in the Pre 70s list Ditchling Beacon does not appear but it seemed like it might be a good climb, The same with St Boniface Down on the Isle of Wight, the island used to be a part of Hampshire and so St Boniface Down was not classed as a county top, so I made the decision to combine the lists and climb all the county tops new and old. This WOULD mean a lot of extra climbs but I figured if I did them all then I can say I have done them all.

So, back to Ditchling Beacon, the first of the hills in MY list from the post 1970s county tops, I had decided a long time ago that I wanted to do some of my walks and climbs by public transport, this was actually an idea put into my head by my cousin Charlie who did a similar thing a few years ago with mountains. I packed my bag and got my waterproof coat ready and set off for the Station for my 10:04 train to Hassocks on the East/West Sussex border.

The path starts to climb
The train journey was . . well a train journey, how exciting can a train journey get? I sat in carriage number 3 of 4 and read my book, I changed at Brighton then got off at the town of Hassocks, what more can I tell you about a train journey.

On arrival at Hassocks I left the station and followed the road east past the shops (into the bakery for a sausage roll) and on towards the village of Keymer. After Keymer it was another 20 mins walk until the next village of Ditchling where I turned south towards the hills, up until now I has follows the roads but I was soon on to some off road footpaths now and into the countryside, for a short while I wondered whether I was going the right way as the path seemed to look like someone's back alleyway but it eventually went over a stream and then through some fields.
A sheep pond with Brighton in the distance
I was soon starting to notice how muddy it was walking through these fields and my lower legs and shoes were soon well covered in mud but this was not a problem, after the fields came a road and then back onto a path which started to climb up the hill, very quickly it became quite steep and I was shortly passing through a herd of cows, climbing higher and higher until I was on the top of the hill, at this point I was still not on Ditchling Beacon as I had to take a sharp left turn and walk along the top of several hills to get to Ditchling Beacon.

Ditchling Beacon gets closer
The path was now much better, coming up the steep hill it had been more of a rabbit trail rather than a path but this was now a real gravel track, easy walking for a while. I passed thro a gate, and then passed by a pond (built to give sheep a drink in the years before troughs were used), across another hill top and through another gate and then up the final small incline to the top of Ditchling Beacon.

Just before I reached the trig point on the top of the Beacon I stopped off to chat to a lady about her husband and his ankle (she was talking, I was petting the dog), I soon made my excuses and reached the highest point of West Sussex, it was 4.1 miles walking from the station in Hassocks and it had taken me around 90 mins to get there. I sat down, had a cup of tea from my flask and ate some sandwiches (cheese and pickle), the wind was really biting but I sat down next to the Trig point and used it as a kind of shelter.

I must have stayed up on top of the beacon for around 20-30 mins and I was slowly getting chilly so set off back towards Hassocks a slightly different route this time. Just after leaving the highest point I met the lady and her dog again and we stopped and chatted about the location of Brighton ("its just down there" I said as I pointed south) and Fishbourne Roman Palace (she talked and I petted the dog), eventually I said my goodbyes and headed back along the top of the hills with the wind full in my face.

After a while I turned north and started to head down hill along a new path (and through some new cows), I was soon out of the wind and it became a much more pleasant walk until my left knee started to play up, I sometimes get knee problems when walking a lot and I was hoping to avoid this but it decided to hinder me just as I was getting to a steep part of the path. The only way to cope with my knee pain was to walk without bending my left leg at the knee, as you may know this is quite easy to do on the flat, however walking down a steep slope with one leg straight is VERY difficult. I did however persevere and after a while the path flattened out. It was around this point I realised I was walking along the route of an old roman road, Its little things like this I get excited about.

At the bottom of the hill I crossed a small road then walked thro a very neat and tidy landscaped field with a beautiful pond, then into another field full of rabbits. The next field was mud glorous mud, I squelched my way through this mess and past the cows who seemed to be watching me (and laughing in their own bovine way) and finally out onto a country road (again part of the roman road) which led me back to civilisation.

Tradition hill climbing lunch
It was not long before I was back at the station (after a pit stop at Costa coffee for a Vanilla latte whilst I waited for my train) and I was shortly back on board a train back to Brighton when I changed trains to head back home. Something I did discover about travelling on the train is that when your legs are covered in mud up to your knees, other train passengers seem to avoid you like the plague, especially those business suit type people who talk loudly on their phones, one look at a muddy walking boot coming in their direction and they scurry away like beetles under a log, (note to myself - invent trousers with a mud effect pattern around the ankles to ward off people in suits).

All in all I had a wonderful trip to Ditchling Beacon, I got home pretty tired but happy to have reached the highest point of East Sussex some 248mtrs (814ft) above sea level.

Map of the route I walked

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