South Downs: Cissbury Ring to Chanctonbury Ring

Back in April when I'd walked from Cissbury Ring to Harrow Hill I'd thought how I'd like to come back (at least to Cissbury Ring) at some point and bring my daughter along, to see if we could spot any fairies. Having read up on the associated local folklore I believe ideally we'd be here at midnight on Midsummer's Eve or somesuch, but given that would not be an entirely practical plan with a six year old I settled instead for a Saturday afternoon in August, when the weather forecast looked just about reasonable, and we happened to not have anything else planned.

Two other motivations for today's walk. First, on inspecting the map, I'd noticed that actually Chanctonbury Ring, another ancient hill fort which also became associated with fairies and local folklore, was only a few miles away from Cissbury Ring. On my last foray to Sussex (to retrace part of the route of The Four Men) Chanctonbury Ring had loomed atop of the ridge in the distance for part of the walk and I'd wanted to get back there again, having first passed it back in October of last year, part of the way along the South Downs Way.

Secondly, I'd noticed as I was passing through Washington on the bus at the end of my last walk that the Frankland Arms had reopened. Normally when country pubs close I assume they're lost forever, so it was great to see Washington's inn - mentioned in The Four Men - was once again a going concern. That seemed like a good end point for today's walk.

Mindful that I'd have my daughter with me I didn't want to overdo it distance-wise. so the planned route was about 5 miles, which the OS Maps site predicted would take about 2 hours. It actually took us over 3 hours, although I suppose we did have a couple of stops en route.

I remember the walk from Worthing station to Cissbury Ring being mostly urban sprawl last time, so we shortened that by getting a taxi to one of the car parks at the edge of Findon Valley from where it was a relatively short walk up the hill to the ring.

We were greeted at the top by some of the herd of wild ponies who are allowed to graze freely here to help manage the vegetation. We arrived at Cissbury Ring from the west, but I think the views are nicer (i.e. less urban) over the other side, so we walked across the top.

Again I found the GPS on my phone stopped working for a while as it had done last time, which is odd, given the clear line of sight to the sky here.

Eventually, not far from the trig point, we chose a spot to sit down and have our picnic. We  had a dark grey cloud looming above us, and coupled with the breeze it did actually feel unseasonably chilly for August, albeit that off in the distance we could see bluer skies, and so the views were still very pleasant. I think this is a really spectacular spot, and it's easy to see why our Iron Age ancestors chose this as a vantage point for a hill fort.

After lunch, we headed down from Cissbury Ring to join the chalky track which led north in the direction of Chanctonbury Ring. Being slightly lower than the two hills this didn't have the scenic value of the start and end of the walk, but was easy going, and the weather seemed to improve a bit as we followed it.

Eventually the track met the South Downs Way, and I had that familiar sense of reassurance on seeing one of the many sign posts which line the route. Today we'd only be following a very short section - just the final ten minutes or so to Chanctonbury Ring.

The wind had come up a bit as we approached Chanctonbury Ring, which added to the sense of drama. It really is quite an atmospheric spot, and it is easy to see how this has fed the imagination of the local population over the centuries, leading to its special place in the folklore of Sussex.

I thought it might be interesting to see inside the copse, and interestingly its brooding presence when seen from a distance, as I had viewed from the wooden bridge over the Adur a few weeks ago, was entirely defused once inside the wood. The bit of shelter the trees offer from the wind, and the mellow komorebi gave the interior of the copse quite a serene quality.

As at Cissbury Ring, there were great views to be had of the surrounding landscape from this vantage point, and just beyond the wood we sat on the hillside for a little while taking it in.

From there, a relatively straight looking path led down the hill towards Washington. The first section turned out to be surprisingly slippy. I managed to fall over somehow, and I was the one with the proper walking boots on!

The descent into Washington took longer than I expected - about an hour from Chanctonbury Ring, and I think we were all quite glad when we finally got to the pub.

As noted above I was very pleased to see the Frankland Arms open for business once again, albeit that on this occasion it was a flying visit, as we only had about 15 minutes until the next bus to Pulborough left.