South Downs: Burgess Hill to Lewes

This was a walk I more or less planned on the way down to Sussex. I had enjoyed the speed and convenience with which I'd been able to get down to the South Downs on my last walk and so without giving it much thought headed down in the direction of Hassocks once again - but I didn't want to just repeat exactly the same walk. So as an almost last minute decision, I got off the train at Burgess Hill, and decided I'd walk from there, via Ditchling, to Ditchling Beacon, and then continue on from Ditchling Beacon to Lewes. In a sense this ended up being a continuation of last week's walk, and I hardly retraced any of my steps at all.

I had done a roughly similar walk last spring, but that time I'd started at Wivelsfield rather than Burgess Hill, so had much more of an urban trudge at the start of the walk to get into the countryside. Burgess Hill station is, thankfully, much closer to the edge of the urban sprawl, so it didn't take long before I was out of town. 

As I was trying to save time, I took what looked like the most direct route towards Ditchling, which meant walking along a fairly busy road for about 20 minutes - and towards the end the pavement ran out as well. So that wasn't much fun, but I was then able to turn off the road onto a bridleway, and everything after that was very pleasant.

This was a nice shady tree lined path, and I followed this until just before Oldland Windmill.

Unfortunately there's a house in the way and I couldn't really get a good view of the windmill from this angle.

I could have stayed on the bridleway, which would also have got me to Ditchling (and I might then have had a better look at the windmill) but I was tempted away by a footpath heading east here. I enjoyed this path for two reasons - firstly, as I emerged from the trees, I got my first view of the Downs today.

...and secondly because it took me alongside Court Gardens Farm, home of Court Garden wine, and as I suspected I was able to get a glimpse of part of their vineyard to see how their 2020 vintage was shaping up. 

The path then led me to Ditchling, and I was reminded what an incredibly beautiful village this would be - if it weren't for all the cars. The narrow streets here seem to regularly cause near gridlock, which is a shame, because it has some beautiful houses - which you can never get a photo without the shot being spoiled by cars.

As I passed through I once again saw Black Dog Hill's tasting room and shop - unfortunately closed like last time - but nonetheless a reminder of what a hub Ditchling is for English sparkling wine. Across the street, the garden at the back of the Bull Hotel has Ridgeview branded parasols.

However, tempting though it was, my business here today was not to sit around and quaff ESW. I was just passing through on the way to the Downs, and this rather handsome sign directed me along the path which would lead me there.

That said, I wasn't quite finished with the wine related sightseeing - before starting my climb up the downs I passed two further vineyards which I'd also seen last spring - and as both of these had been relatively recently planted (both around 2018 I think) I was keen to check in on their progress. The first, Plumpton College's Ditchling vineyard (which predates 2018, but was replanted then), and the second the vineyard at Wick Farm, which I believe is an extension to nearby Black Dog Hill.

Actually I had a much nicer view of the Wick Farm vineyard once I'd got to the top of it - and it's rather lovely from this angle, the way the aisles sweep off down the hill, with the views further off in the distance.

From here, the steep climb up to the top of Ditchling Beacon commenced. I still got a bit out of breath, and still got rather hot and sweaty, but I found it noticeably less gruelling than I remember it being last year. Having walked getting on for 50 miles last week I actually think I may be getting fitter.

The South Downs of course reward this effort, however gruelling you may find it, with wonderful views. On this particular path they become rather impressive even when you're only two thirds of the way up.

....and here's a few more from more or less the top.

Once at the top of this path, there's the slight disappointment of encountering a road, and a car park, but that did at least mean on this occasion I could reward my efforts of climbing up the hill with an iced coffee from this rather hip looking van, before continuing on my walk.

Actually Dad called a little after I bought my iced coffee, so I went and found a quiet spot with a view (I don't think it was exactly the spot pictured above, but somewhere near there), and we had a good long chat. Thus my walk was split roughly in half today, it was just over 5 miles to get to here, and another 5 or so miles from here on to Lewes.

I didn't take quite as many photos on the second half of the walk. Partly this was because some of the best views to be had today were around Ditchling Beacon, but also partly because I had managed to miss lunch (I'd brought my camp stove and a dehydrated meal along, but in the end it seemed too much of a faff to deal with, so I just had a couple of cereal bars and pressed on to Lewes. My thoughts were turning to the Lewes Arms, and a pint of Harvey's: correspondingly I seemed to have rather a spring in my step, and bounded along at quite a pace.

I passed now familiar landmarks including Plumpton College. Although I only did a short course ran by Plumpton, and didn't even study at the college itself, I still see it with fondness.

Then the scenery starts to open up in the other direction, across these dramatic windswept fields of wheat. Here the Downs no longer seem to form a simple straight ridge in their last throes before they are consumed by the sea. The twists and turns make it look as though there are two ranges of hills here, but they are all, of course, the Downs.

A little before Blackcap I said my farewells once again to the South Downs Way - for that swings to the south here, which, thinking about it, is a short section of it that I have never walked, having always cut that corner off. Instead, as I've done before, I followed the path over Blackcap and Mount Harry, and from there down into Lewes.

Once again those slightly confusing and tantalising views of the other spur of the Downs.

From there, the descent into Lewes, and I had some nice glimpses of Ashcombe Windmill, just outside Kingston. Having also briefly glimpsed the Jack and Jill windmills at Clayton that would make this the fourth windmill I'd seen today.

It was lovely to be back in Lewes again, although I have to admit, walking through it did at first feel a bit like a ghost town. Maybe to some extent that is normal for around 5pm on a Sunday. However several of the pubs I passed still didn't seem to have chosen or managed to reopen yet - although at least a couple of them had encouraging signs saying they were working on it.

I had heard that my favourite Lewes pub - the Lewes Arms - had reopened on Friday, but I'd got the sense they may possibly have been operating on a reservations only basis, or perhaps they might be operating much more limited hours. I was a little apprehensive.

So I was very pleased when I arrived at the Lewes Arms and discovered that you can indeed still just show up and have a pint. There was a requirement to sign up to their "track and trace" system - even if you were going to stand outside in the street to drink your pint - and I could tell the staff weren't exactly relishing the new world order - who would - but they were making the best they could of the situation.

That first pint of Harvey's was utterly joyous. As it happens, today was almost exactly two years since the first time I came to the Lewes Arms at the end of my walk from Eastbourne to Southease on the South Downs Way. There had been Morris dancing outside that day. Today the atmoshpere was obviously a lot more subdued, but still it felt great to be here.