27th June 2022
It’s the question we are asked most at this time of year. We’re currently hiking the South Downs Way in preparation for walking at altitude in the Alps later this summer. We’ve now done a third of the route, Eastbourne to Brighton. NEW
We started in Eastbourne in East Sussex and are now heading west towards Winchester in Hampshire – 100 miles of some of the most stunning scenery this part of the UK has to offer.
We have now done more than a third and have crossed the symbolic A23 into West Sussex.
We’re not doing it one go, but rather spread out over a few weeks, heading from our base in London for day trips combined with a few overnight stops.
It should set us up well for some hiking in the Alps later this summer.
We are not going to attack it in any sort of ‘boot camp’ way, but rather take it easy and head off the beaten track if we feel like it.
We’re going to be meandering, rather than marching.
Getting ‘match fit’ for the Alps is our primary goal.
And maybe we’ll be inspiring a few of our readers to do sections of the South Downs Way too if it is within reach.
See here for the first part of this rolling blog that contains our five daily hikes between Eastbourne and Pyecombe.
STAGE SIX – Pyecombe to Steyning
For the first time on the hike we are doing an overnight stay instead of our usual day trips from London via train and local buses.
Step forward Tottington Manor near Upper Beeding that nestles at the base of the Downs to the north west of Brighton.
South Downs Way. Image © PlanetSKI
And step forward the finest way to start a day hiking the South Downs Way.
A Tottington Manor breakfast.
We started today’s section at Pyecombe in East Sussex and headed towards Steyning in West Sussex.
Within a few minutes we were away from the busy and noisy A23 back into the heart of The Downs.
After 5-miles or so we reached Devil’s Dyke.
Devil’s Dyke is a 100m v-shaped dry valley that is now managed by the National Trust.
It was a major local tourist attraction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
It is now a popular viewpoint and area for walking.
Folklore explains the dyke as the work of the Devil.
Sussex was the last of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms to embrace Christianity and its conversion apparently infuriated the Devil as he lost his last stronghold in England.
He therefore resolved to exterminate its inhabitants by digging a trench through the South Downs so that the sea would flood through and drown the people of the Sussex Weald.
The Devil’s plan was uncovered by a local hermit, Cuthman of Steyning.
Cuthman proposed to the Devil that if the Devil could complete a trench in a single night he could have Cuthman’s soul, but if he failed then he would have to abandon his plan and leave the people of Sussex alone for good.
The Devil accepted the wager and began work that night.
Shortly after midnight Cuthman lit a candle in his window while also startling a cockeral that began crowing in alarm.
The light and the sound of the cock crowing convinced the Devil that dawn was about to break, and that he had lost his bet with Cuthman.
He therefore ran away in disgrace, leaving behind the unfinished trench that became known as Devil’s Dyke.
Science explains it a different way and it is mainly due to snow.
In the last ice age glaciers did not reach this far south but snow did.
Snow capped the South Downs and permafrost conditions meant that the chalk of the Downs was permanently frozen.
In summer the snow melted and saturated the top layer of soil but the water could not permeate the frozen chalk underneath.
It therefore ran off the surface of the downs and slid down the gradient removing material by erosion.
When the ice age ended the snowfields covering the South Downs melted and rivers formed across Sussex.
Devil’s Dyke was formed by one such river.
In late Victorian times Devil’s Dyke became a tourist attraction much busier than it is today.
On Whit Monday in 1893 30,000 people are recorded as visiting.
There was a fairground, two bandstands, an observatory and a camera obscura all served by a railway branch line from Hove.
During its heyday, Devil’s Dyke was a huge attraction for the Victorians.
From 1894 to 1909 there was a cable car that went across the valley.
It was 350m long and was suspended 70 m above the valley floor.
Traces remain of concrete pylon supports for the cable car system.
Devil’s Dyke is now a popular spot for paraponters and they were out in force as PlanetSKI passed through.
With fantastic 360 degree views:
After Devil’s Dyke is a truly stunning section with views over the Weald one way, and towards Chanctonbury Ring in the distance the other way.
South Downs Way. Image © PlanetSKI
After crossing the River Adur there is a gem not to be missed – St Botolph’s.
There has been a church on the site since AD 950.
It was wooden and the oldest part of the current flint church dates back to around 1050.
St Botolph is patron saint of wayfarers and today it receives many visitors, like us, walking the South Downs Way.
It is highly worth a stop off.
And we can report that the organ still works.
We chatted to a local who said he was at a wedding in the church earlier in the summer and the organ was played.
We finished the day’s hike back where we started, Tottington Manor.
Time to rest the weary legs and start planning summer hiking in the Alps.
Next stop Steyning to Amberley…