Ditchling Beacon to Devil's Dyke, South Downs walk
This walk takes in one of the most stunning sections of the South Downs Way long-distance trail. Spring and summer bring an abundance of wild flowers into bloom; the richness of the plant life is thanks to the chalk soil which forms a unique grassland habitat. With great bus links from Brighton, why not make this a green day out and leave your car at home?
Ditchling Beacon, grid ref: TQ333129
Take the chalk and flint path leading out of the back of the car park in a westerly direction and continue on along the chalk ridge. After around 250m you'll see a trig point on the left. This is one of the highest points on the South Downs and, for this reason, it was a defensive stronghold in the early Iron Age. You can still see some of the fort's banks and ditches today.
The South Downs stretch 100 miles (160 km) from Eastbourne to Winchester. The chalk landscape was formed over 100 million years ago from the remains of animals and plants. In summer these grasslands are rich in wild flowers and insects. The South Downs Way is one of the National Trails. These long-distance routes are shown with a blue acorn on the waymarker posts. Look out for these along the way.
Continue west along the South Downs Way. 1.27km from Ditchling Beacon you will come across a dew pond and 250m further on another pond with access over a stile. Keep going west until you reach a junction signposted left for Devil's Dyke and right for Clayton windmills.
The landscape is undulating and many of the mounds you see are not natural features but tumuli or ancient burial mounds. Just before you reach the windmills you can see Clayton Holt. This is an ancient woodland estimated to be 10,000 years old. The majority of the trees are ash and beech and some of them are a few hundred years old.
If you wish take a detour to view the windmills. To continue your walk take the path leading south and signposted to Devil's Dyke.
The windmills are affectionately called Jack and Jill. Jack is not open to the public but Jill (not National Trust) is open occasionally in summer. See website www.jillwindmill.org.uk for opening times.
Continue on the South Downs Way past New Barn Farm, now a riding stables. Just past the farm turn right where indicated by the signpost. Go past Pycombe golf course on your left and through the club entrance gate. Cross the road and take the path to Pyecombe which goes left and runs parallel with the road. Turn right where the path ends and go along School Lane. At the junction with Church Lane go straight on into Church Hill.
There is a pub and restaurant called The Plough (not National Trust) at the other end of Church Lane.
Go past the church and at the end of the road turn left and cross the A23. On the other side turn left and walk in a southerly direction parallel to the main road. After 230m turn right along a path marked South Downs Way. (Look carefully for the waymarker because it could be obscured by undergrowth.) Follow the track up to the top of the hill, down the other side, and through a metal farm gate leading to Saddlescombe Farm. From here you can take a short detour (signposted) to see Saddlescombe's donkey wheel. This can be found by going over a stile on your left and along a grassy track.
Saddlescombe Farm has a long history of occupation. Some of the farm buildings date back to the 17th century and the well here was the only reliable source of water for the residents for centuries. Water was raised from the 50-metre-deep well by means of a huge wooden wheel powered by a donkey or small horse.
Continue past the farm cottages and when you get to the end of the farm buildings on your left turn left. Here you will find the Wildflour Café (not National Trust). Turn right past the café and in front of you is our information barn where you can learn about the farm's history. Follow the track out of the farm past a dew pond on your left and continue through the farm entrance. Cross the road and turn left. Walk through a small car park and go through the gate at the bottom of the hill.
Walk up the hill and continue around the edge of Devil's Dyke. Turn right at the head of the valley and continue uphill until you reach the car park.
Devil's Dyke is the largest dry valley in the United Kingdom. It has thrilled day-trippers since Victorian times when there was a fairground here, a funicular railway, and a cable car that crossed the valley. A small train line brought visitors up from Brighton. It's also the site of a prehistoric hill fort and settlement.
Devil's Dyke, grid ref: TQ258110
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.