Walking in the South Downs: day one
Part one of a two-day walk on the South Downs, tried and tested by environment and travel journalist Mark Rowe. You'll start at the Junction of the Downs Link and the South Downs Way, and finish day one at Ditchling, taking in stunning view of the Devil's Dyke and historic Saddlescombe Farm along the way.
Junction of Downs Link and South Downs Way, close to quarries, grid ref: TQ197096
Starting near the quarries at the junction of the Downs Link and South Downs Way (near Steyning), follow the route east from the A283 via Edburton Hill towards Devil's Dyke. (For an optional, longer route, start at Shoreham-by-Sea train station and walk up the Downs Link to the junction with the South Downs Way).
The South Downs Way sweeps you behind the viewing platform at Devil's Dyke, so you need to make a brief diversion here, picking up the path behind woodland by the Devil's Dyke Road.
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 cable car crossed the hillside and a small train line brought visitors up from Brighton. It's also the site of a prehistoric hill fort and settlement. Today, you'll see hang-gliders catching thermals and updrafts from the valley slopes.
Continue along the South Downs Way to the next valley, where you'll find Saddlescombe Farm and its café, (grid ref: TQ274115).
Saddlescombe has escaped the changes of modern farming, retaining many of its original buildings from the past four centuries. It has an intriguing history. Documented in Domesday; home to the Knights Templar and lovingly portrayed in the book, 'A South Downs Farm in the 1860s', by Maude Robinson.
If you're planning to stay overnight in Ditchling, leave the ridge of the downland by any of the tracks (some of them little more than sheep tracks) down the steep hill. Take care along the side of Ditchling Road as you walk into the village.
At around 820ft (250m), this is one of the highest points in the South Downs and gives great views in all directions. For this reason, it was a defensive stronghold in the early Iron Age. You can still see some of the forts banks and ditches today.
Ditchling Beacon Nature Reserve, grid ref: TQ325134
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