Downland and wildlife walk on Harting Down
A classic downland walk, offering panoramic views over the Weald to the North Downs, before descending into secluded valleys of natural and historic interest.
Harting Down car park SU791180
Start in Harting Down National Trust car park with a fantastic view across the flat plain of the Weald towards the Hog’s Back ridge and North Downs. Walk through a gate and cross Harting Hill.
Insects: the hillsides are strewn with countless yellow meadow ant hills. The mounds retain heat from the sun which keeps the colonies warm. Strangely, the ants help care for the caterpillars of the common blue butterfly in return for a sugary secretion that they produce. Lots of other invertebrates enjoy the downland including the Duke of Burgundy fritillary and grizzled skipper butterflies, blue carpenter bee and the rare Cheese snail. On dark summer nights, take a look on Round Down for glow worms.
Go over the undulating Cross Ridge Dykes. These parallel mounds date back to the Iron Age, and may have been boundary markers or a ‘checkpoint’ across the Ridgeway, a route for drovers, travellers, and traders.
Follow the right hand track up Round Down hill, keeping the thorn scrub on your left. Continue until you see a path on the left. go left and though a gate, which leads you down into the next valley. Stop a moment and smell the berries that grow on the female juniper bush and in springtime enjoy a buttery yellow carpet of cowslips, often used to make a potent local wine. After another gate at the bottom walk across to the base of Beacon Hill to the Downsman post.
Conservation grazing is helping this grassland towards a richness and diversity of 30-40 plant per square metre - species such as Cowslips and the pyramidal and fragrant orchids. Bird’s-foot Trefoil, with its yellow flowers, is food for the caterpillars of the common Blue butterfly. Harting Down provides one of Britain's best places for native juniper - the fragrant black berries are used in gin making.
From here, if you look to the summit of Beacon Hill you can see the old rampart of the Iron Age hill fort. This was probably created as an animal enclosure and a symbol of status rather than a defensive stronghold. Either take the rather strenuous climb up to the summit of Beacon Hill or turn right and skirt across its lower slopes to point 6 on the map.
Enjoy the views from the top and then head down the other side of the hill. At he bottom turn right along the track and follow this around the lower slopes of Beacon Hill. Turn right at the junction and continue along the track, through another gate and continue until you see another path to the left.
Turn left and follow the path down Little Round Down hill which leads to a dew pond and a little hill called 'Granny's Bottom; on your right.
If you're really lucky, you may see the rare sight of male adders 'dancing' (wrestling) for territory. There’s more chance of seeing fallow deer bucks putting on a show in the October rut when they call loudly and lock antlers in attempt to secure the does' attention. See them near ‘Granny’s Bottom’. Stop and listen for skylarks and turtle-doves on summer afternoons and evenings.
To the left of the dewpond follow the small path which leads from behind the pond straight up into the yew woods known as 'the darkest place on the downs'.
Life in a pond
The dew pond in the valley bottom was recreated in the 1990s on the site of a 17th-century original. There are two other dew ponds across Harting Down that once supplied water to grazing animals. Now they are inhabited by frogs, newts and dragonflies.
Climb up through the shady woods until you reach a cleared area on your right. Take the right hand path and follow it to the woodland edge at the southern corner of Harting Hill. Continune along the grassy path between the woodland on your left and the meadow to your right. Keep going until you reach the end of the woods at the top of Harting Hill. From there head down and to your left across the meadow which leads back to the car park. Look up and enjoy the long vista and the Vandalian tower.
Ruins of an eye-catching folly built in 1774, to celebrate the founding of the American settlement of Vandalia - a proposed British colony - by Sir Matthew Featherstonehaugh; hugely rich and MP for Portsmouth. The Tower, now in ruins and without access, is said to have been used for meetings of the notorious 'Hellfire Club'
Harting Down car park SU791180
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