Sunday, 15 February 2009

South Downs Way Day Six Botolphs - Clayton

Looking Down the Adur Valley
It was now November and the days were getting ever shorter and all the leaves had gone from the trees signalling the beginning of winter. On my return to Botolphs on the bus, the weather was still and dry with clear blue sky to the south of me along the coast and grey and dull to the north of the Downs. It wasn’t obvious which of the two would win out to be the weather pattern for the day, especially as there was little wind.

Looking Back Towards Worthing
The introduction to the day’s walking was getting to be a familiar one, an initial climb to get up onto the ridge of the Downs followed by a gentle ride walk. The climb out of the Adur Valley was long and gradual up the side of Beeding Hill. After a brief respite at the top I realised that I still had some way to go before I met the crest of the ridge at Truleigh Hill. Just beyond Beeding Hill the SDW meets a tarmac road that runs up to the small collection of houses on Truleigh Hill. As I wandered along this stretch of road a cyclist passed me at a very slow pace. Truleigh Hill boasts the only Youth Hostel actually on the SDW, where no detour is necessary. As I passed by, the steamed up windows and fleeces hanging in the windows together with a whole load of parked cars outside suggested that it had been a busy evening the night before. There wasn’t a lot of evidence of people getting up though, unless they had already gone out (it was 9am at this point).

Beeding Hill View
As I reached the crest of Truleigh Hill the sun finally made an appearance and it looked like I would be lucky once again with the weather. I paused at the top of the hill to admire the view and for once the view south was the one that captured me. Away to the south east I could see to virtually the end of the SDW as in the very far distance I could pick out Belle Tout lighthouse, a sight that would not be seen up close until the very last day of the hike and even then not until about 3-4 miles before the finish. I don’t know why but I got very excited by this. A little further on I passed by a bizarre sight when I caught sight of a fishing boat being stored at the farm. It was a long way to drag it away from the water!

Truleigh Hill
After Truleigh Hill my focus was on the northerly view as the last of the clouds had cleared and I was again greeted with crystal clear conditions. I could see across to Ashdown Forest and Box Hill and the level of detail I could pick out with my binoculars was quite incredible. I won’t bore you with all the details of everything I saw, but it was hard to keep walking with such a breathtaking view.

Looking Towards Devils Dyke
The ridge from Truleigh Hill to Devils Dyke is unusual in that it is not mostly flat but very undulating, necessitating a couple of additional climbs on the way. When I reached Devils Dyke, I didn’t hang around to sample the joys of the pub that most car drivers head to. I didn’t remember it being very pleasant, although that was some years ago so I may be doing it a massive disservice. The SDW diverges away from the crest of the hill, heading down towards Saddlescombe. As I met the road I mused over how differently we view these beauty spots now compared with the Victorians. The Devils Dyke now attracts bikers, hang gliders and dog walkers who come here within minutes from the city of Brighton and Hove. There were even planning notices being displayed about music events planned in the summer of 2009 that would mean thousands of people descending on this piece of Downland. The Victorians were equally mad about the place, building a railway line up here from Brighton (the station can still be seen just to the south). Once here the visitors were entertained with a cable car across the Dyke itself and a funicular up the scarp slope from Poynings. Fairground rides and a camera obscura completed the scene, which must have been a bit bizarre on a day like this. You can still find some of the remnants of these attractions if you are interested in looking. The foundations to the towers of the cable car are particularly easy to find, being just off the SDW.

Devils Dyke
I passed a bunch of youngsters getting ready for a day of conservation working on my way down to Saddlescombe and smiled at their enthusiasm. They were armed with various tools for hacking back undergrowth, always my favourite conservation activity!

Pyecombe Church
I passed through Saddlescombe Farm and prepared myself for the next climb immediately the other side. As I got to the top of the hill I passed the same cyclist who I had seen at Truleigh Hill a couple of hours previously. He looked a bit puffed, perhaps not surprisingly as he revealed that he had been all the way to Ditchling Beacon. As I reached the top the Clayton Windmills came into view and for the first time I could see that the sails on the white mill, known as Jill, were actually turning. It was the first time I had ever seen this!

Clayton Pony
There was almost no ridge for me to enjoy after the climb out of Saddlescombe for I was to descend almost straight away down into the next village, Pyecombe which was completely dominated by the junction between the A23 and A273. I remember a time when these roads were joined by a traffic light controlled junction, but times have changed and it is now akin to a motorway junction complete with flyovers. Strangely as a walker it is now safer than it was since you don’t take your life in your hands actually trying to cross the road directly.

Jill Mill
I negotiated the A23 and wandered up into Pyecombe village, which was a little oasis in the middle of all the traffic thundering by. The church was simple and plain and yet dominated the village, which was made up of some very attractive old houses. I crossed over to the golf course, which was quite busy unsurprisingly as golfers were keen to get another round in while they could. It was a shortish walk up and round to the windmills, known locally as Jack and Jill. Jack is lived in and looks a little tatty but Jill just down the hill looked in fine fettle and I could see that there were some volunteers working on it. I took the opportunity when offered to have a little look round and although very similar to the one at High Salvington in Worthing, there were some differences not least the turning mechanism which was fully automatic here and worked by using a small sail that turned the mill to face the wind. No hand cranking here! While talking with the volunteers I tried to envisage the monumental effort in getting the mill to this location, for it was originally built at Dyke Road in Brighton several miles away. More information about the mill can be seen at if you are interested.

Clayton Tunnel

This was the last port of call for the day. After bidding farewell to the volunteers I headed off the Downs and down to Clayton. I took a quick look at the tunnel with its curious folly construction complete with house in the middle. From here it was a short walk alongside the railway line to Hassocks station for the trip home

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