Walking routes for the South Downs

Day Walks on the South Downs goes into a second edition, courtesy of Vertebrate Publishing, an award-winning publisher of outdoor books, guidebooks and ebooks.  Its author is Deirdre Huston, of Hassocks, on the edge of the South Downs.

Deirdre Huston © Rory Rayland
Deirdre Huston © Rory Rayland

“This guidebook details 20 circular walks which will help you explore the South Downs National Park,” she explains. “I combine sections of deservedly popular trails such as the South Downs Way with lesser known paths. These loops lead you past viewpoints and points of interest to convivial pubs and cafes so that as you walk and relax, you can also discover history and observe nature.

“This guidebook is aimed at walkers who want to explore new areas of the South Downs National Park, and who like to enjoy a good walk as a day out. The walks are between six and 14 miles in length, suitable for hillwalkers of all abilities. If you prefer shorter walks, I also recommend dipping into the guide and using the trails, car park and refreshment recommendations as a starting point for a linear walk.

“The routes are split into three geographical areas – Hampshire, West Sussex and East Sussex, and include walks to the most historic and captivating areas of the Downs, including Winchester Hill Fort, Black Down, Chanctonbury Ring, Devil’s Dyke, Ditchling Beacon and Beachy Head.

“Back in 2011, around the time it became a national park, I explored the South Downs for the original version of this guide. I marched along ridges and cliff-tops, each new mile allowing expansive views to unfold. I persevered up chalk escarpments to claim forgotten ruins, desolate battlefields and quiet dewponds as my own. I navigated tree-covered slopes and tiptoed through grazing fields, as much watched as watching.

“Through making short films, I have since explored the local history of Saddlescombe Farm (see Route 14, The Heart of the Downs) and wider areas of the National Trust estates such as Cissbury Ring. Many rights of way which criss-cross the downs are ancient routeways and whether it is chalk, cobbled stones or flattened grass underfoot, we can be certain of one thing. Others have passed this way before us. Last year I returned to these trails and, once again, was struck by how spectacular the South Downs can be: the flicker of an adonis or chalkhill blue butterfly, shimmering grasses on a sunny day, chalky streams tumbling through ancient woodland, a heath where fragrant thyme and chalk flowers such as purple orchids grow among pink heathers.

“Walking is about having the wind in your face, the sun in your eyes, the rain at your back. Enjoy reflective solitude amidst the peaceful south downs or relish the simple pleasure of a walk with friends or family. Make time to stop at a friendly pub, choose a slice of cake at a café or picnic at a viewpoint.

“Whatever walking means to you, I hope that you enjoy the day walks in this book and share my excitement in exploring the South Downs National Park. It’s all out there waiting for you! Who knows what you may discover? This guide was first published in 2011. Maybe there will be a third edition in a few years…

“I have written four other guidebooks, including Cycling Days Out: South East England, Sussex Walks and Day Walks on the High Weald. Vertebrate Publishing offer a number of other titles in the Day Walks series of pocket-sized guidebooks.

“I love having an excuse to get out in the countryside and explore. I take the photographs too and try to capture what makes a route special, whether it is mood, light, landscape or points of interest. I have always written and would say it’s more of a vocation more than a rational choice.”