A 19.6 mile walk to Cissbury Ring just outside the village of Findon in West Sussex. Taking in two hill forts and views of ancient flint mines.
Starting off in Storrington West Sussex, a bustling village at the foot of the South Downs I headed up to Kithurst Hill and walked east, towards my first destination of the day, Chanctonbury Ring. The morning was bright and the sky a lovely blue overhead. The South Downs Way (SDW) quiet during the first week of April.
The views from Kithurst Hill to the north and south are far-reaching, gliders soar above the escarpment here on favourable days. It’s a lovely spot for a short family walk being not too far from the car park off of Chantry Lane.
Sullington Hill – South Downs Way
Curving like the surface of a giant natural globe, Sullington Hill rises 205 metres above sea level, with an ancient cross dyke clearly visible. Cross dykes are thought to be land barriers, territorial limits. The prehistoric equivalent of boundary fences and marker posts.
East of Sullington Hill evidence of this area’s military heritage can be easily seen. This steel-clad World War 2 pill box close to the South Downs Way at Barnsfarm Hill, was once used for attack training. Another WW2 pill-box can be seen nearby slowly decaying in an adjacent field.
It is hard to imagine how different life was up on the Sussex Downs some 75+ years ago. The area now peaceful and full of wildlife thanks to sensitive farming and conservation work. Back in the dark days of WW2 the land was being used for the defence and survival of Great Britain.
Chanctonbury Hill Dewpond
Walking the South Downs Way, I crossed the busy A24 south of Washington and climbed up the chalk lane towards Chanctonbury Hill. Always a popular spot for spring family picnics, mountain bikers and walkers.
Before you reach the Dewpond at Chanctonbury Hill you walk by an impressive disused pit and tumulus, yet more signs of the continued use of this land for thousands of years. Arriving at the Dewpond, restored in 1970 by the Sussex Society of Downsmen I was greeted by sheep, lots of them.
I stood still and waited and was greeted by a sight I had wanted to see, the animals using the Dew Pond for its intended purpose. High up on the South Downs surface water is in short supply, quickly soaking into the chalk appearing again miles away as lowland springheads. Dewponds serve a very useful purpose in allowing watering of livestock in difficult locations.
With the sun still shining and the sheep bleating it felt good to be up here amongst nature. Though as is always the nature of Chanctonbury Hill, the wind was blowing strong. That reminder of the power of nature and the location.
Chanctonbury Ring – Good Morning
A short walk east of the Dewpond stands Chanctonbury Ring, an Iron-Age hill fort at least 2600 years old.
I was recently asked if I thought the location was haunted, ghostly. Let me explain my thoughts.
When I first visited Chanctonbury Ring I immediately knew the location was more than just a hill with trees. It is a location with almost continuous human interaction over several thousand years. An area with important births, deaths and special meaning.
When I first walked up here, I spoke silently to my late friends and relatives. It seemed at the time something I should do. Some people would perhaps say a prayer, I tipped my hat and said hello to those no longer with me.
On subsequent visits I have always felt that the location respected me. An initial suspicion of the stranger approaching and then acceptance. So to this day when I walk to Chanctonbury Ring I say a silent (or at the very least a quiet) good morning to those that can only listen back.
As I approached the raised earth banks of the hill fort the wind suddenly blew strong, a surprising gust; within seconds the force had died down and the breeze was once more just that; a breeze. I tend to think that this is the initial enquiry, who are you, do we know you?
So do I think the location is haunted or spooky, no. I think the location asks that you remember and respect the land and the people.
Cissbury Ring – On The Horizon
Leaving Chanctonbury behind, I will always return, I followed the South Downs Way south-east for perhaps 1/2 a kilometre to a junction of paths at Chalkpit Wood. Heading almost due south was a track, a car’s width that would take me to Cissbury Ring.
Along this route I chatted to two women who had stopped for lunch, on their own hike around the South Downs. What we all had in common was a love of exploring the trails, tracks and paths that criss-cross the picturesque landscape.
You can carry everything you need for your own personal adventure in your rucksack. Open your mind and walk, don’t forget to pack your lunch.
I had never visited Cissbury Ring before. I had driven down the A24 a thousand and one times. I had been a member of the National Trust on and off for many years but this was the first time I had actually visited. It is the largest hill fort in Sussex, the second largest in England and one of the largest in Britain and Europe overall, covering some 60 acres.
The earthworks that form the fortifications of Cissbury Ring were built around the beginning of the Middle Iron-Age possibly around 250 BC. The site has a history of over 5000 years.
I hate to write the words but I didn’t feel any connection with the location upon arrival. I can’t easily explain why, perhaps it was the burnt out car dumped 1/2 a mile up the access road.
Perhaps it was the numerous black plastic bags left behind by irresponsible dog owners. I walked south from Chanctonbury with an open mind. No preconceptions, no judgement. It’s not likely to be a destination of choice again any time soon. I wish I knew why but I don’t. Sorry Cissbury but I am not sure this is you at your best.
So despite me not being a fan of Cissbury Ring I am sure some of you will love it. I certainly don’t expect people to judge a location just from my words, please go and explore yourself. It is what life is all about. On a sunny day, avoiding rubbish dumped by humans I am sure Cissbury has its own beauty and magic.
The weather was getting cooler, the wind speed had picked up and the blue in the sky was becoming noticeably grey. I took another couple of photos, including the trig point and then consulted my OS map.
I had a choice. I could walk back the exact same route, via Chanctonbury Ring and the South Downs Way or I could retrace my steps half a mile north and then follow the Monarch’s Way trail westwards to the village of Findon and then Longfurlong.
Findon to Long Furlong
Choosing to make the route a large circular route I picked up the Monarch’s Way north of Cissbury Ring and followed the marker posts westwards into the village of Findon. The main London to Worthing trunk-road, the A24 by-passes most of the village but leaves the church of Saint John the Baptist isolated on the other side. The A24 is always busy and the crossing point not ideal.
A charter fair dating from 1261 saw many thousands of sheep penned on the green, in preparation for sale. Wooden hurdles for pens were stored in the purpose-built Wattle House which also included living accommodation.
After crossing the A24 I walked by the impressive Findon Place and the idyllic Saint John the Baptist church, founded in the 11th Century and tucked away at the foot of Church Hill. The Monarch’s Way trail then leads to another busy road crossing at Tolmare Farm (Longfurlong).
After taking some photos of the church in its peaceful setting, I followed the Monarch’s Way footpath through a field and up a small hill, arriving abruptly at the busy A280 Longfurlong road. Cars and lorries thunder along this road, a picturesque rat-run.
Once across the road and back on the Monarch’s Way peace and quiet returned. You only have to be a few hundred metres away from the main roads to feel away from it all. This photo of the church explains that theory. Tucked away in the greenery yet only a few minutes walk from the A24. It was the first time I had ever seen it.
Blackpatch Hill to Chantry Hill
With Findon behind me I walked almost due west in the direction of Longfurlong Farm, views to my left of tiny cars and lorries travelling along the A280 in a rush to be somewhere else. Overhead a lead grey sky looked down in a sombre mood.
Turning north at Longfurlong Farm I departed from the Monarch’s Way and headed towards the summit of Blackpatch Hill, 169 metres high and marked with a trig point. This would be my third trig point of the day.
Dark clouds rushed across the landscape, dropping rain randomly on unfortunate hikers no doubt. I was lucky and only felt the briefest of rain before the brisk wind moved it along to somewhere and someone else.
The views are worth the walk to Blackpatch Hill, it is an ideal location to view the pockmarked Harrow Hill with its prehistoric flint mines and tales of English fairies. With the wind cold and rain threatening I didn’t take too long to take my photos and head off towards Chantry Hill.
Arriving at Chantry Hill I was met with a few early evening isolated sunbeams, perhaps I would get home without a soaking after all. The South Downs look beautiful whatever the weather. If we stopped going out in the UK just because it looked like rain, well we would miss out on so much.
I took a familiar route from Chantry Hill back to Kithurst Hill and then walked down from the escarpment back into the village of Storrington. I will of course return at some point in time to Cissbury Ring and see if my feelings towards the place change with the seasons. Certainly the village of Findon demands a return visit.
Route: Storrington to Cissbury Ring and back.
Download Map of Route
Distance: 19.6 miles (31.5 km)