A 31 mile hike to Devil’s Dyke in East Sussex, starting from Storrington in West Sussex. Walking along the South Downs Way under a gorgeous blue sky.
At the beginning of May I had walked 25 miles in a day, which at the time was a personal best and I knew that I had a few more miles in me.
Storrington to Devil’s Dyke
I had driven to Devil’s Dyke near Brighton many times over the years but I had never walked further than the car park, so I decided it would be an ideal destination in the South Downs National Park for my personal record-breaking walk.
A look at the map showed that Devil’s Dyke was just over 15 miles along the South Downs Way from the village Storrington in West Sussex, my start and finish point.
South Downs Views
I set off early, leaving Storrington at 6.50am in order to make the most of the available daylight and the promise of sunny weather until mid evening. Walking along Greyfriars Lane towards Kithurst Hill I was keen to reach the top of the escarpment and see the first of many views.
The walk up to the summit of Kithurst Hill was much easier, the winter groundwater was now a distant memory allowing the chalky bridle-paths time to dry out. Reaching the modest summit I looked north and south. Fading rapeseed a lingering reminder of the vibrant spring colours, now replaced with lush green; growth fuelled by alternate wet and warm British weather.
The North Downs provided a clear northern limit, Leith Hill Tower in Surrey visible as a tiny indentation in the tree-lined backdrop, some 19 miles distant. To the south-west the Isle of Wight provided the dark defining horizon landmark.
Between both landmarks, familiar icons stood out with clarity; Arundel Castle, Littlehampton’s blue coloured gas holder, Chanctonbury Ring, Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower.
Being mid-week and early in the morning there were very few people on the South Downs Way, despite it being the half term school holiday. I made a point of saying hello to fellow users of the South Downs; Can’t say I’m not happy to be up walking here.
I headed east with a positive mood, I already knew I would be able to walk the 30 mile round trip; it felt so good to be up here in the fresh air just walking.
Chanctonbury Hill – Chanting Ring
Just over 6 miles from my starting point in Storrington, is the wonderful Chanctonbury Hill and the famous Iron-Age hill fort of Chanctonbury Ring. I had planned on having a quick breakfast break up here under the warming morning sunshine.
The trees at the Ring were thick with summer foliage, the central copse now offered shade from summer sun and protection from the perpetual ancient wind. I wasn’t alone at Chanctonbury Ring, far from it.
A group of pitched tents looked west, outlines of humans could be seen standing amongst the saplings and mature trees, watching as I walked towards their sanctuary. I was armed with my usual cheerful hellos ready to be used in anger.
Keeping to the well-worn track from the Dewpond to the Ring, I made a point of not walking directly towards the tents and what is normally my favourite spot to sit and eat. Wild camping is illegal in certain parts of England, certainly the South Downs National Park doesn’t allow such freedom of spirit.
It wasn’t my duty or intention to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of the early morning environment, so I replaced my up-close cheerful hello with a slightly more distant wave of the hand. I went and sat on the near opposite edge of Chanctonbury Ring, overlooking Steyning Round Hill, Beeding Hill and the unmistakable Truleigh Hill.
I looked out towards the east, taking in the fresh air, the vitamin sunshine and for a few precious moments the peace and tranquillity. Then my personal moment of reflection was rather rudely shattered.
From somewhere on the perimeter of Chanctonbury Ring began chanting, not quiet meditation, not a softly spoken pagan poem, not a recital of a special prayer said with soft tones. No, this was deafening; a bellowing of the kind Brian Blessed would approve of. It was a calling of the kind that echoes across cities from Minarets.
It went on and on; so much for a quiet breakfast under blue sky with birdsong for accompaniment.
Shouting my head off across the Weald at 8.45am is not my idea of fun; obviously it was someone’s calling in life, just not mine. Having rested for 5 minutes I decided that it was time to make my silent escape.
Steyning Bowl Late Breakfast
With the slightly surreal, now fading chanting still in my ears, I walked and watched as nature enjoyed the now peaceful countryside once more. The bees and the birds kept me company for the next mile or so.
Up ahead, running towards me was a man. Nothing unusual I thought. I said hello as he got nearer, no response. Behind him running to keep up was a young black goat, a kid wearing a gold collar. The weirdness of Chanctonbury Ring reaches far and wide in these parts.
The potential to be an unusual morning was strong; first wild campers, then wild chanting and finally a goat as a running companion. The next human interaction was less unusual, in fact it was what you and I would call normal. I had a chat with a chap who was maintaining the grass around the Steyning Bowl park-benches.
We talked about the landscape, he missed the trees of the North Downs and I couldn’t live without the views from the South Downs. Unfortunately for my breakfast plans he was about to use a petrol strimmer; I’ll have my breakfast break at Botolphs I decided!
I said goodbye to the landscape gardener and walked towards Annington Hill and those pig farms, stopping every few minutes to take photos of Steyning Bowl as the shadows of the clouds chased each other across the lush fields.
Steyning Bowl is, in my opinion, best viewed from the Monarch’s Way as it winds its way up from the edge of the village, I would return to this natural bowl via the Monarch’s Way later in the day.
River Adur at Botolphs
Annington Hill offers views over the village of Steyning, over the chasm that was once the Beeding Cement Works and towards the English Channel and Lancing College. Annington Hill also offers the chance to see lots of piglets and sows in the sprawling pig farm.
I didn’t stop to take any photos of the piglets this time, I have learnt about their shyness and settled instead for photos of static scenery. The radio masts of Truleigh Hill a now not so distant reminder of my next challenge.
Dropping off the Downs into the hamlet of Annington I decided to photograph the Saxon church at Botolphs on my return leg, for no other reason other than there was a car parked outside the wall where I wanted to take a photo from.
So I walked along the SDW to the River Adur and stopped at the steel river crossing and had a bite to eat. The busy A283 drowned out most natural sounds and the towering chimney of the derelict cement works reminded all that this landscape was once covered with a dusting of grey Portland cement.
I took the opportunity to take some photos of the river bank which looked pretty with the wildflowers undisturbed in places. I had walked here before, on several occasions but it is a pretty enough spot to take a break. The location is popular with leisure users, being a junction of the Downs Link as well as the SDW.
My next hill to walk up was Beeding Hill, I had driven around this area before many times but I had not walked this section of the South Downs Way, so I was looking forward to a new perspective over the landscape.
Beeding Hill – Hidden Industry
I crossed the busy A283 and walked along the grass verge for a short distance, the continuous traffic made the air warm and dusty. Walking high up on the Downs isolates you from this to a degree and I had forgotten how much I disliked that wash of hot exhaust air every 20 seconds.
Within a matter of minutes I was east and above the road by a couple of hundred metres, the air felt fresh again and the only heat was from the sun above and that generated by me! The views from Beeding Hill are worth the walk; or worth the drive to the car park at the top, if you can try the longer walk.
Electricity pylons strode across the landscape, marching away from Shoreham to feed power into the hungry grid. The South Downs this side of the River Adur are more industrial to look at.
The vast cake-slice of chalk downland missing from Beeding Hill is hidden well, only the rising smoke free chimney gives a hint to the whereabouts of the old cement works. Looking at an OS Map gives a clue; almost the distance from the A283 to the car park at the top of Beeding Hill has gone. The end product to be found in motorway bridges, the foundations of your house, poured over once green fields.
The South Downs Way is very narrow along this part, so consideration is needed by all towards all. Walkers keep to the side, cyclists slow down or stop and don’t let your dogs pester the horse riders.
Truleigh Hill – Not So Secret Bunker
The sea breeze was reaching Beeding Hill and was most welcome, with no shade the Downs were heating up and my water supplies were running low. The fresh-water tap at Botolphs was broken but I was pinning my hopes on the water at Truleigh Youth Hostel being freely available (my wallet was at home!)
As I walked by the entrance of Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel (YHA) I asked about fresh water and was directed to an outside tap providing free and clean drinking water. Thank you those responsible for keeping this free and working.
The cluster of radio masts at Truleigh Hill are of WW2 vintage, in location at least and make navigation in this part of the South East simple. At 216 metres above sea level Truleigh Hill is very noticeable on fog free days.
The chalet bungalow in the image above, adjacent to the radio masts is in fact the entrance to a nuclear bunker, built at the height of the Cold War in the early 1950s. Access is not permitted but needless to say a search on Google will reveal lots of photos from inside the bunker.
Truleigh Hill is a quirky location, several houses are located at the summit, along with the youth hostel, the communication installations and the remains of a MOD guardhouse / nuclear bunker. On the day of my walk I did notice some noise measurement going on, as a business jet made its approach into the nearby art-deco Shoreham Airport.
As a child my parents used to drive us all down to the coast at Brighton from East London and as a result my earliest memories of the South Downs are the vast rolling classic downland hills, to be found in East Sussex. Great rolling curves in all directions.
Ask a child to draw some hills and they will draw the South Downs of East Sussex, treeless green mounds with a cheerful sun shining high above. Birds flying in the sky and pylons marching ever onwards. The South Downs here are perhaps amongst the last 5% of remaining original downland.
If you want to sit and watch the sky, the clouds painting shadows on the fields, then the Fulking Escarpment is the place to do it. A simple bench offers the chance to lose endless hours of time.
You can understand why people are drawn to this area, vast swathes of downland you can walk and run over. No corralling fencing keeping you on the straight and narrow like some parts of the South Downs.
Devil’s Dyke Lazy Lunchtime
A few twists and turns, falls and rises sees the South Downs Way arrive at the popular Devil’s Dyke; famous for its views, its pub, its hangliders and being a short drive from Brighton. Families, dogs, motorbikes, MODS, walkers, hikers; everyone comes to Devil’s Dyke. Not everyone walks to it from Storrington mind you.
Having brought my own food and topped up with water earlier thanks to the YHA I didn’t need to walk as far as the pub, the car parks looked busy and I could certainly hear lots of happy kids enjoying the great outdoors. I checked my GPS tracker, 15.84 miles walked, which with the trip back home would beat my 30 miles target.
I stretched out my legs and ate my lunch, I had found that mental solitude and physical bliss once more. I felt fine and after a break of 45 minutes I stood up and walked back the way I had come. As the hours of the day pass, so naturally the sun moves in the sky illuminating different parts of the landscape, so the return trip always offers a chance for more photos.
I walked back the way I had come as far as Botolphs by the River Adur, I took some more photos of the river and this time I walked to St Botolph’s church and found the parked car had gone, meaning a few minutes of photography before the next car arrived.
The Grade I listed Saxon church of St Botolph’s at Botolphs West Sussex is now under the care and protection of The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) but it is still a place of worship and all are welcome. I had visited on a previous walk so this time I just took photos from outside.
From Botolphs there are two routes back up and around Steyning Bowl, you can follow the South Downs Way (SDW) once more and walk via Annington Hill and the pig farms or you can continue on Annington Road towards Steyning and then take Sopers Lane, otherwise known as the Monarch’s Way. The latter route was my choice.
Steyning Bowl – Monarch’s Way
The natural bowl at Steyning has to be seen to be truly appreciated, like much of the South Downs photography only tells part of the picture. I’ve said it before but I believe the best views of Steyning Bowl are from the Monarch’s Way.
Many people will only walk on the South Downs Way, yet to really appreciate the landscape you should walk in the South Downs.
These alternative routes are a treasure, offering a different slant on things. Try and see the South Downs National Park from all angles, mine and yours.
With time marching on and still another 10 miles to walk, I finished my photos and headed upwards to rejoin the South Downs Way at Steyning Round Hill. My next stop would be at Chanctonbury Ring for a final food stop before the last 6 miles.
South Downs Walk Revisited
The sky was changing as weather moved in, a creeping high layer of grey watered down the sunshine and dropped the temperature a few degrees. The wind picked up as the hours ticked over. I stopped at Chanctonbury Ring for a final burst of energy food and drink. This time I had the place to myself, only the wind was chanting.
The wind was cold now and with 6.5 miles left to walk I stood up, collected my rucksack and said goodbye to Chanctonbury Ring for a few days and followed the direction of the watery sun. I dropped down to the A24 crossing, waited for the larger gaps in the traffic flow and wandered across, I was a bit beyond a comedy walk/run across the lanes of traffic.
The final few miles were pleasant enough, I was tired but motivated by the thought of dinner waiting at home for me, the light was slowly fading and only a few dog walkers were on the Downs by now. I walked up my final hill, the slow climb from Chantry Hill to Kithurst Hill, took a few last photos and then headed down into Storrington village, where a very welcome dinner was consumed!
Walking 31 Miles – My Experiences!
I got home after being out of the house for just over 12.5 hours, including photo stops and rest breaks. I was and still am pleased with my efforts. I very much believe that walking long distance is 70% mental ability and 30% physical fitness.
I don’t follow a special diet and I’ve never been to a gym in my life. I do wear good fitting socks and boots, that is very important. I take plenty of plain water as well as isotonic drinks, to replace the lost salt and minerals.
I need to think more about the energy food I take with me as I was beginning to feel fatigue setting in despite having the mental will-power to walk a little further.
I set out already knowing I could walk 30 miles, I knew I could do it. The secret is being in that right frame of mind when you set out. I didn’t ache much more than when I walk 15 or 20 miles.
Twice the walked mileage is not twice the aches and pain. You’ll be surprised what you can achieve if you want to.
Route: Storrington Leisure Centre to Devil’s Dyke and back.
Map of Walking Route
Distance: 31.45 miles (50.61 km)