Springtime was very much over, the bright yellow fields of rapeseed all but vanished from the South Downs National Park in West Sussex. Swaying fields of wheat, a contrasting lush green under hot yellow summer sun now covered the landscape.
Splattered like random giant paint drops, amongst these fields of green were vivid red poppies, emerging from the disturbed land adding a dash of brilliant colour.
Finding the South Downs Poppies
I hadn’t planned on discovering poppies on this walk, I was heading to Blackpatch Hill because I enjoy the peaceful location. I started this walk as is often the way, in the West Sussex village of Storrington, walking off of the busy high street down Greyfriars Lane.
Once on the South Downs escarpment at Kithurst Hill I walked south through a field towards the WW2 Churchill Tank, on a previous walk to Blackpatch Hill I had taken a due south path from the rusting tank that brought me to Lee Farm and the neolithic flint mines of Harrow Hill.
On this walk I took a longer route, heading south-west from the WW2 tank remains across a shallow valley towards Wepham Down. Away from the South Downs Way this part of the national park is peaceful and perfect for gathering your thoughts – somewhere to switch off from the 21st Century.
Lee Farm – Angmering Park
From a point on the OS Map in the middle of blissful nowhere there is a concrete track that leads east to Lee Farm, a modest collection of buildings and dwellings. A small group of hikers were taking a rest at the crossroads of tracks. The first people I had seen for a long time.
Lunch at Harrow Hill
Arriving at Lee Farm, my next thought was where to have lunch, after following the footpath that skirts the southern edge of Harrow Hill and walking through Old Gray’s Wood I found my perfect spot. A shallow valley between Harrow and Blackpatch Hills.
I sat down and smiled, table for one Sir? Seat with a view please.
Despite grey sky the air was warm, the natural valley offered protection from the breeze. The abundant wildlife went about their chores as I ate. I’ve walked here before, remember the Fairies of Harrow Hill.
A short walk after lunch brought me to the summit of Blackpatch Hill, a modest 169 metres above the not too distant English Channel. Across the fields the sound of shooting could be heard on the wind; a popular clay pigeon and target range is located across the way.
Once at the summit of Blackpatch I got my first glimpse of the poppies, a tiny corner of a vast green field rolling away in front of me was red. A mistake in nature, a delight to witness.
Blackpatch Covert Poppy Field
I was worried that the blanket grey sky would dampen my photography spirits but once again the South Downs National Park lifted them higher. No matter the season, the time, the direction of travel; the South Downs look gorgeous.
I walked north from the trig point, heading in the direction of the poppy field. The breeze stirred the wiry stems and the red dots danced before me. Who can resist taking a photo of a poppy field.
Fields of blood red poppies stir up evocative thoughts, never judgemental.
To find a small corner of the green South Downs a vivid red was worth the walk under the heavy sky; there was I doubting the beauty of mother nature, blaming the grey sky before I had even given her a chance.
I was standing in my own imaginary painting; if you painted in the style of Monet, this is what you would see. A soft focus, a suggestion of movement. If you are quick they will still be there, cheerfully waving their wiry stems in time to the tune of the summer breeze.
Green doesn’t mean dull, far from it. Walking north towards the slopes of Sullington Hill the ground is barely visible now, the huge flints, that this area has been mined for thousands of years, are hidden from view by crops. Fields of wheat grow tall in this part of the South Downs.
Getting close to the ground you can imagine the environment that pests live in – of course these crop-eating pests are valuable food for the kestrel hunting stationary overhead. A balance between nature and mankind.
The South Downs have been putting food on the table for many years for Kes and kestrel.
Chantry Hill – South Downs Way
As Blackpatch Hill and its red carpet faded behind me, then Chantry Hill car park and the South Downs Way appeared. Chantry Hill overlooks the villages of Storrington and Sullington and offers the walker large grassy banks, ideal for a rest break with a view over The Weald.
The map contour lines are closely grouped; like a miniaturised version of Brighton’s Devil’s Dyke. On breezy fine days gliders soar for hours over the Ridge here.
From Chantry Hill a footpath leads back to Greyfriars Lane, one of several paths dropping down from the escarpment to Storrington village level. In total this was an 11.49 mile circular walk, along routes I had walked before except between Wepham Down and Lee Farm.
It is a quiet walk, away from the popular South Downs Way trail and therefore away from the marathon walkers, extreme runners and competitive cyclists. In the busy summer you might appreciate a bit of natural escapism.
Route: Storrington to Blackpatch Hill circular walk.
Download Map of Route
Distance: 11.49 miles (18.49km)