Sunday, 21 March 2010

Stage 9 (Mid Sx Link) - Wivelsfield to Portslade (16.9 miles)

This walk completed the Mid-Sussex link of the SBP. We knew it was going to be quite a long hike, but there seemed no point in splitting it in two now the longer days were approaching. .

Starting out along Eastern Road

Starting from Wivelsfield, we headed south-east on Eastern Road for a couple of hundred meters, then just before Oak Tree Cottage, turned south on a roughly metalled track. At Woods Cottage, the track ended and entered West Wood.

Oak Tree Cottage

Muddy going in West Wood

Keeping close to the right hand boundary of the wood, we continued for a little under 2km, before the path became a drive and lead to a road. The route was also a bridleway, and so, after the recent rain, was very muddy. Both Anne & I nearly slipped over, which would not have been a good start to the day.
Slippery Bridge

At the road, we turned right and in 40m, where the road curved right at a junction, we took an enclosed path. Crossing a stile, we followed the right hand edge of a field to another stile, and then ahead on a track. Very soon, we turned left over yet another stile onto Ditchling Common.

Views south to the still distant downs

The stiles here were rather grand, having been donated by the Monday (walking) Group. They were constructed as steps, and the top rail lifted up to made it easier to get over the top. Most of them also had dog gates adjacent to them, so “hoorah!” to them.

"Thank you" to 'The Monday Group'

Ditchling Common
We now headed south across the grassland of Ditchling Common, where Zuka found a nice big bone (she always manages to find some kind of dead animal – either whole or part – on our walks, bless her). The OS map is incorrect here as it shows the route sticking to the field boundary, whereas in fact it more south-westerly, and heads directly to a railway bridge.

Across the railway bridge

Crossing the railway bridge, we then bore left and downhill towards a distant stile in the field corner. I headed in slightly the wrong direction across the field, but Anne got the ol’ compass out and took a bearing, setting us straight.

"you need to head left a bit more"

The start of the rew - uncharacteristically dry

 The path continued roughly south, and there were several different path options. The original route here was in an old tree-lined, sunken track, called a rew, but this was very wet and frankly impassable for much of its length, so we walked in the adjacent field for part of it.

Here the rew looks more like a river...

.. so we walked in the field instead

We then got a little bit lost. A SBP waymark sign, which appears to have been in the wrong place, did little to help. We briefly took the wrong path, but quickly realised things weren’t right. The map was not entirely clear, but backtracking, we soon found the correct route.

Despite the SBP sign, this is not the correct route

Poppy points out the correct way

Proceeding across a number of large fields (with the remnants of high deer fences in several of them), we then bore right, and re-entered the rew. After about 300m the rew turned west briefly, before ending at a path junction. For some reason we turned the wrong way. Not even the fact that we were now walking AWAY from the South Downs had alerted us (too much nattering, I suspect!).

A nice dry path...

Fortunately, we both checked our maps at about the same time and came to the conclusion that we were heading north, not south! We had only gone about 100m, so didn’t waste too much time. However, we still had a very long way to walk and after the two recent navigation problems, we hoped we would make better progress from now on. The muddy conditions had also contributed to our rather slow progress – it was really tiring walking in it as each step included a sideways slide.

..but not for long!

Travelling south once more, with the Downs now appearing much nearer, we soon reached a chicken farm. The birds were loose in a fenced off area though which we had to walk. They were very bold and at one point completely surrounded us. Zuka was an angel, and despite being off lead, did not touch a single bird. Poppy (on the lead!), found it all too much once or twice, and took a dive at cheeky birds who got too close.

Zuka looks bemused as the curious chickens approach
'Chicken Run'

 After the farm, we bore right across several fields, and past some stables to an enclosed path between houses. We followed this to the B2112 in the village of Ditchling, where we turned left. It had been quite a warm morning, and after our exertions in the mud, we stopped outside a newsagents and took off our jumpers. Anne took the opportunity to buy an ice-cream.
Ditchling village

Continuing south through the village, we went over the cross-roads and continued to a fork, where we took the twitten between the two roads. Reaching a housing estate, we bore right at a roundabout, and took another twitten to reach a plank bridge into a field.

Poppy at the twitten

Footpath diversion?

Here there appears to have been a footpath diversion, although it was not marked as such. Subsequently checking my old guide book (which we did not actually use on this walk), the route directions for this bit appear to follow the route as shown on the map. However, the obvious path (and the only marked right of way) followed a different route. From the walk instructions we were using (from the website, it was not initially clear either, but we followed the obvious path across fields and alongside a wood, to reach the outbuildings at Park Barn farm.

We followed the only clear path

Muddy stile crossing onto Underhill Lane

Crossing a stile onto an enclosed path, Anne stepped nearly up to her ankles in a puddle of liquid horse manure. Yuk! She then climbed over a wire fence to rinse her smelly boots in a stream. Ablutions over, we continued along the slippery path to reach Underhill Lane, where we re-converged with the route as shown on the map.

Leaving the lane on the bridleway

Reaching the foot of the downs at last

The route turned right and followed the lane for about 100m, then left the road on a bridleway, and so began our first ascent of the Downs. The path twisted and turned up the scarp, so, although it got the pulse racing a little, it wasn’t too steep. It was always worth taking a quick breather and looking behind at the improving views over the Low Weald to the Surrey hills.

Views north during the climb

Climbing the scarp slope

We finally reached the top, and turned right, parallel with the South Downs Way to reach a prominent wooden waymarker called the Keymer Post. Following the SDW for a further 50m, we then bore left along an obvious grassy path, with lovely distant views of Brighton and the sea. The wind had got up a little and it was quite chilly, but with the downland turf beneath our feet (rather than the Wealden mud of the first part of our walk), we had a certain spring in our step.

Keymer Post

View NW to Wolstenbury Hill and one of the Clayton windmills

Continuing across these grassy fields for a little over 2km, we finally reached The Chattri. This is a memorial to Indian Hindu & Sikh soldiers who were wounded on the Western Front in the First World War, and who died in the Royal Pavilion (then a war hospital) in Brighton. We stopped here for lunch on a bench overlooking the sea.

Sheep on the ridge

The Chattri

After lunch we continued across the fields for about 1 ½ km, bearing gradually south, and finally reached a farm access track. The traffic noise from the busy dual carriageways was very prominent. Turning right, we followed a minor road above the A27 and swung very briefly north, before turning left to cross the A23 on a footbridge.

View SE to Brighton

Crossing the A23

Bearing right we followed a path next to the railway, where a large digger was clearing some trees, then followed a track slowly uphill for about 1.5km, passing a trig point, with steadily improving views of the downs.

Bull and cow enjoy their silage (and mud foot spa?)

Trig point, and muddy, chalky path

At the top, where the track curved away to the right, we continued straight on across a number of fields. In one of them I had a moment of panic. Poppy was off lead as the fields were arable, but I suddenly noticed, just a short distance ahead, a group of sheep and very young lambs, which had escaped from the adjacent field. It was very fortunate I spotted them before Poppy and that she was close to me at the time. I’m very glad I didn’t need to test her recall if she had taken chase!

Escaped sheep in the distance

Zuka is as steady with sheep as she is with chickens - good girl!

Reaching a multipath junction, we joined the South Downs Way again, and turned left down an enclosed path, descending to the hamlet of Seddlescombe. Here there was a tea shop, and I really fancied a cup of tea. However, as we didn’t really have time to stop, and they only had ‘proper’ mugs (so I couldn’t buy a ‘takeaway’ and slurp it on the move), we reluctantly dragged ourselves away.

Descending on the SDW to Seddlescombe

A disappointed Sara gets no tea

Just past the farm buildings Anne gave some directions to a couple of cyclists on the SDW, then we dropped down to the road. Crossing diagonally over, we took a rising track which climbed up past a reservoir, and finally, near the top, came alongside Devil’s Dyke.

Entering Devils Dyke Estate

Devils Dyke

After a brief detour for photos, we crossed a minor road and headed west along the top of the Downs towards the masts at Truleigh Hill. The views to north and south were outstanding. There was a pretty chilly wind blowing up here, but it was quite exhilarating.

View south to the sea

View north across the Weald

Passing through a gate signed Fulking Escarpment, we left the South Downs Way once more and headed SW on a faint path. Having followed the (only) clear path for some distance, we noticed that we were off the route as per the map & GPS. We changed direction to find the ‘correct’ route, although there was no obvious path across the short grass, but when we reached the field boundary, there was no way through. Other people had clearly had the same problem and the wire on the top of the fence had been pulled down to allow you to clamber gingerly over (if you have long legs, anyway). We managed to find a spot nearby where we could pull the fencing up sufficiently to allow the dogs through, and then climbed over the fence ourselves

Off piste - "now where did that path go?"

We then maintained direction as per the GPS in an attempt to find the re-routed path again. As we converged on the new path, it became clear we would have to climb over another wire fence. Again, it was obvious that others had been in the same situation and here the top rung of barbed wire had actually been cut. There was no where for the dogs to get under the fence, so although Anne was a bit reluctant, I put my coat over the barbed wire, and we lifted the dogs over, and then climbed over ourselves.

Reunited with the SBP
An escaped cow on the track round Cockroost Hill

Back on track, we headed gently downhill on a clear, enclosed track. Just after some power lines, we turned right on a wide track and followed it to the Mile Oak Dew Pond, where there is a wooden plaque with a quotation from Kipling. This path took us to the valley, where the views were rather spoiled by the double row of electricity pylons.

Dew pond

A scottish visitor

At the bottom we passed through a gate then swung sharp right for about 50m before turning left again to join a track skirting the shoulder of Southwick Hill. This hill hides the busy A27 which passes underneath it in a tunnel.

Mile Oak Barn, surrounded by pylons

Another muddy path - Southwick National Trust area

Following the pylons, we entered a National Trust area, initially on a rather slippery uphill path, and then veered left onto a terraced grassy path. At the far corner of the NT area the path passed right under a pylon and skirted a large field on an enclosed path. This path widened to a track which led to Mile Oak Gardens, a tatty Southwick sign and the rather disappointing end to the Mid Sussex Link of the Sussex Border Path.

Southwick Hill

The pylons have featured heavily in this part of the walk

This was a super walk, with plenty of variety. It was certainly quite tiring – at almost 17 miles, the distance alone was enough to ensure that. However, with the early struggles through Wealden mud and the later ascents of the South Downs, not once, but twice (or possibly three times), I think my aching legs the next day were fully justified!

A rather tatty end to our walk


  1. Looks like a fab walk! I guess a summer trip might be better though, on account of the sea of mud?

    How did you get to the start/ finish?

  2. Hi!
    I expect it's dried up nicely by now.
    I'm afraid my friend and I resorted (as usual) to the environmentally unfriendly 2 car approach for the start/finish. I don't think public transport would have been feasible anyway.