Devil’s Dyke england
This walk didn’t begin on the South Downs, but in front of a drawing hung on a wall in the Towner art gallery in Eastbourne. The almost angry lines of the charcoal, in the hands of artist Julian Le Bas, added a depth and gravity to the most atmospherically named place on the South Downs: Devil’s Dyke. In the drawing, Le Bas portrays the bottom of the V-shaped valley as a dark desolate place. Black and unknown. It is the place, after all, the devil tried to flood the churches of the Weald by scraping a trench through the chalk ridge to the sea. Further around A Walk in the Park exhibition to celebrate the creation of the South Downs National Park, was a watercolour by Rex Vicat Cole (1870-1940). His 1926 painting, the Brooks of Bramber, showed a bridge over the River Adur near Bramber Castle, with cattle crossing and a dark foreboding sky. It was a snapshot of an existence rare on the downs today, yet the landscape, as I was to discover, remains largely unchanged.
I drew a line between Devil’s Dyke and Cole’s Brooks of Bramber and walked it. My journey began across the low Sussex Weald west, parallel with the South Downs’ ridge looming high above me from the village of Poynings. Poppies in the fields and bluebells in the woods were pushing through, and sharp gusts of wind blow white blossom off trees, which fell like snow. I continued towards my mid-point mark of Bramber Castle. After a brief altercation with a cow (which must have looked hilarious from afar), I crossed the River Adur on the same bridge, I fancied, Cole painted, and the ruins of Bramber Castle appeared in view. Bramber once an important port and the Adur, a hugger-mugger of sea going vessels, is today only a frittering solitary swan breaks water.
I joined the Downs Link, which connects the North Downs Way to the South Downs Way – my route back to Devil’s Dyke. It is a long solitary climb up Beeding Hill to the ridge. To the south I saw the English Channel glimmering under spots of sunlight. To the north, the vast Weald. My eyes barely veered from fields of yellow rapeseed.
At Devil’s Dyke, the structure resembles Le Bas’s, but spring flowers added subtle cheers of colour. His mentor, Dennis Creffield, described him as ‘the Lover and the Poet of the South Downs’. He is quoted on the caption in the Towner: “He succeeds in creating an authentic image of the experience ‘where earliest feet trod (In England we don’t look for our ancestors in Caves but up there on the Downs)’.”
Distance: 12.5 miles/20 kilometres
Ascent: 800 ft/243m
Time: 5.5 hours
Start/finish: Royal Oak, Poynings
Map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer 122 (South Downs Way: Steyning to Newhaven, Brighton, Lewes and Burgess Hill).
Information: Occasional information trailer on Devil’s Dyke.
Travel: Nearest train station is Hassocks – this would add 6 miles to the journey.
Route: From Royal Oak in Poynings follow footpath through the beer garden to Mill Lane. Follow footpath west. At the brook bear left and go straight ignoring any crossroads. In Longlands Wood turn left at first crossroads towards Tottington Manor. Turn right on to road. Briefly walk along A2037 north to Horton Hall. Go through the front garden (really!) and follow footpath to horse stables. Turn right to footpath, then follow to Bramber, turning right on the road to the castle. Walk down to roundabout and follow the Down’s Link, crossing the Adur to South Down’s Way (SDW). Follow signposts to Devil’s Dyke. Take path north of valley down to the Royal Oak.
This walk has been written by TGO’s Daniel Neilson. To upload your own walks, click here: http://www.tgomagazine.co.uk/walks/upload-walk/