One of the most spectacular sections of the South Downs, with views all the way.
Minimum time 3h00
Distance 11 miles (17.7km)
Suggested map OS Explorer 122 South Downs Way: Steyning to Newhaven
Start/finish free car park by Jack and Jill windmills; grid ref: TQ 304134. Alternative start: Ditchling Beacon car park, south of Ditchling; grid ref: TQ 333131
Trails/tracks quite bumpy chalk and grass tracks, with some sections along clay
Landscape chalk downland
Public toilets none on route
Tourist information Brighton, tel: 0906 711 2255
Bike hire Lifecycle, The Tile House, Preston Park, Preston Road, Brighton tel: 01273 542425 (www.lifecyclebrighton.com)
Recommended pub The Bull, Ditchling
Notes An energetic ride, with several ascents and descents - not suitable for young children
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
Jack and Jill windmills: follow the A273 south from Hassocks, past junctions on the left with the B2112 and turning to Clayton, then turn left just before Pyecombe up Mill Lane. Ditchling Beacon: follow the B2112 south, then fork left on the road leading up to Ditchling Beacon. The car park is on the right at the very top (begin at Point 2).
1 Turn left out of the car park, signposted 'public bridleway to Ditchling Beacon' and immediately ignore a private driveway on the left to Jack Windmill and another track to the left. Soon fork left uphill at a junction, signposted South Downs Way (the right turn goes to a farm). Blue arrow markers with acorn motifs denote the South Downs Way, which you follow for most of the ride. The track rises quite steeply at first and is stony, but it soon levels out and becomes less rough. There are huge views northwards over the Weald and you can see the Surrey hills in the distance. The escarpment is too steep for ploughing, and the wildlife is relatively undisturbed. Nine types of orchid, including the bee orchid (named for obvious reasons) grow hereabouts, and you may spot a pale blue chalkhill butterfly.
2 From Ditchling Beacon car park cross the road carefully and take the South Downs Way opposite. You will pass one of two dew ponds on the route: this is a man-made feature, created for livestock to drink from, and has a clay lining to stop water draining into the porous chalk. The route climbs up two grassy rises and drops slightly to cross a narrow farm road. From here it becomes clay rather than chalk on the surface, and can be sticky after rain.
3 After the next left, a descending fork (which you avoid), look for a track on the right, marked with a blue arrow which leads to a group of trees at the end of the field. This is the site of Plumpton Plain, a Bronze Age settlement. Carry on along the South Downs Way.
4 Just beyond a gate is a National Trust sign for Black Cap. Walk up to the summit by forking left to the trig point. Enjoy the view which stretches to Seaford Head, a prominent, square-looking sea cliff, and to the Downs near Lewes. Return the same way, to Ditchling Beacon.
5 Unless you want to return along the South Downs Way, turn left at the very top of the main ascent after Ditchling Beacon (where Jack Windmill comes into view ahead). It's marked with a blue arrow and a sign for 'Chattri and the windmills' (just after another junction by a signpost on the right marked as the 'Keymer Post', while left is signposted to Brighton). Carry on down, with Brighton in view ahead, and at the second gate (with a waymarker symbol marked 'Chattri and the windmills' and with the number 13 on it), detour ahead to see the Chattri war memorial.
6 After the next gate, you'll see the memorial just down on your left. Leave your bike at the top and walk down. Return to the junction at the previous gate and turn left, following signs: the route bends right (number 44) on a fenced path slightly uphill, left (number 45), then downhill and turns right leaving the indicated route to 'Chattri and the windmills' (at number 46), which continues ahead. The track drops and rises, crossing the South Downs Way. passing through a farm to reach Jack and Jill windmills.
A hundred years ago the South Downs were dotted with windmills. These two are among the last to survive. Jill Windmill (www.jillwindmill.org.uk) is a wooden corn mill, restored to working order and open free of charge in the afternoon on most summer Sundays and bank holidays. Built in Brighton in 1821, it was originally called Lashmar's Mill. Neighbouring Jack Windmill is a brick tower mill, built in 1866 and now a private house, but you can see it from the car park. They both fell into disuse around 1906 and were probably first nicknamed Jack and Jill in the 1920s.
The white, Sicilian marble war memorial, inscribed in English and Hindi, is a strangely exotic feature in the Sussex countryside. Erected in 1921, it is dedicated to Indian servicemen who lost their lives in World War One. Some 4,000 were taken to a temporary hospital in Brighton's Royal Pavilion (which must have seemed a very strange place to find themselves in). The Hindus and Sikhs who did not survive were cremated here in funeral pyres sprinkled with symbolic, fruits, flowers and spices in accordance with their religious customs.
This is a challenging ride, but don't be too put off by the beginning. After that there are some lovely sections on the grassy Downs on either side of Ditchling Beacon. You can either ride from Jack and Jill to Ditchling Beacon and back, continue to Black Cap, or go along tracks to the Chattri Indian war memorial and back to Jack and Jill.