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Delightful Ditchling's Downs

A bracing walk exploring some of the best scenery on the South Downs.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 600ft (183m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths, bridleways and a stretch of road, 11 stiles

Landscape Downland slopes and pasture

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 122 South Downs Way - Steyning to Newhaven

Start/finish TQ 326152

Dog friendliness Off lead on enclosed paths. On lead near Ditchling

Parking Free car park at rear of village hall in Ditchling

Public toilets At car park

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1 Turn right out of the car park and follow the B2116. Pass Charlton Gardens and bear right, joining a clear path signposted to the Downs. Cross three pastures via five stiles and follow a broad path running up through the woodland. Keep right at the fork by a bridleway waymark post, pass a house and go straight ahead alongside a beech hedge where a concrete track runs off to the right.

2 Pass Claycroft House and follow the path between trees, houses and gardens. On reaching the road, turn left and walk along to a bridleway on the right, pointing towards the South Downs Way. Follow the path, swing left at a junction and climb the steep escarpment. Keep a breathtaking view of the Weald on your left and, further up, the path runs alongside the road. Look for the South Downs Way sign ahead and turn right.

3 Pass alongside the car park and over Ditchling Beacon. Go through a gate and look for a trig point on the left. Head west along the South Downs Way, pass a dew pond and make for a major junction of paths. Keymer is signposted to the right and Brighton to the left.

4 Follow the path north towards Keymer and soon it descends quite steeply. Keep right at the fork and make for a gate leading out to a lane. Bear left to the junction, then turn immediately right past a turning for Keymer on the left. Walk towards Ditchling, then join the Sussex Border Path at the next stile on the left.

5 Cross the field to a stile and enter woodland. Follow the path through the trees, then go straight over a drive and alongside some barns and loose boxes. Cross the grass to a line of trees, curve right and briefly follow a track to several stiles and a footbridge. The path makes its way across an elongated field towards some trees.

6 Cross a stile, avoiding another stile leading out to the road, and continue across the pasture, keeping to the left of some houses. Make for the far left corner of the field and look for an opening in the hedgerow. Follow the path round to the right, alongside the row of houses and their gardens. Cross a stile on the right and follow the path out to the road. Bear left by a grassy roundabout and take the path to the right of the sign for Neville Bungalows. Cut between trees, hedges and fences, following the narrow path to the road. Bear right towards Haywards Heath and Lindfield and walk back to the centre of Ditchling, turning right into Lewes Road for the car park.

Ditchling is one of those picturesque villages that attracts generations of tourists. It might be a little twee for some, but most people love it and it's a popular stopping off point for walkers on the nearby South Downs Way. It shelters beneath the escarpment of the Downs, with rolling green hills and lush countryside enhancing its setting.

Over the years Ditchling's classic English village prettiness has attracted eminent figures from the world of theatre and entertainment. The 'Forces' Sweetheart', Dame Vera Lynn, settled in Ditchling; distinguished thespian Sir Donald Sinden spent his childhood here; and the actress Ellen Terry was a frequent visitor. The Snowman creator Raymond Briggs also lives locally and has a studio at neighbouring Westmeston.

During the early years of the 20th century Ditchling became a fashionable haunt of celebrated artists and craftsmen - among them the cartoonist Rowland Emett and the sculptor and typographer Eric Gill, both of whom moved to the village. Another member of this illustrious coterie was the calligrapher Edward Johnston, who was widely admired for his revival of the craft of formal lettering. Johnston moved to Ditchling in 1913 and lived there until his death in 1944. His most famous work is instantly recognisable to just about everyone in the country - the lettering and logo for the London Underground, distinguished by a circle with a line running through it. Simple but distinctive.

Ditchling's written records date back to ad 765. Sometime after that, the manor passed into the royal hands of Alfred the Great and Edward the Confessor. If time permits, take a leisurely stroll through Ditchling's streets and see the village at first hand. Its oldest building by far is the church, built mainly in the 13th century of local flint and imported Normandy stone. There are rare chalk carvings and a huge Norman treasure chest. Despite an increase in traffic, Ditchling retains its village atmosphere. During the Regency expansion of Brighton, the streets were busy with traffic en route to the resort. Horses were changed at the Bull Inn, prior to the steep pull up onto the Downs. Make a similar journey on foot and you enter a breezy world of wide skies and distant horizons - classic downland walking country.

What to look for

Ditchling Beacon, although bleak and windswept in winter, is a delightful place. At 813ft (248m), it's the third highest point on the South Downs. The views are breathtaking and in good visibility you can see as far as the North Downs and the Ashdown Forest. Now in the care of the National Trust, the Beacon represented one of a chain of fires lit to warn of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

While you're there

Visit the Ditchling Museum, situated in the old school between the church and the pond. The history of Ditchling and its artists and craftsmen is illustrated in fascinating detail. Tools, country crafts and costumes are among the displays.

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