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Getting High on Highdown Hill

A bracing hilltop walk offering classic downland views and visiting a rare chalk garden.

Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 82ft (25m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Grassy paths and well-defined bridleway, 3 stiles

Landscape Breezy hilltop with good views over downland and coast

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 121 Arundel & Pulborough

Start/finish TQ 098041

Dog friendliness Highdown Hill is good for dog walking

Parking Free car park and picnic area

Public toilets Highdown Gardens

1 With your back to the coast, follow the path away from the car park, immediately curving left. Keep ahead on the main path until you reach a path veering off to the right to the Miller's Tomb. Pass the tomb and go through the gate to an interpretation board recording the history of Highdown Hill. Stride out over the hill, keeping the trees on your right, and the remains of the hillfort and its grassy earthworks can be seen now. Glancing to the right at the western end of the site, you can identify an forlorn old triangulation pillar nestling in the grass.

2 Descend gently to a stile and gate and then go straight ahead in the next field. The stump of Ecclesden Windmill, minus its sails, can be seen in the distance. Soon the path curves to the right and hugs the field boundary, passing a track running off to the right. Maintain the same westerly direction and keep the field boundary on your right. Make for the field corner, turning left to follow the path between fences. The forlorn old windmill lies to your right now. Cross a stile and continue to a junction with a bridleway. Turn left here and follow the path between bushes and margins of vegetation. Eventually you reach a stile on the left. Disregard it and no more than 10 paces beyond the stile you arrive at a junction of bridleways.

3 Keep left here, avoiding the gated path on the extreme left and follow the chalky path up the slope between brambles and carpets of undergrowth. Very quickly you reach the exposed, lower slopes of Highdown Hill, following its contours in an easterly direction. Avoid the paths running up over the hill and where there are two parallel routes ahead, keep to the right-hand lower path.

4 When the path forks by a clump of trees, bear left and head up the slope towards the hillfort. Turn right, pass the Miller's Tomb on the left and retrace your steps back to the car park.

Rising 269ft (81m) above the Sussex coast, Highdown Hill is a popular recreational area, a superb playground for children and a vital green lung on Worthing and Littlehampton's doorstep. Here, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll, enhanced by a wonderful sense of space and distance.

During the early part of the Iron Age there was a hillfort on the hill, which consisted of an earthwork with a rampart and ditch. Subsequently the site was used as an Anglo-Saxon burial ground. It was discovered quite by accident in the late 19th century, when a local landowner was carrying out some tree planting inside the hillfort. In more recent years storms uprooted and destroyed a number of trees on the site, revealing much more of the burial ground, which is thought to date from about ad 450. In 1588 a beacon was lit here to warn of the approaching Spanish Armada and during World War II a radar station was built on the hill.

Highdown Hill's grassland includes a number of important wildlife habitats. Plants most closely associated with the old chalk grazing land include cowslip, kidney vetch, chalk milkwort and common spotted orchid. The carthusian snail, a rare mollusc, has been discovered here, and birds such as linnet, goldfinch and willow warbler are known to inhabit the area.

Where to eat and drink

Highdown Tea Rooms, open every day between March and October, offers rolls, sandwiches, salads, ploughmans, cakes and cream teas. Next door is Highdown Towers which includes two bars, a family restaurant and a carvery restaurant. Light snacks, jacket potatoes and more substantial main courses are available, as is a children's menu.

What to look for

The Miller's Tomb contains the remains of John Oliver, an eccentric 18th-century miller, who, allegedly, had the tomb constructed on Highdown Hill more than 20 years before his death. The reason? So that smuggler Oliver could store contraband safely and in the least likely place. He died in 1793.

While you're there

Visit Highdown's lovely chalk garden, which is open throughout the year and was established by Sir Frederick and Lady Stern, who worked for 50 years to prove that plants would grow on chalk. The garden was created out of a disused chalk pit at a time when horticulturalists were travelling to China and the Himalayan regions to collect rare and beautiful plants. Many of the original species from those early expeditions survive in the garden today. Following Sir Frederick's death in 1967, his widow left the garden to Worthing Borough Council.

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