I checked the weather earlier in the week and Saturday was set to be yet another cold but bright day in the South Downs of Sussex. The perfect day for a hike.
The tricky part was planning where to walk, the Wild Brooks were still flooded. I’d recently walked to Chanctonbury Ring, had explored Amberley only a few days earlier. Hampshire and East Sussex were out of the question as I didn’t have use of the car.
I opened my South Downs OS Map and looked for a focal point; some point on the map to aim for. After a few minutes scanning the numerous walking-tributaries of the South Downs Way (SDW) I had conjured up a circular (sort of) walking route.
My destination of the day would be Harrow Hill and Blackpatch Hill.
Harrow Hill is an important archaeological site. Neolithic flint mines pepper the surface of the hill. Legend has it that Harrow Hill was the last place fairies lived in England. “Beckoning, beckoning, Left hand and right…”
Storrington to Kithurst Hill – Familiar Walking
I have a self-imposed minimum distance I like to walk, I aim to put at least 12 miles between start and finish points. No real reason, just I know how long that should take me and how good I’ll feel the next day. Exercise makes you smile, the South Downs make you feel alive.
I set off from the large village of Storrington, taking a familiar direct route to the Downs. Church Street leading onto Greyfriars Lane. Cheerful greetings came my way as I walked in the brilliant winter sunshine. Tentative signs of early spring bringing a smile to many people (perhaps premature).
Greyfriars Lane narrows and curves to the right before ending abruptly at a lovely house, marked as Coldharbour on the OS Map. It was there that a lady called out to me and asked if I knew where an adjacent footpath ran. A quick read of my map led to a friendly chat for many minutes about the beauty of the area. People are genuinely passionate about the South Downs.
The walk up Kithurst Hill from the marked paths just south of Coldharbour house are steep, slippery, deeply rutted and narrow in places. The path splits in two, one direction taking a longer slightly less arduous route. The shorter path is direct, steep and a quagmire of chalk. Walking poles come in handy.
You could cheat mother nature and drive to Kithurst Hill car park, 172 metres high and avoid the steep walk from Greyfriars Lane but where would the fun be in that.
As I left the wooded climb, heart pounding, I looked at the first of many views for the day. To my right the flooded Amberley Wild Brooks reflected deep blue, you can see them in the photo above, the natural flood plain making a lake (visible above the tree-tops).
War Weary WW2 Tank
I picked up the main South Downs Way a few hundred metres out of the woods and walked west towards Kithurst Hill car park (which is nearer to Springhead Hill). Overhead, graceful gliders from nearby Parham Airfield, soared high on the updrafts from the ridge. The views must have been stunning another 500 feet up.
The SDW wasn’t as busy as it can be, walking couples, cycling groups, sole hikers dotted infrequently along the east-west path. I was in fact only going to walk around 450 metres of the SDW today. I’ve mentioned it before but there is so much to explore away from the main SDW trail.
At Kithurst Hill car park I took a marked bridle path via a gate, south-east across a field. Keeping on the straight and narrow through the emerging crops. It is a few minutes walk down this path that the Kithurst Hill Tank can be found. A forgotten reminder of World War 2 and the fundamental change brought to the landscape of the Downs.
The desperate need to feed and defend hungry war-weary Britain, saw much of the chalk Downland turned over to intensive farming and military training. Neolithic earthworks, hill forts, flint mines buried under the modern plough. Tanks and troops scarred the landscape, fighting their dummy battles, a vista changed forever in that 20th century dark age.
I’ve walked here before, so will spare you from too many photos of the tank today. You can find more in the blog gallery and at the link in the paragraph above.
I took several photos at the Tank, an excuse for me to rest and take in the views. Far away in Canada are the relatives of the brave men that left it here. Nature now slowly embracing the violent intrusion. It serves as a poignant memory.
The Quiet Lands – Harrow Hill
Giving the Tank a nod goodbye I headed south towards Lee Farm. The South Downs landscape gentler here. Gone is the sharp rising ridge, replaced now by rolling hills, an agreeable land to farm. The views are rural, gone are the man-made towns of Pulborough, Storrington, even Worthing to the south. Hidden by the natural shallow bowl I was now walking in.
Picking my way via the marked paths through fields of crops, the bird scarers banged and popped loudly in all directions. Many of the adjacent fields had warnings signs, prohibiting access due to ground nesting birds, so please keep to the clearly signposted route.
As you approach Lee Farm, the western slope of Harrow Hill is clearly visible, blocking your view. I followed the signposts and my map and walked around the western flank of Harrow. Access to the summit is by arrangement. There are no public rights of way to the flint mines and Bronze Age enclosure.
Dogs barked as I walked alongside Lee Farm but their voices soon fading, within minutes I was back listening to the breeze and the sound of my own footsteps. I followed a bridlepath that curved around the base of Harrow Hill. The private road to Angmering Park & Estate following alongside.
Big Sky Sussex
Even though I was a long way south of the Downs ridge, the skies still offered 360 degree views. There was no weather to watch rolling in, nothing but miles of blue sky and natural land to walk across. It wasn’t all green rolling fields though, as the photo below shows. I was treated to a huge field of corn cobs, waiting for the warmth of summer to return.
I had walked as far south as my route would take me today, the southern flank of Harrow Hill. I started to walk north-eastwards, taking lots of photos along the way, as I often do! It was not far from the corn field that I was treated to a magnificent flying display by a Red Kite close overhead. Searching the land for prey, not in the least bit bothered by a lone walker.
Blackpatch Hill – Harrow Views
Even though walking access to Harrow Hill flint mines is restricted, I hoped that the views from the adjacent hill, Blackpatch Hill would make up for it….I wasn’t going to be wrong.
The path I was following (marked on OS Maps) was signposted well, though in places the direction of the signposts didn’t quite match the direction of the rights-of-way.
Walking under warm winter sun, sheltered from the blustery updrafts that the gliders of Parham seek further north, I didn’t have a care in the world. A cliché I know, but there can be nothing more rewarding at times than simply placing one foot in front of the other.
My mobile phone was on silent, my eyes and ears open to nature. No cars, no aeroplanes, no nothing and all this only a modest walk from the SDW.
I cut across ancient field systems, followed grassy paths, and fields of crops before I arrived at the modest summit of Blackpatch Hill.
South Downs Trig Point Bagging
Blackpatch Hill is 169 metres above sea level and as with many prominent hills in Great Britain, the summit is marked with a trig point (triangulation station – to use the correct term). A whole leisure pursuit thrives on walking, hiking, running, cycling to these trig points and “bagging” them – recording the fact you visited it!
My fascination with them is biased towards the views you often get. At the time of their construction, from 1935 onwards, you could always see two other trig points from the one you were standing by; this is how the surveying was done. Looking from one known location to another.
Trig points are also very useful for placing your camera on top, when you don’t have a tripod. The images above/below are zoomed in views of the Bronze Age flint mines on Harrow Hill.
Sussex legend tells of the fact that Harrow Hill was the last location fairies could be found in the whole of England but when the archaeologists arrived, the fairies did depart – once and for all.
Around 160 shafts, some over 6000 years old, now just small craters in the landscape, can be counted on Harrow Hill. The mined flint would be used for tools, axes and weapons.
Blackpatch Under The Blue Patch
I was reluctant to leave Blackpatch Hill, despite being a mere 169 metres high, the views are some of the best in the South Downs, I would argue. My next destination would be Chantry Hill, at the moment a curve on the horizon.
I need eyes in the back of my head, I really do. For every step that I took northwards, towards Chantry Hill, I wanted to look south and watch Blackpatch Hill as the afternoon light changed. To my left now, Harrow Hill watched over me. Do we really know everything in the world? Did the archaeologists of the 1920s and ’30s really drive away the fairies; the ancient voices, the midnight, moonlit dancing?
I felt on top of the world, even though I was looking up to most of the world I wanted to walk to. Fresh air, exercise, mental cleansing (is that a thing?) all came together at this location.
Lingering South Downs Views
The sun was low in the sky, not below the hill tops yet but the breeze was getting colder. My jacket was zipped higher now; the hours of the day changing the landscape once more.
I walked north, following horseshoe indents in the soft ground. Next stop was Chantry Hill but not before some parting photos of Blackpatch Hill. I told you it’s the kind of location that wants you to stay, very welcoming. Just stay and watch, stay and listen, can you hear us?
The walk from Blackpatch to Chantry Hill is a straight path (give or take the odd twist) and a long steady climb. Not steep like the Ridge, just slow and steady. Eventually the vehicles parked at Chantry Hill car park appeared as tiny roof lines between the flint and the sky.
Late afternoon now, so I only stopped briefly at Chantry Hill for a drink and to nod goodbye to what is a different part of the South Downs; it is quieter, encourages thought. Not too many distractions.
I didn’t take the westwards SDW trail from Chantry Hill car park, instead I walked north briefly along the tarmac of Chantry Lane (accessed from the A283 road between Sullington and Storrington) and then picked up a parallel path that runs westwards.
Gliders Soaring High – G-CJOX
The sky was changing hue as the sun headed towards the horizon, the air was cold and the breeze still strong over the ridge. Every few minutes I heard the swoosh as gliders from the Southdown Gliding Club soared over the ridge and turned above my head, catching the last of the updrafts and the afternoon light. Ridge soaring is a popular activity for local gliders and great to watch.
After a few minutes watching the aerial acrobatics I continued walking west, there was another trig point I wanted a photo of; no real reason as I have many photos from the location already, just an excuse to take in another view.
Kithurst Hill – The Final Summit
A few minutes walk from Chantry Hill car park, along the parallel path to the SDW, sees another trig point. Kithurst Hill trig point is 213 metres high but the views north from the trig point are obscured by tall trees. The views south are not obscured, great. Time for another photo, me thinks.
From Kithurst Hill trig point I chased the setting sun, I still had an hour or so of daylight on my side. Walking west along a path familiar to me, I walked to a point roughly halfway between Kithurst and Springhead Hill (with the car park closest to the tank). To my right was the footpath I had walked up hours earlier, the muddy ascent/descent from the Downs ridge back to Greyfriars Lane and Coldharbour house.
Greyfriars Lane to Monastery Lane
I decided that rather than walk back to Storrington village centre via the tarmac of Greyfriars Lane and Church Street, I would take a direct footpath that ran from Coldharbour house (at the very northern slope of the Ridge) to Monastery Lane, via Kithurst Farm.
A word of advice (after the event) from the unwise (that’s me) to the wise (that’s you) – unless it has been a long dry winter do not take this path unless you don’t care about your boots or skin!
The clue is marked on most maps (OS Maps, Google Maps), there is a spring source not far from the footpath, where it passes Kithurst Farm. I wasn’t really expecting half a mile of thick mud and ankle-deep puddles but that’s what I got.
Due to the narrow width of the path in places (towards the Storrington end) if your boots slipped one way, you fell into the spring stream (didn’t do that) but if you slipped the other way you ended up on a barbed wire fence (I did do that!) – take Greyfriars Lane back to the village centre, you know it makes sense really.
With my left hand still stinging from its brush with barbed wire, I reached Monastery Lane in Storrington, wearing my thick mud covered boots with pride. That had been a fantastic circular walk.
Route: Storrington to Harrow Hill, back via Chantry Hill
Distance: 12.02 miles (19.3 km) (including elevation change)
Map of Walking Route
The map shown is a rough guide to the route that I walked. Please make sure you always follow safe and legal paths, roads and walkways. The actual location of the red-route on the map is an approximation. Never walk in the sea or off a cliff, please just don’t, you’ll get wet and I’ll get worried!