There are many great walks in the South Downs National Park, but only a few reach “iconic” status!
Chanctonbury Ring is one of those. Inhabited since the Bronze Age, it has been an Iron Age fort that has also seen service as a Roman Temple. The Ring’s current fame stems from a crown of Beech trees planted in 1750. It is also said to be one of the most haunted places in England and, if you walk backwards seven times around it on a dark or moonless night without stopping, the Devil will appear and offer you a bowl of porridge and if you accept, grant you your dearest wish but the price is he will take your soul.
Now, I have never tried this, but I can say that whatever the weather, this walk is always worth it, offering superb panoramic views over Sussex and into Hampshire. There are many routes you can take, most will involve a steep climb to the top, but if you are less mobile, you can park on the road side verges on Titch Hill/Bostal Rd. It’s then a short, relatively flat walk to the Ring.
My walk starts in the Chanctonbury Ring car park, located at post code BN44 3DR. This will be a 7-mile circular walk, encompassing beautiful views and some interesting sites.
Turn left as you leave the car park and walk about 100 meters, immediately you have a choice, if you go straight forward, you can shorten the walk to ca 4 miles. The path in front of you, climbs the scarp slope and leads you to the South Downs Way National Footpath (SDW), however we want to turn left and walk through a farm yard.The area is being tidied up, but there are still some “odd” vehicles lying about, a tram for instance. I would love to know how that got there.
Continue on the track, to your left you get glimpses of Wiston House and Estate. The estate is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. The Goring family have owned the estate since the 1700s. It was Charles Goring who planted the ring of Beech trees at Chanctonbury Ring. Although the estate remains in the Goring family, the House has been leased out to various tenants, it was the HQ for the Canadian Army in WW2, the Foreign and Commonwealth office have leased the property for the past 65 years or so.
To your right you are looking up the scarp slope to the top of Lions Bank, we will be walking up there shortly. After around 2 miles you will come to a large display board telling you about the Steyning Downland Scheme (SDS). The Steyning Downland Scheme was launched in 2007 when the Goring family decided to set aside 67 hectares (165 acres) of the Wiston Estate in the South Downs National Park for the benefit of the community, the land and its wildlife. Turn right on the track and as you start to walk uphill, you can see examples of what the SDS are doing, with community orchards on your right. After half a mile or so, you pass into an open field and keep going forward and this will take you up to a disused rifle Range. The Steyning Rifle Range was first used in the late nineteenth century to train army volunteers. The last shots were fired in the mid 80’s and since then the whole area has been kept as a conservation area.
There are 8 target lifts still in place hidden behind a large mound as well as the fire control room. The SDS and local grammar school as well as the SDNP Rangers are trying to maintain the area and keep a sense of the history of the place. If you have time, you can have a look inside, it is still possible to find expended bullets in the earth mound behind the targets.
As you leave the Range, look to your left and follow the path up the steep hill. At the top of the hill there is a bench which the SDS has put some poetry in a tin. These “poetry sites” are dotted around the SDS, but if you have time and the weather is nice, here’s a good place to stop and have a rest and refreshment and take in the views across Steyning and the downs towards East Sussex. Suitably refreshed, walk through the gate and turn left, walking up the well-made track. As you climb, keep taking the right track. You will pass an area that has been set aside for mountain bikers, so you do not want to stray into this area!
At the top of the hill take the right path and follow it for half a mile or so until it meets the SDW. Turn right and follow the SDW to Chanctonbury Hill. You should now have spectacular views over the channel looking towards the Isle of Wight to the west. Normally there are Red kites flying about as well, to keep you company. You should also be able to see Cissbury Ring, which is one of the largest Middle Iron Age hill forts in Europe. The earthworks date back to 250BC.
To keep the chalk grass land healthy, the normal “grazers” are augmented with other animals not often associated with the South Downs, so you may come across Long Horned cattle and New Forest ponies. Keeping the chalk grassland trim creates a thriving habitat, home to species unique to the South Downs such as the round-headed rampion, orchids ranging from the burnt orchid and early spider orchid to autumn lady’s tresses, and butterflies including the Adonis blue and Chalkhill blue
As you approach Chanctonbury Hill, the views really open up to your left across the weald – you can see the North Downs, BlackDown and a host of villages
After passing Chanctonbury re-join the SDW and follow the path down towards the village of Washington. You will now descend steeply down a grassy slope through the woods. Look out for an unmarked path on the right as you go down the slope, just after a clearing. This path descends to a track, which leads you back to the car park. Enjoy the walk through the trees and after a mile or so you should be back on the road you started at.