6:00am Monday 15th August 2011
By Eddie Start
1 - From the western side of the A285 road, beside Littleton Farm, head north a few paces from the bus stop and immediately turn left onto the rising South Downs Way (SDW), between banks. Climb to a footpath junction coming from the right but do not take this. Pass through a bridle gate ahead, taking an obvious line going quarter-right (north-west) up Littleton Down, veering away from the fence line. The bridleway passes through a second gate and across the shoulder of the wide meadow, heading for the top-right corner of the field, beside woodland.
Pass through a corner gate and follow the wide track beneath the tree cover to arrive beside a prominent signpost and path junction. At this point your summit ambitions can be reviewed.
2 - If you have the desire to be on top of the world, in terms of the Sussex Downs, turn left from the sign. Follow the tree-enclosed bridleway for 100 yards and then take a left turn into the woodland of Crown Tegleaze. In a few yards the little-used bridleway turns half-right on the track and, by several minor twists and turns and a bit of navigational initiative in this delightfully mixed downland wood, arrives at the edge of a meadow. The hill slopes away to the south-east across to North Down and at this moment you are the highest person on the South Downs in Sussex, at 830ft. Brook no assertion that some other local hill is higher because it juts assertively into the skyline – where you stand is the top hill, above all others; the summit to aspire to for all summit-seekers, the Everest of downland peaks in Sussex. Take your summit photograph and a deep breath of the clear downland air. Absorb the tranquil ambience and return, victorious, to advanced base camp beside the prominent signpost.
3 - From the sign, head west along the SDW. The bridleway now follows a wide sweeping leftward turn for about a mile, with a thin strip of trees on the left and narrow hilltop meadow on the right. The hanging woods, referred to earlier in our SDW trek, are now most prominent off to the right, across the meadow, as they dip steeply down to Graffham and Heyshott, below the scarp slope. Off to the left, in the woodland and south-facing meadows, is Tegleaze Farm and many place-name references to tegs among the trees and fields. While teg is an old rural term used generally to mean a sheep, it was more precisely used to describe a two-year-old ewe. Sheep farming has long been a staple of downland agriculture and the ruminating still goes on. In a mile the SDW arrives beside the prominent Lavington Post, among scrub and tree cover, on Graffham Down.
4 - With a number of possible destinations identified, continue to head west on the main track; a parallel byway is off to the right. The tree-enclosed bridleway offers a sheltered corridor for a mile and then comes to a narrow clearing at the beginning of Heyshott Down. This location is a protected site. There are a number of Bronze Age burial barrows and adjacent cross dykes to the side of the bridleway as we walk through the clearing. After a quarter of a mile the bridleway takes a sudden left turn and, in a few yards, turns right to resume the westerly direction. Keep to the main track, with sheltering tree cover on the left, to pass by a trig point, off to the right, marking the top of Heyshott Down at 765ft.
There are many crossing bridleways and footpaths along the SDW, all testifying to busy byways that have taken people, across millennia, on their business and workaday lives. Early downland communities would have herded their animals out onto the Weald to fatten them on autumn nuts and mast. Later the tracks became major routes for locals to travel between villages, all crossing over what we know as the SDW, which was, and had been for centuries, a main east-west droving and trading route across the better-drained high country.
5 - Take none of the side turnings but maintain direction along the wide bridleway to finally clear the woodland of Charlton Forest and begin the descent of Manorfarm Down. Away to the left is a large, local sawmill and tucked away to the right, out of view, an extensive chalk quarry, both indicators of local extractive industries that have been important to the local economy and livelihoods over many generations. The wide chalk track descends, passing left of a reservoir, towards Hillbarn Farm. The way ahead leads to the roadside, in 300 yards, and the end of this section of the SDW. The bus stop is adjacent and on the west side of the road is a car park.
6 - However, should the need for some refreshment be a priority, turn right between the farm buildings and cottages and follow the byway that descends beside an area known as The Butts, possibly the site for compulsory archery practice during the 12th century. With other diggings and woodland and the site of local lime kilns, processing chalk from the quarry, the track passes by a stream and after half a mile comes to a minor road, close to the church at Cocking village. Until recent times the church had no saintly dedication but is now under the watchful spiritual gaze of St Catherine of Sienna. Turn left for 150 yards to arrive at the village shop and post office beside the main A286 road. Turn left along the road towards The Moonlight Tearooms and bus stop, all of which are a short distance away.
* Distance/Time: Six and a half miles, taking three and a quarter hours, including walk to Cocking village.
* By Car: Roadside parking for drop-off at Littleton Farm on A285. Car park half a mile south of Cocking village for pick-up on A286. Start point GR SU951145, from the bus stop.
* By Public Transport: Travel details from www.traveline.info, phone 0871 200 2233. For drop-off at Littleton Farm take the no 99 Compass Travel bus, Chichester to Petworth service, no Sunday service. Phone for times 01903 264776 or to book for large groups. At Cocking take the no 60 Midhurst to Chichester Stagecoach bus, all week service, phone 0845 121 0190 or visit www.stagecoachbus.com for times.
* What’s underfoot: Downland walking, with a steeper climb from Littleton Farm to the hilltop and then mainly level bridleway to the descent at Manorfarm Down. Possible with a baby backpack and a baby buggy, but a bit of a puff at the start – be prepared for a bumpy ride in places.
* Thirsty Work: The Moonlight Tearooms at Cocking village. B&B available, phone 01730 813336 for details.
* So you don’t get lost: OS Explorer maps 120 and 121, plus a compass for direction.
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