IT IS easy to forget just how blessed we are to have such wonderful landscapes on our doorstop. While the urban delights of Brighton, Eastbourne, Chichester et al. are undeniable, a short trip to the South Downs never fails to provide welcome reinvigoration. January has the potential to get the most optimistic person down, so do yourself a favour: relax, switch off from the stresses of daily life and head to the hills for a deserved country daytrip. Here are a few suggestions.

Sheffield Park and Garden

Uckfield, garden open 10am to 4pm, park dawn to dusk, 01825 790231

This circular trail takes in the park, woodland, open countryside and “Skyglade”, an oak monument that the National Trust describe as “a place for pausing and taking in views of the big open sky”. Placed at compass points, the 12-ft wood panels create a viewing circle used for stargazing events and cloud spotting. There are some 250 acres of parkland to explore, with frequent resting spots offering views onto Fletching village. While hiking, you might hear the sound of steam trains coming down the Bluebell Railway. Running across the bottom of the estate is the River Ouse. With the landscape largely unchanged throughout the last 100 years, Sheffield Park is a perfect facilitator of serenity and quiet contemplation. The lakes and sculptures in the 120-acre garden are also well worth a visit.

Woolbeding Countryside

Midhurst, dawn to dusk,

Hidden away in the tranquil Rother Valley in West Sussex, this lowland heath is host to rare birds such as woodlarks and nightjars. The landscape offers a pleasing balance of wide open horizons and intimate closings, making for an accommodating habitat for wildlife in general. Reptiles thrive at Woolbeding as well as other insects such as long-horned beetles. For those who aren’t so keen on obscure creatures there is plenty more on offer, from the historic stone-faced walls that mark the border between common and agricultural land to the babbling River Rother, with its steep-sided banks. The north section boasts wild and open greensand hills, whereas the south side features panoramic views of the valley below. A very tempting proposition for ramble enthusiasts.

Slindon Estate

Arundel, dawn to dusk, 01243 814730

The common trail around this mix of downland, farmland and woodland has been called the “beermat walk” because it begins and ends at the George Inn nestled in the village of Eartham. A gentle slope up to Nore Hill Holly leads to a well-placed bench with views over the landscape below and across the coastal plain. On a particularly clear day the Isle of Wight and the spire of Chichester Cathedral will be visible. There are 25 miles of public footpaths on the estate, so plenty to see along the way.

Ditchling Beacon

Dawn to dusk, 01273 292929

Seasoned hikers will need no introduction to the highest point in East Sussex. The site of an early Iron Age contour hill fort, it commands a grand view of the Weald to the north. Offering 360 degree views from its summit, the site is visible for miles around. During the war years, a beacon would have been ready to be lit in the event of an imminent invasion. Looking out both to the sea, the Sussex Weald and the South Downs, this natural wonder is a stunning example of chalk downland. Walking to the summit, visitors will pass disused chalk pits. The site is not too far from Devil’s Dyke and Saddlescombe Farm, so hardcore walkers can incorporate numerous rambles into one day.

Standen House and Garden

East Grinstead, house open 11am to 3.30pm on weekends, garden open 10am to 4pm, 01342 323029

The 12-acre hillside garden possesses an award-winning plant collection and on the estate footpaths lead out into woodland, Ashdown Forest and the wider High Weald area. The house, designed by Philip Webb, is a sterling example of arts and craft workmanship. It is designed in 1920s style, and owners James and Margaret Beale provide a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Petworth House and Garden

Petworth, house open 11am – 2pm, grounds open 10am – 3.30pm, 01798 342207

The main house is currently host to a landmark exhibition of J M W Turner’s work, as previewed in The Guide last week, but that isn’t the only reason to take a trip to Petworth this winter. The servants’ quarters offer a glimpse of life behind the veil of good living, and visitors can easily picture the hustle and bustle of daily working life in the kitchens and utility rooms. Although the landscape looks perfectly natural, it was actually transformed in the 1750s and 1760s by Lancelot “Capability” Brown – but a stroll around the grounds still allows visitors to feel at one with the landscape.


Handcross, 10am to 4pm, 01444 405250

One of the National Trust’s “premier” gardens, Nymans was once a retreat for the artistic Messel family and boasts views across the Sussex Weald. It is packed full of intriguing nooks and crannies, including hidden stone archways and tree-lined avenues. Walkers can also enjoy swathes of lush green countryside. From Monday, January 16 to Wednesday, May 31, there is a special “alphabet trail” across 26 sites in the garden, taking visitors on a journey around the grounds.

Contemporary artist John Newling is behind the trail, which entails an exploration of various plant species and the origins of each letter of the alphabet. Nymans often hosts unorthodox displays of plant designs. Lisa Davies, project manager for the commission, said: “We wanted to work with an artist who could reflect on Nymans’ creative history and bring a strong visual presence to the garden for our visitors to enjoy.”

Devil's Dyke

Near Brighton, 03448 001895

Just five miles north of Brighton, Devil’s Dyke is a much-loved spot for ramblers, dog walkers and runners. The Dyke valley is the longest, deepest and widest “dry valley” in the UK. The legend goes that the devil dug this chasm to drown the parishioners of the Sussex Weald, which is fully visible from a viewpoint near the Dyke. If you want to talk actual facts, scientists believe the V-shaped valley was formed naturally 10,000 years ago in the last ice age.

Ramparts or walls of an Iron Age hill fort can be seen along the trail and a bizarre Victorian funfair can be found just a few minutes from the car park. In some ways the winter months see the Dyke at its most magical – when the mist can roll over the valley. This makes for a stunning spectacle but mind your step if you’re walking through the cloud – you might bump into a grazing cow. The Royal Oak pub in Poynings offers the chance for a welcome rest and drink – just make sure you leave yourself enough time to get back to the car park before night sets in.


Near Lewes, 01323423923

Occupying 623 acres along the ridge of the South Downs, this hilltop area offers idyllic views over the Sussex Weald and the coast. Blackcap is known locally as Bracky Bottom because of the bracken growing in the coombe, and an evening walk will reveal the scent of honeysuckle and white admiral butterflies. Along the way there are plenty of points of interest: burial mounds, battlegrounds and ancient trackways to name a few. It is thought that Simon de Montfort marched his army along Blackcap in 1264 to fight King Henry III’s troops in the Battle of Lewes.

Saddlescombe Farm

Near Brighton, dawn to dusk, 01273 857712

Documented in the Domesday Book, this unique example of a downland farm has over 1,000 years of history. It was even once owned by the Knights Templar.

For more information on Sussex walks, and routes, visit: lists/gardens-and-parks-in-sussex