1 - In the tiny village of Charlton, in the valley of the River Lavant, walk west along Charlton Road, from the bus stop or car parking, for 150 yards. When beside the last of the village houses, turn right on to North Lane.

The surfaced lane becomes a rougher bridleway track, climbing between banks that display flora of the changing seasons. In a quarter of a mile pass Ware Barn, continuing for one third of a mile to a left-bearing bend, beside which is a metal gate and a signpost.

Leave the track, going right of the gatepost (yellow arrow), climbing the steep bank through scrub and emerging on to a less steep hillside. Follow the faintly trodden path up the hill, with scrub and trees on the right.

After about 200 yards the path bears left through an opening. In a few yards, turn right up the fence line for 250 yards on North Down, to go left through a metal gate.

2 - Take a half-right line across the rising field towards woodland, passing a midway marker post (lying on the ground when this walk was surveyed), and continue to a stile a few yards left of the field corner.

Cross into Wood Lea, follow-ing the path that bears right. In about 200 yards, at a four-way path junction, take the left turn (yellow arrow) on a descending woodland path. The footpath crosses two forest tracks, ignore these turnings, and continue the descent, arriving beside a meadow on the left. Walk ahead down the path to arrive at a bridleway beneath two, centuries-old yew trees.

Keep direction (yellow arrow), crossing over the bridleway, climbing the opposite slope and joining a wider forest track in 150 yards. Keep to the track, north-westerly, for a little over half a mile in Charlton Forest, noting the tall, elegant beech trees in the managed woodland and ignoring any side turnings. The final rise in the undulating bridleway leads to a small, grassy plateau and junction of forest tracks, as many as eight are shown on the OS Explorer map.

3 - At this point on our walk there is history. In early October 1747, members of the Chichester Boys, a Sussex band of smugglers, and seven men from the notorious Hawkhurst Gang from Kent, met hereabouts at the Centre Tree in Charlton Forest. There had been trouble: a boat, in the service of the smugglers, laden with tea, brandy and rum had been intercepted by the customs authority en route from the Channel Islands. The haul was secured in the customs house at Poole. This was bad for business and the men, known as free traders being tax-free importers, decided to liberate their goods. The group rode off to Poole. What followed was a bloody sequence of events that resulted in violence and mayhem, with subsequent witness intimidation and murder. And it was initiated here in this tranquil setting.

4 - As happy hikers, our assignation with wicked men now done, take the half-right turning (yellow arrow) from the junction of tracks, content in the knowledge that those violent 18th-century days are long past and in our modern age we no longer have businessmen evading taxation.

Follow the wide, rising grassy track ahead, onward to the broad sunny uplands across the Downs. Cross over a forest working track in a quarter of a mile and keep direction for the same distance, passing through a chalk bund on to a wide crossing track – the South Downs Way (SDW).

A minor detour is possible, crossing the opposite stile and making for the trig point in 100 yards, from where there are fabulous views across the Weald towards Black Down.

5 - Return to the SDW and head west for one third of a mile to a four-way junction, on Heyshott Down, turning left, back into the forest, on a bridleway. In 200 yards cross over a footpath and continue the descent in Singleton Forest, bearing quarter-left in a quarter of a mile.

Keep to the main track for nearly three quarters of a mile, taking no side turnings, to arrive at Burntoak Gate. The path levels off, passing the end of a meadow, and then climbs the rising bridleway ahead.

On coming to a marker post in 100 yards, take the left path, climbing between fences for 400 yards to a junction of tracks, signposts and gates, with Broadham House in the valley on the right.

6 - From the prominent Charlton Hunt signpost, take the direction indicated to Singleton, passing through a gate, bearing left and taking a line keeping Lady Wood on the right. After passing a double cattle trough, down to the right, begin to bear left, away from the woodland, heading for a fence on the skyline.

Turn left along the fenceline, where the trees of Levin Down Clump come into view as you crest the hill, and descend to a gate. Singleton and Westdean are in the valley below.

In the next field, follow a sweeping turn to the right, heading for a four-way marker post, with a sloping downland bowl on the right. From the sign turn left across the shoulder of the hill, bearing slightly left, heading for double gates and passing onto the southern slopes of Levin Down, a reserve in the care of Sussex Wildlife Trust.

7 - The footpath traverses the chalk heath slope, passing between juniper bushes and seasonal displays of Sussex flora. Nodding cowslips herald springtime, while the round-headed rampion, the pride of Sussex, can be seen into the autumn.

The footpath, identifiable as a narrow chalky path, gradually descends the hillside, permitting the sight of butterflies and birds that flock to the reserve.

Finally, descend right to a bridle gate, following the mid-field path to the roadside, there turning left, back towards Charlton.

  • Distance/Time: Six and a quarter miles/three and a half hours
  • By Car: Turn east from the A286 road in Singleton, on to Charlton Road. The village is about one mile away. Roadside parking in Charlton village. Do not obstruct entrances. Start point grid ref: SU889130
  • By Public Transport: Compass Travel service 99 from Chichester to Charlton and return, check for service times. Buses and trains to Chichester. For travel details visit www.traveline.info or call 0871 2002233
  • What’s underfoot: Western downland walking on good paths, with some steep climbs and descents, stiles and gates. Possible with a baby backpack, but tough going. Not possible with an off-road baby buggy
  • Thirsty Work: The Fox Goes Free pub at Charlton, pub and cafe at Singleton
  • So you don’t get lost: OS Explorer map 120, plus a compass for general direction

Click here for a full-sized map of the Charlton circular walk