Standing by the restored windmill, the white sails and red terracotta tiles look glorious against the deep blue sky. Surrounding me, the 360-degree views are breath-taking. The rolling hills of Sussex, some covered in woodland, others blanketed in a layer of barley, spread out into the distance. To the south-west, beyond the spire of Chichester Cathedral and the glistening sea, the Isle of Wight is clearly visible. This is just one of the many stunning views that can be seen when walking in the South Downs National Park. However, if you’d like to discover the loveliest walking routes while learning about local history, folklore, and foraging, then join me on a guided walk with Sussex Walks.
I’ve been leading guided walks in the hillsides and villages of the south of England, for nearly two years now. It’s a wonderful way to keep fit, meet people and it gets me off this darn computer! It’s such a beautiful region, although having been born here in West Sussex. I might be a little biased.
My favourite walks in the South Downs National Park
I’ve lived in the area all my life and already knew a great many of the local footpaths. When I started planning these guided walks, I explored many more footpaths to find the most interesting and attractive routes. Having spoken to locals in the countryside pubs, emailed local historians, and read no end of books and articles online, I now offer three walks that I think are particularly special and unique.
While I already knew much about the area, some of the things that I discovered totally took me by surprise. I’ve walked along these lanes and up these hillsides countless times, unaware about of the many layers of history hidden along these ancient tracks. From our ancestors who lived here over 500,000 years ago to Iron Age forts and from Roman roads and villas to installations from World Wars I and II, I’ve discovered so many interesting facts about this part of Sussex, as well as local folk stories, traditions and dialect. I can now also recognise many different edible plants that line so many of our footpaths and country lanes.
Did you know that rhinoceros once roamed here? Neither did I. You’ll have to join one of my walks to find out how we know!
Local folklore tells how a giant called Bevis once roamed these hills? He was so tall that he could walk through the sea to the Isle of Wight without getting his hair wet. Today, his 6-foot long sword, Morglay, can be seen in the armoury of Arundel Castle and you can climb the tower in the castle named after him. He was probably a real man whose stature grew over the years, as did the tales of his great deeds until he became a giant of legend. My favourite local folktale though is about a water dragon that once swam along the rivers and streams here. Facts and myths intertwine and blur together through the centuries as tales are reimagined by each new storyteller. It is all part of Sussex’s rich history and heritage.
Tree Tunnel and Windmill Walk, South Downs National Park
4 miles | 2 and half hours | Easy to moderate | 10-minute drive from Chichester, West Sussex
My Tree Tunnel and Windmill Walk starts in a little village north of Chichester on the edge of the South Downs National Park and heads through the fields, around a vineyard and along an old drovers’ lane. On through fields sown with, rape, wheat or barley, the route leads into the National Park to an old windmill now beautifully restored. Along the way, you’ll learn about why this region of southern England is now famous for its wine and the history of the village as well as Sussex as a whole.
above: The route of the Roman road between Chichester and London
Long before the windmill stood on its lofty perch, the Romans built a road connecting Chichester with London that ran around the foot of the hill. Over the centuries, thousands of feet have trod this path. Cattle were led this way heading to market, and barley, wheat and flour were transported to and from the windmill. The once raised Roman road has been slowly worn away, dipping down lower and lower below the level of the surrounding fields to form a holloway. The ancient oak trees and coppiced hazel that line the path have grown over the top to form an enchanting tunnel that wouldn’t look out of place in a scene from The Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. It brings to mind many English folktales and as we walk through the fields and lanes, I share some of those most associated with the area.
Sussex Villages and Hedgerows Walk
2-mile circular walk | 1 and a half hours | Easy | 10 minutes’ drive from Chichester, West Sussex
My Sussex Villages and Hedgerow Walk starts and ends a the same historic pub as the walk above and they can be combined to make a fabulous day out, with a break for lunch in between the two walks.
This shorter route explores two villages, each over a thousand years old, and the ancient footpaths that link them. You’ll see thatched and flint cottages dating back to the 16th and 17th century and a stunning church that was built in 1117.
The two villages are linked by ancient footpaths. Sloes, hawthorns, rowan, chamomile, nettles and elder all grow along this route offering an introduction into foraging. You’ll also learn about the folklore associated with these plants and how they have been used dating back hundreds of years.
Quirky Arundel – Town and Countryside walk
4.2-mile circular walk | 2 and a half hours | Moderate | Arundel, West Sussex
This Quirky Arundel Walk starts in the town centre and leads uphill, through the winding streets as I point out the oldest and most interesting buildings, as well as my favourite independent shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants.
From the town, we walk up into the parkland of Arundel Castle, with views across the South Downs and an old folly. The route then heads down through a tree-filled valley, around a beautiful lake, before making its way back along the banks of the River Arun with views across the fields to the cathedral and castle. Along the way, I’ll share tales of the giant that once lived in the castle and the dragon that once swam in this very river as well as teaching you a little Sussex dialect!
One of the best things, however, about running these walks is the wonderful people who have joined me over the last two years – families, couples, and solo travellers from every corner of the world, including Australia, South Africa, Iran as well as Europe and across the UK. And of course, being outside, walking along little-used footpaths, it’s easy to social distance too! Dogs are very welcome.
How to book a guided walk in the South Downs
My guided walks in the South Downs costs from £13.60 per person depending on how many people you book for. You can also book for a private group. The walks last between two and two and a half hours. If you don’t see a date or time that suits you do get in touch and I will try and schedule one to fit your timetable.
Longer or shorter routes and full-day walks including a meal at a country pub can also be arranged. And, if you don’t see a date or time that suits you, please just let me know by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where to stay on a South Downs walking holiday?
There’s a fabulous range of Airbnbs in the area including this flint cottage in Halnaker itself, just a 2-minute stroll from the start of my Tree Tunnel and Windmill Walk. There are also some lovely hotels nearby, including Goodwood with its excellent restaurant, Farmer, Butcher, Chef and the historic, Amberley Castle. You could even book a break at the vineyard. It’s called Tinwood and they have three luxury wood cabins, each with a huge picture window and private terrace overlooking the vines. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset as it dips down behind the vineyard and the ruins of a Benedictine priory.
above: The luxury hotel, Amberley Castle, just minutes from the long-distance walking route, the South Downs Way, and a short drive from my guided walks
When to visit the South Downs?
Spring is a wonderful time to visit with bluebells, and the Early Purple Orchid flowering in the woods. In summer, the days are longer. The fields of barley start green and turn golden as the season progresses and some years there are wheat fields full of poppies. In autumn, the trees out on a beautiful fall foliage display. Even in winter, when many of the trees are bare of leaves, these walks are glorious, especially on a crisp sunny day.
below: Spring, summer and autumn in the South Downs
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