Chanctonbury Ring Walk
by Robert Veitch
Inspired by a recent Sussex Living article on the benefits of walking, our former colleague, Lucy Sayers, ventured to Chanctonbury Ring with our resident rambler, Robert Veitch for a breath of fresh, downland air.
Turn left out of the car park at the southern end of Chanctonbury Ring Road, walking south for 100m before turning right for the bridleway. A metal 7-bar gate that needs navigating some 50m later is evidence this is the correct path. The wooded glades may be moist underfoot, but generally it’s pleasant. “A good ramble along the contours, through the downland microclimate” according to Lucy.
Just past an overgrown disused quarry on the left, is the rusty red corrugated structure of Owlscroft Barn on the right. Beyond the barn the path turns left and uphill, before turning right by two decaying tree trunks, after which it hugs the contour lines a little longer.
Bear left when the path splits in two, turning left again at the T-junction that follows.
From here it’s 400m to the summit. There’s no escaping the feeling this is the north face of the Eiger; your heart will be thumping, your lungs gasping, and your brow glowing. Ascending above the tree line the panorama north of the downs is to be commended, utterly glorious whatever the weather. We paused at the gate, the ‘rest and be thankful gate’ as Lucy called it, catching her breath, “that’s quite a climb, but well worth the effort.” From here it’s less than 100m to the top gate and summit.
The path skirts around Chanctonbury Ring, it’s history buried beneath arboreal shadows. In another era this was an Iron Age fort, subsequently inhabited by Romans. Trees were first planted in 1760 when Charles Goring (from Wiston) decided to beautify the hilltop. Most were blown down in the Great Storm of 1987, and they’ve since been replanted.
The route follows the South Downs Way, sweeping to the right and downhill, two lines of gravel in the grass. Beyond the cattle grid, the path widens and gradually arcs left.
At the four-way fingerpost, keep going, along the straight at path ahead, with the greenery of Lion’s Bank on the left. Walk between crops towards the horizon, and then beyond. Almost 1km over the horizon a trig point will appear in the eld on the right. Steyning should be visible to the east and Cissbury Ring to the south.
A five-way fingerpost is 250m beyond the trig point. At the Walter Longmead memorial turn right onto the Monarch’s Way and follow the cinder path between the fences. The Monarch’s Way is the estimated 615 mile escape route of Charles I after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The path rises over a brow and then heads downhill. Tarmac underfoot indicates this path once served another role, and a solitary cats eye confirms it.
The hollow at the bottom of the hill is known as No Man’s Land although we wondered whether it really belonged to Norman!
A chalky flint track leads up the other side of the hollow, but it’s easier on the feet trekking the grassy central reservation. The gradient eases off, after which it’s easy walking. Off to the left Cissbury Ring feels close enough to reach out and touch.
Several paths coalesce at a junction. Turn right, almost back on oneself, and begin the hike back to the car park.
The walk gains altitude, but only gradually. Veer right at the split and keep going, past a couple of pine trees and the woods at Stump Barn (the barn is no longer there).
Over the hilltop, the path drops down to the four-way fingerpost. Beyond that, the ground falls away as the path enters Chalkpit Wood, descending the steep scarp slope of the downs via Wiston Bostal. It might be a little slippery in places when damp.
There’s a wooden teepee about half way down, and a metal gate marks the bottom. Beyond this it’s just a short distance back to the car park.
Lucy beamed, “I feel I’ve been on a real adventure, that I’ve done something rewarding with my day and earned the right to put my feet up tonight. This makes me appreciate the landscape we have here in Sussex, and inspires me to go walking more often.”
Distance: 5½ miles
Walk Time: 2½ – 3 hours
Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer OL10
Refreshments: Take your own
Parking: There is free parking at the southern end of Chanctonbury Ring Road. The car park is closed from dusk to dawn.