First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The white rails of Plumpton Racecourse curved away, pointing southward like skeletal fingers towards the olive-coloured rampart of the South Downs. A brisk cold wind blew from those hills, with a hint of silver underbelly on the clouds beyond from the gleam of the invisible sea.
A long straight path led between pasture and crops, crossing rain-swollen brooks in tangled dells, drawing ever nearer to the downs. This is horse country. A white mare poked her nose over a fence to have it stroked by a couple of passing girls. Suddenly she took a sly nip, provoking shrieks and cascades of giggles.
Cheerful chatter and tempting cooking smells came wafting from the Half Moon Inn as I crossed the Ditchling road and started up the steep downland track called Plumpton Bostal – a name reminiscent of fictional correspondents to Private Eye. The rubbly old track curved and climbed to the ridgeway along the crest of the hills. Wonderful views opened out, northwards across the wooded Sussex Weald toward the loom of the far-off North Downs, south across deep chalk valleys to the snub-nosed Seven Sisters cliffs and the ice-blue sea.
A kestrel rode the wind, head down, eyes fixed, sideslipping along above the almost imperceptible hummocks of Bronze Age bowl barrows. Soon another old holloway, Warningore Bostal, left the ridge track and slalomed down the hillside. The steady push of the south wind, now blocked by the wall of downland at my back, vanished as though a fan had been clicked off. I skittered down the rain-glazed chalk that floored the bostal, and set out north across pasture and arable ground once more.
At Warningore Farm the farmer was digging silage out of the clamp for his cattle. I passed the shed where they stood patiently in an emanation of sweet breath and a gentle rustle of movement.
On across the fields where horses in heavy tarpaulin raincoats were cropping the grass. A pint of delicious dark Bluebell Best in the Jolly Sportsman at East Chiltington, and then the homeward stretch by the hamlet’s ancient flint church, beautiful in its simplicity, too obscure even to have a dedication to its name.
How hard is it? 7¾ miles starting at station, 6½ miles starting at Plumpton; moderate.
Start: Train – Plumpton Station (NB no parking)
Road: Half Moon PH, Ditchling Road, Plumpton BN7 3AF (364132). Please ask permission, and give pub your custom! In addition, parking for 6-7 cars in lane above car park.
Getting there: Bus: 166 (Lewes-Haywards Heath)
Road: Plumpton is on B2116
Walk (OS Explorer 122): From station, path south besides racecourse. At south end, right (362153); in 40m, left down lane. In 1¼ miles, pass Agricultural College; 150m past last buildings, left (360133, gates); half right over field into trees. At B2116, left past Half Moon PH (364132). (NB Directions starting from PH begin here). Cross B2116; Plumpton Bostal (‘Bridleway’), steeply up. At top (357126), left; in 1 mile, through gate (370125); left down holloway. In ½ mile at path crossing, left (376127, arrow post). Cross B2116 (374130); bridleway opposite. Keep right of Warningore Farm Cottages (376137); on (north) along bridleway. In ¾ mile, gate into green lane (381147); in 50m, left (fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA) across 2 fields to lane (378150). Left; cross road by postbox (375150, stile, YA). Fork right across field to lane (373152). Left past Jolly Sportsman. At church, right down stony bridleway (371151). Cross Plumpton Lane (364153); in 150m, at racecourse entrance, right (362153) to Plumpton station.
Lunch: Half Moon, Plumpton (01273-890253, thehalfmoonplumpton.co.uk)
Accommodation: Jolly Sportsman, East Chiltington BN7 3BA (01273-890400, thejollysportsman.com)
Walking the Bones of Britain – a 3 Billion Year Journey by Christopher Somerville is published by Doubleday.