First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
On a warm midday the half-moon shapes of paraglider sails – green, pink, yellow and rainbow – were wheeling in cloudy air off Mount Caburn. Looking south from the summit of the Iron Age ceremonial enclosure, we watched the paragliders swooping this way and that against a backdrop of the silvery sinuation of the River Ouse as it carved its way seaward through the chalk rampart of the South Downs.
The diminutive brick-and-flint estate cottages of Glynde lay neatly stretched below. A tufted path, jumping with grasshoppers, had led us up from the village, a straight course between fields of dusty ripe barley, the bearded seed heads hanging low. In a tin cattle trough a meadow pipit was bathing ecstatically, throwing up sparkling showers of water drops.
Wild flowers dotted the chalk grasslands of Mount Caburn – eyebright, tall yellow spikes of agrimony, red bartsia, and masses of wild marjoram where wall butterflies with dark spots and bars on their yellow wings were basking in the sun.
The 2,500-year-old ditch round the hilltop enclosure was spattered with blue flowers – scabious, harebells and viper’s bugloss – among which flitted blue butterflies. The same theme of chalk grassland flowers and butterflies continued all along the path that dropped down a slope of Access Land into a tangle of dry flat-bottomed valleys.
In Oxteddle Bottom faint foundations in the grass showed where winter sheds for plough oxen stood in medieval times. Bible Bottom’s enclosure was too well camouflaged under grass and wild vegetation to make out. We picnicked on a bank of marjoram, the bushy pink flowers exuding an oily pungency.
It was a scene straight out of an Eric Ravilious painting. Sheep were grazing these valleys as they have done for centuries. Although a Sussex shepherd of past times might have blinked at the sight of the farmer puttering up the slope of Bible Bottom on a quad, little else has changed here over the years.
Up on the nape of the downs we turned for home as views opened up to the north over the broad hedged lowlands of the Sussex Weald, a vista in total contrast to the billowing downs to the south. We threaded between Bronze Age burial mounds and old chalk quarries before turning off down the long path to Glynde, with the dimpled green wall of the South Downs beyond.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; downland footpaths
Start: Glynde railway station, Lewes, East Sussex BN8 6RU (SO ref TQ458087)
Getting there: Rail to Glynde; bus 125 (Lewes – Eastbourne)
Road: Glynde is signed off A27 Lewes-Eastbourne
Walk (OS Explorer OL25): From station, left; in 300m left (457090, Ranscombe Lane); in 40m, right (gate, yellow arrow/YA) on field path for ¾ mile to ridge. At gate in ridge fence (445093), left to The Caburn (444089). Return towards gate; 100m past outer ditch of hillfort, left (444091) on path down Caburn Bottom. At bottom, ahead (440097) along Oxteddle Bottom. At pond, right-hand gate (437099, permissive path); in 300m bear left; cross stile (437101). Follow fence on left; in 400m, chalk path (433101) up to gate (431101). Ahead (YA) to post (430100, YA); right. In ¾ mile at Southerham Farm notice, kissing gate (442105); past waymark post, then wood on left. In 200m pass dewpond; before stile, right along fence (447105). In 300m fork left (466103), up to stile; on with fence on right. In ½ mile, left at gate on right (445093); retrace steps to Glynde.
Lunch: Little Cottage Tea Rooms, Ranscombe Lane, Glynde BN8 6ST (01273-858215, littlecottagetearooms.co.uk)
Accommodation: Ram Inn, Firle BN8 6NS (01273-858222, raminn.co.uk)