The South Downs – the hills of the South Country
Poets have written many fine words about these gentle hills which stretch along a hundred miles of the southern coast of Britain. Artists have painted and sketched them; musicians composed lyrical works about them and countless authors have made them their home.
So what is so attactive about them …?
Well, Rudyard Kipling called them: ‘those blunt, bow-headed, whale back downs’ and that’s a pretty good start.
They are not sharp or threatening, but are quite benign. This is not somewhere you are going to get into trouble. Yet they stand large against the skyline and are solid, safe and rather feminine. When the evening sun begins to leave their northern face the shadows create a calming beauty unsurpassed anywhere in England.
And for the walker, a simple climb of a few hundred feet gets you to a viewpoint which rivals those from the tops of our mountain ranges. Sometimes you can see almost 40 miles in every direction. Just a little effort for such a huge reward.
Artist John Constable appreciated the beauty of the English countryside more than most and he described the panorama from high on the South Downs as “the grandest view in the world”.
The National Trail
Running the full length of the South Downs is one of our sixteen National Trails. As such it is well maintained and well marked. And, although there are a couple of alternative sections for walkers,the path is actually a bridleway for its whole length; this means there are no stiles,which is a huge plus for many whose agility is perhaps beginning to wane slightly.
The trail is officially graded as ‘easy’ in comparison to some of the other national routes such as the Pennine Way or Offa’s Dyke. But it presents its own challenges – in two distinct ways.
Firstly, much of the walk is on chalk and flint which forms an extremely hard and uneven surface. It will tear apart unsuitable or ill-fitting footwear resulting in that awful nightmare of blisters.
Secondly, it is very exposed. There are few trees on the ridge (hence the great views) and the south-westerly sea breezes and warm southern sun can be a slow-burning combination.
Being aware of these two pitfalls and taking the simple precautions of wearing worn-in boots, loose fitting clothing and a hat, should mean a truly enjoyable and relaxed walk. The iconic sights of grazing sheep, late-spring orchids and ‘chalk hill blue’ butterflies – coupled with the enormous sense of freedom brought by those 40 mile views – can give you some of the best walking days you’ve ever experienced.