Taking a look at John Manley’s new book on archaeological walks in Sussex

Halnaker windmill, near Chichester

Halnaker windmill, near Chichester - Credit: Archant

There is much more than breathtaking countryside to enjoy on a walk through the South Downs National Park, as a new book exploring its rich archaeology reveals. Adam Trimingham dons his walking boots to take a look

Walk on the South Downs and the chances are you’ll be enjoying the fresh air while admiring the rolling landscape. But there is much more to discover, as John Manley, an honorary research fellow for the Sussex Archaeological Society, indicates in an informative new book.

He suggests a series of walks, none of them too taxing, for exploring the Downs. One starts at Stanmer Park in Brighton, where the Palladian house is the most obvious attraction. But when you approach it from Ditchling Road, Manley has already pointed out the historic lodge gates and nurseries that serve the city. For good measure he identifies the remains of a 13th century farm and shows us where a Saxon cemetery was established.

Crossing over the Brighton bypass to Hollingbury Park, Manley takes us to a busy golf course, pointing out burial mounds that go back to 1500 BC. By now we are adept at finding history beneath our feet, and that process continues right across the Downs.

Manley concentrates heavily on the western Downs in preference to the well-known sights near Eastbourne. He also throws in a town walk around Lewes. He likes the straight Roman road called Stane Street that is still a feature of the Downs north of Chichester.

On the way to Halnaker Hill, he shows us traces of prehistoric flint mines, as well as the celebrated windmill. There has been a mill on this site since at least 1540, and the present structure dates from the late 18th century. It was struck by lightning in 1995, but fortunately for all its admirers, it survived.

He reminds us there was plenty of industry on the Downs, some of it reasonably recent, such as the now-disused cement works at Upper Beeding. Dotted all over the Downs are reminders of the Second World War, including buildings used to provide searchlights guiding Allied aircraft back to RAF Tangmere.

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Here are Saxon churches such as the distinctive one at Sompting, and castles in towns like Lewes. The book guides us past Chanctonbury and Cissbury Rings to hidden attractions such as Saddlescombe Farm, near the Devil’s Dyke.

Some famous people are firmly associated with the Downs, such as Kipling and Belloc. Not so well known is the progressive school once run by philosopher Bertrand Russell near Harting. He had a study there and commented that he had never seen one with a better view.

Whether many people are going to walk on the Downs clasping this book is open to question, but it might inspire some to look more carefully around them as they saunter along that wonderful springy turf.

Manley knows his stuff and has provided good maps for each walk. There is also an abundance of evocative photographs, making this well worth a read.