Sunday Stroll: Everything you need to know about mystical Chanctonbury Ring

Chanctonbury Ring with distant walkers. Photo: Deirdre Huston

Chanctonbury Ring with distant walkers. Photo: Deirdre Huston - Credit: Deirdre Huston

According to local folklore, walking around it backwards six times will summon the Devil

Shelter on Wiston Bostal. Photo: Deirdre Huston

Shelter on Wiston Bostal. Photo: Deirdre Huston - Credit: Deirdre Huston

The route begins with a climb up Wiston Bostal. A ‘bostal’ is a Sussex word for a steep path up a hill, often on the northern escarpment of the Downs.

This well-trodden track ascends through dappled woods, inviting young (and old) to linger and play among the huge roots. But the fallen trees and gradients add an intensity and drama beyond prettiness.

Towards the top, the path becomes flinty, and a damp mist may shroud the trees. Emerge onto high open downland and a short stroll brings you to Chanctonbury Ring.

This evocative landmark was originally named for an Iron Age earthwork but has since become renowned for its circle of beech trees. Charles Goring of Wiston House planted this notable landmark in 1760, and an old Sussex weather lore saying warns that if “Old Mother Goring’s got her cap on, We shall have some wet.” 

Chanctonbury Ring in mist. Photo: Deirdre Huston

Chanctonbury Ring in mist. Photo: Deirdre Huston - Credit: Deirdre Huston

Local folklore has it that running around the ring backwards six times will summon the Devil. Trees never grew at its centre and, in 1908, they discovered a probable reason: this was the site of a small Roman temple.

Further excavations in the 1970s revealed the flint axe, arrowheads and scrapers of a Neolithic flint works and a small amount of Bronze Age pottery. Whatever element of its history and folklore captures your imagination, it is atmospheric and still attracts many visitors.

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1. Turn left out of the car park and walk along the lane. Continue straight ahead. Go through the metal gate and walk up Wiston Bostal track. At the signpost, walk left along the bridleway. Stay on this track as it climbs. 

2. Arrive at the top by a signpost and turn right along the South Downs Way (SDW). Walk up this gradually ascending wide flinty track. Go through a walkers’ gate beside a cattle grid and continue along the SDW. Walk past Chanctonbury Ring or stop to explore, picnic or soak up the atmosphere.

3. Just before the mound (tumuli), turn right on a not-obvious path towards a waymarked walkers’ gate. Go through and descend on the bridleway. Walk through another gate, taking care: this chalky path can be narrow and slippery. Near the bottom, in the woods, ignore a track (joining from the right) to continue to the left. 

4. At the bottom, turn right towards the signpost. Walk along the bridleway.

5. At the gates, junction, and marker post, walk right through a metal gate, and along a fenced path. You may need to climb over a fallen tree trunk if it’s still there. The path widens and becomes wooded. 

6. Emerge by Malthouse Cottage and return left to your car.


Jungle Tea Room: this cosy jungle-themed cafe has indoor and outdoor seating, and offers takeaway or eat-in

Frankland Arms, Washington: Harveys beer, traditional pub menu, garden, dog-friendly

Location: Washington, South Downs

Distance: 2.9 miles (4.7 km) - one and a half hours to walk plus stops.

Terrain: steep climb, descent can be slippery. Elm disease is prevalent in this area so caution advised on Wiston Bostal in high winds or rain.

Where to park: Chanctonbury Car Park, Chanctonbury Ring Road, Wiston Estate 


Map: O.S.Explorer OL10, Arundel and Pulborough

Navigation: straightforward

Dog-friendly: very

More information: for a longer eight-mile walk around Chanctonbury Ring, see my guidebook, Day Walks on the South Downs, which includes 20 circular routes in Sussex and Hampshire.

More...This coastal walk at Bosham is sure to blow away the cobwebs

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