Along the course of the South Downs, there are many iconic landmarks, and one of the most well-known in West Sussex has to be Chanctonbury Ring. As part of the South Downs National Park, the surrounding area is ripe with walking and cycling opportunities and so here are three of our favourite walks to help you discover this part of Sussex
Three walks at Chanctonbury Ring that follow in the footsteps of our ancestors
There are car parks at Washington (turn off the A24 at the A283) and then a little further along the A283. There is also a car park just south of Findon (signed from the A24) and one you can access from Findon village. It really doesn’t matter where you start from but I would recommend taking Ordnance Survey OL 10. There are dozens of different walks you can do in this part of the world and the South Downs Ways runs right past Chanctonbury. That said, in my experience, it’s still easy to get lost, particularly if the weather suddenly turns.
Circular Route 1
Distance: 4.5 km. Elevation: 201 m. Difficulty: Medium.
Come off the A24 at Washington and turn towards Steyning. Almost immediately there is a turn to the right which you follow until it almost takes you back onto the A24. Here’s the car park.
From here it’s a steady climb until eventually, you join the South Downs Way that leads you to the trees at Chanctonbury Ring. As you slowly climb, Sussex reveals itself in all its mesmerizing beauty. The world sounds different up here with a special kind of silence. You’ll pass a dew pond on your left but you may not notice it if you’re not looking as it’s not immediately obvious from the path.
When you’re replete on the views (and it’s worth a long linger for these), circle the trees and just before you’re back where you’re started, you’ll see a footpath off to the right through a gate and down a steep, narrow path into trees. At the bottom, you come to some lovely secluded wood that feels so very different and protected from the lofty heights above. As you reach the bottom of the descent with fields ahead of you, you bear to the left and climb up through the woods, across an open field, eventually rejoining the path back to the car park.
This is a short walk but with a meaty climb, and very special views. At sunset, you might just want to retrace your steps rather than find your way in the woods and the views as you descend towards the setting sun are magical.
Circular route 2
Distance: 5 km (or 7 km extension to Chantonbury Ring). Elevation: 359 m. Difficulty: Medium.
Use the car park off the A283 in between Washington and Wiston. It’s signed and up a wiggly, narrow lane. This seems to be the most popular route for accessing Chanctonbury Ring. The footpath leads straight ahead from the lane at first but then you turn left (where it’s signed) and follow the footpath through a farmyard and along the foot of the South Downs. You get a good view of the back of Wiston House (which is 16th-century and Grade I listed) and pass under this quirky bridge.
After this, it can get a little muddy as you make your way along Mouse Lane. About 1.5 km from the car park, you turn right and start heading up the Downs through the most amazing woods. Again it’s a steady climb but well worth it as you emerge on the South Downs Way and the ridge along the top of the South Downs. Here you want to turn right. If you want to visit Chanctonbury Ring, you must deviate a little off the circular route (just keep following the signed South Downs Way and you’ll see the ring of trees before you).
When you’ve finished, retrace your steps back to the junction of the South Downs Way with a footbath and restricted byway.
Take the footpath back down into the woods and to the car park. It’s steep but there are some fascinating trees on the way down.
Circular route 3
Distance: 14.5 km. Elevation: 359 m. Difficulty: hard.
For this Chanctonbury Ring walk, park just south of Findon off the A24. In case you’re worn out on your return, start by exploring Cissbury Ring. You can walk right around the perimeter or across the middle. It’s a one-kilometre climb from th car park and look out for the famous ponies.
When you’re ready, you want to walk to the northern most point of the ring. Beneath you, you can see a car park and ahead, you can see Chanctonbury Ring in the distance. It’s pretty much a straight line to Chanctonbury Ring and you can see it as a waymarker most of the way (unless a sea mist descends like on my last visit). When you come to a crossroads with the South Downs Way, you turn left and it takes you straight to the ring of trees.
To continue your walk, retrace your steps to the crossroads and follow the South Downs Way (straight ahead / towards Steyning). This is a really magical part of the South Downs and on a bright day, with light and shifting clouds, you can understand why so many poets and artists have been inspired by this rolling, emerald landscape. As you come to a small crossroads you turn right. You’re almost at Steyning Borstal at this point but it’s time to leave the South Downs Way and pick up the Monarch’s Way back to Cissbury which you should be able to see ahead of you. You should also be able to see the small Langmead Memorial in memory of two local farmers.
For the very intrepid, you can keep going here (and I have) but it’s a much longer route and perhaps a story for another day! When you get back to Cissbury, you don’t have to climb back up and can skirt around the edge of the mound and back to the car park.
For all these walks at Chanctonbury Ring, I recommend off-peak because although they will always be popular footpaths, mid-week, you can often enjoy the Downs pretty much to yourself. But whenever you go, wherever you go, it’s breathtaking in every direction.
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