3 Circular Walks at Chanctonbury Ring (West Sussex)

Along the course of the South Downs there are many iconic landmarks, and one of the most well-known in Sussex has to be Chanctonbury Ring. As part of the South Downs National Park, the surrounding area is also ripe with walking, running, cycling and riding opportunities.

Chanctonbury Ring

Just above the Wiston Estate in between Washington and Steyning is a distinctive clump of trees that can be seen for many miles. The circular mound these trees stand on is thought to date to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age and was also later occupied by the Romans.

Chanctonbury Ring

The trees were planted in about 1760 by Charles Goring from Wiston. He was 16 at the time and had to carry water up the Downs to nurture them (well either he did or perhaps his butler). Many of the trees were lost in the Great Storm of 1987 but have since been replanted. Nearby, there is also the Chanctonbury Dew Pond, a Site of Special Scientific Interest constructed in about 1870 and a popular spot for Instagrammers and photographers.  

Chanctonbury Ring

Legends about Chanctonbury Ring abound. One story goes that if you run around the clump of trees seven times anti-clockwise you can summon up the Devil, whilst other legends have it that the ring can increase fertility in women who sleep underneath the trees for one night. Whatever legends may or may not be true, it is a truly charismatic spot, with spellbinding views and an air of mystic and spiritualism about it, well worth a visit at sunrise, sunset, and any time in between. And don’t forget to look out for the rather gorgeous Highland cattle at the top.

Chanctonbury Ring

Cissbury Ring

Just to the south and near Findon, Cissbury Ring is equally compelling. Now owned by the National Trust (entry is still free), it’s the largest hill fort in Sussex and has signs of life from the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages period. Like Chanctonbury, there’s evidence of a Roman settlement here too and in Tudor times, it formed part of the beacons lit along the coast as a defensive warning.

Cissbury Ring

Cissbury is roughly oval in shape and after the steep, one-kilometre climb, you’re rewarded with amazing views as you walk around the perimeter. Again, it’s somewhere particularly worth a visit at sunrise or sunset. Both Chanctonbury and Cissbury are the sort of places that replenish the soul and to add to the magic, you can see one from the other.

Cissbury Ring

Three walks in the footsteps of our ancestors 

There are car parks at Washington (turn off the A24 at the A283) and just off the A283 (further along towards Steyning). 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, but it’s still very easy to get lost (in my experience) particularly if the weather suddenly turns.

Chanctonbury Ring

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.

Chanctonbury Ring

From here it’s a steady climb to Chanctonbury Ring and you eventually join the South Downs Way that leads you to the trees. 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 the 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.

Chanctonbury Ring

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 woods which feel 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.

Chanctonbury Ring

This is a shortish 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.

Chanctonbury Ring

Circular route 2

Distance: 5 km (or 7 km extension to Chantonbury Ring). Elevation: 359 m. Difficulty: Medium.

For this walk, 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. The footpath leads straight ahead from the lane but 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.

Chanctonbury Ring

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).

Chanctonbury Ring

When you’ve finished, retrace your steps back to the junction of the South Downs Way with a footbath and restricted byway.

Chanctonbury Ring

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 route, 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 and look out for the famous ponies.

Chanctonbury Ring

When you’re ready to leave, 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 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 the crossroads with the South Downs Way, you turn left and it takes you straight to the ring of trees.

Cissbury Ring

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, shifting clouds, you can understand why so many poets 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.

Chanctonbury Ring

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.

Cissbury Ring

For all these walks, I recommend off-peak because although they will always be popular footpaths, mid-week, you can often enjoy the Downs pretty much to yourself. That said, whenever you go, wherever you go, it’s breathtaking in every direction.

Cissbury Ring

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