West Sussex Walks: Ancient Black Down

“You came and looked and loved the view,

Long known and loved by me,

Green Sussex fading into blue

With one gray glimpse of sea.”

Green Sussex, Tennyson

Black Down Sussex

For lovers of remote beauty and high places, Black Down, just north of Lurgashall and south east of Haslemere is a must. It has various claims to fame including being the highest point in both the historic county of Sussex and the South Downs National Park, as well as being one of the highest points in the south east of England, exceeded only by Walbury Hill and Leith Hill.

Black Down Sussex

It was also home to and inspiration for Alfred Lord Tennyson and reminders of him are omnipresent. Sadly, in 1967, Iberia Airlines Flight 062 was flying from Malaga to Heathrow and crashed into the south slope here, killing all 37 on board.

Ancient wood and heathland

Black Down is a protected area (as part of the South Downs National Park) and is crossed by both the Sussex Border Path and the Serpent Trail. And for lovers of Ordnance Survey, you’ll need Explorer 133.

Black Down

There have been settlements here since the Mesolithic period over 6,000 years ago and the Black Down estates were under the ownership of the Yaldwyn family from the early 14th century for a further eight generations. Blackdown House was built by the family in 1640 and Oliver Cromwell was said to have stayed there at some point between 1644 and 1645. Tennyson’s house Aldworth to the east is French Gothic revival and over looks the Weald. This was his summer retreat and where he died in 1892. In 1944, the then owner of Black Down, W. E. Hunter, donated it to the National Trust in memory of his wife and you’ll find a memorial to them at the Temple of the Winds.

Temple of the Winds Black Down

Black Down is described as a mixture of hair grass, purple heather and pine trees and it was a grazed common until the early 20th century. These days you’re likely to see Belted Galloway cattle grazing and if you’re lucky, a host of other unusual wildlife that includes the Dartford Warbler, the Woodlark and the Nightjar as well as some spectacular butterflies.

Black Down cattle

Walking Black Down

There are various car parks at Black Down, but the two on Tennyson’s Lane are well-positioned for a walk. It’s a steep, narrow climb in the car but well worth it.

Temple of the Winds Black Down

From the car parks, there’s a circular route that takes you to the Temple of the Winds which has the most incredible views. On a clear day apparently, you can see the sea hence “Green Sussex fading into blue with one gray glimpse of sea”. It wasn’t a clear view when we visited but that did not detract from the wonder, far from it, it gave it a wild and forgotten feel.  To get there just follow the Serpent Trail south and when you’re ready, loop back for views across the heathland and finish your walk via an ancient track called pen-y-bos (from the ancient language of the Britons).  The walk is a leisurely 3.5km (approx.).

Black Down

A special place

As soon as you arrive at Black Down the air feels fresher, with the scent of pine and cleanliness. Black Down has all the wow factor of Chanctonbury Ring and the like, but it feels wilder, undiscovered and remote. It’s heavy with history and if you don’t want to stick to the main path, meander a little in the footsteps of a thousand years passed. Black Down is atmospheric, beautiful, and almost a little hypnotic, and certainly well worth a trip off the beaten track to explore.

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