I’ve long since wanted to visit the Long Man of Wilmington but, to be honest, on a recent visit, I was a little underwhelmed by him. The best advice is to view him from a distance – such as from the car park next to the Priory at the foot of the Downs. From this vantage point, the Long Man is enigmatic and mysterious. But walking up to his feet, you may find that he’s a little overshadowed (literally and figuratively) by the sheer majesty and magnetism of the views and the South Downs in this part of the world – especially at sunrise on a clear, crisp day. But perhaps that’s just me.
Who is the Long Man of Wilmington?
The Long Man of Wilmington is a 70 metre high chalk figure of a man holding two staves cut out from the turf on Windover Hill (part of the South Downs and not far from Polegate in East Sussex). He’s also described as one of the great mysteries of Sussex as nobody really knows who carved him out of the ground or why.
What they do know is that he is Europe’s largest portrayal of the human form. He dates back to at least 1710 when the surveyor John Rowley illustrated him. In 1766, William Burrell (of Knepp Castle fame) also made a drawing of him. As you might expect, local legend and stories abound: some theories have him downs as prehistoric, some say he is a representation of an actual giant killed on the same spot, and there is some evidence to suggest he was around in Roman times. Others maintain that he is the creation of a monk from the nearby Priory between the 11th and 15th centuries. Whilst some say he is an important symbol of fertility. To add to the sense of mystery, there are also stories that Windover Hill is haunted by black dogs.
The Long Man used to be much less visible than he is now (and only in certain light) until the Victorians marked him out more clearly. Now, he’s marked out with concrete blocks and is visible from some distance. He’s been owned by The Sussex Archaeological Society since 1925.
Walking the Long Man Way
There is an abundance of riches in this little corner of East Sussex which gives you all the more reason to visit. But let’s start with the walking! For this Long Man walk, you’ll need Ordnance Survey OL 25. Park at Wilmington Priory, just south of the village from where you can either pick up the Wealdway or the South Downs Way, or if you prefer, you could walk from Alfriston via the Wealdway. I chose the South Downs Way and walked from the car park, to the foot of the Long Man and then straight up to the top of the Downs and Windover Hill.
If you get no further than this, you will still be richly rewarded. You have 360° views of Sussex spread out like a carpet before you and at sunrise … it feels like you’re on top of the world. It is utterly breathtaking and if you’ve brought your flask, just sit here a moment and take it all in!
From here, you can carry on along the crest of the Downs via Jevington Holt to Jevington village – home to the famous smuggling gang, or you can turn off the South Downs Way and head south past a curvaceous dyke and on to Lullington Heath Nature Reserve. At some point, you’ll pick up the Cuckmere Pilgrim Path which is well signed but isn’t marked on the map. For the intrepid explorer, keep heading south from Lullington to Friston Forest and Cuckmere Haven. For the less intrepid, like me, at Lullington Nature Reserve, bare right and then double back to Litlington hamlet and then onto Alfriston.
Or just turn right when you get to the road and walk back to the car park. I chose this route which was about 6.5 km but you do have to walk back along the lane.
Other points of interest
The walk I did will take you less than two hours, so you might want to use your time wisely and explore some of the local sights. These include the Rathfinny Wine Estate, the Long Man Brewery, The Old Clergy House, the Filching Motor Museum and Charleston Manor. And if you’re heading home west via the A27, you absolutely have to stop at what must be one of the best farm shops in the south east: Middle Farm Shop. It will be on your right and is hard to miss.