The South Downs website provides loads of information about West Sussex walks and for this route download details of the 10 km circuit starting in Singleton. I’d also recommend taking an Ordnance Survey Explorer (OL8) map. I didn’t and I regretted it.
Singleton is just north of Chichester and there’s plenty of reasons to visit which include the nearby Weald and Download Museum, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation and its estate and the Levin Down Nature Reserve. It’s also a typically pretty Sussex village with flint stone houses with thatched roofs and a history that dates back to the Doomsday Book.
Hitting the slopes
The route starts with a steep ascent to the north of the village and by the time you’ve conquered that, you’ll be nicely warmed up! This is definitely one of the hardest parts of the walk so don’t let it put you off. Instead, when you get to the first gate, stop and look back at the magnificent slopes facing you on the other side of the village. Hard as it is to believe, that’s where your route finishes!
The map isn’t always easy to follow and beware at Broadham House as it’s easy to take a wrong turn. At the crossing point of the A286 just north of Cocking Hill, the footpath is completely overgrown on the opposite side of the road. But don’t worry, just walk a short distance up the road to your right to pick up a different path that brings you to the same spot by the dismantled railway.
I’d also suggest you pack light refreshments because you don’t pass anywhere you can buy something on the way. Not a pub in sight!
A forgotten land
From the moment you round the crest of Levin Down and see miles of forest stretching across the horizon, to the moment you discover the enchantingly overgrown old railway, there are numerous moments on this West Sussex walk that are nothing short of spellbinding.
One of the highlights has to be as you leave the A286 behind you and enter a series of breath-taking forests that lead you into the West Dean Estate. The wooded path starts with an archway of golden larch, leading to a beech tree forest and then, like a scene from Little Red Riding Hood or The Gruffalo, suddenly takes you into a shaded tunnel of fern and pine trees.
It’s silent, it’s stunning, it’s secluded, and I would rate it as one of the most beautiful places I’ve been all year. I still find it hard to believe that there’s such outstanding and unspoilt beauty right on our doorstep and it really does feel like a place that time has forgotten!
Heading for home
By the time you leave the forest behind you, your legs are ready for home and a long, meandering path takes you past a beautifully remote house and back up to Colworth Farm. You really feel like you’re in a scene from Tess of the d’Urbervilles by now.
Then as you finally start your descent down Hat Hill, you can see Singleton in the valley below you and spot the start of your route on what look like the distant hills the other side. It feels like a lifetime ago since you set out.
The South Downs route planner recommends you allow 3 ½ hrs for this walk but we did it in 2 ½ and that included an extra 2 km when we got lost. That said, we didn’t stop much, and we do walk quite fast but even so, the jam sandwiches we ate to keep us going tasted like manna from heaven.
As we tumbled down back into the village, we felt euphoric. It felt like we’d had a real adventure, deciphering the map, conquering the landscape and going where no man had been before (well OK, a few people maybe but we didn’t meet anyone). And all that, for free, and right on our doorstep. Better still, there’s a great little pub in the village perfect for restoring your strength before you head home for a hot bath.
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For more local walks, visit: Local West Sussex Walks