Wolstonbury Hill is part of the South Downs and is just north of Pyecombe and just south of Hurstpierpoint and Hassocks. It’s wonderfully mysterious, with some incredible views, a lot of history, and a sense of mystique. There is road parking at Pyecombe (What3words:shallower.enthused.quite) and limited parking at the end of New Way Lane (What3words:mime.zeal.selection). It’s in Ordnance Survey Explorer 122.
This is either a nice 5 km walk, or you can do the extended 10 km route.
From Pyecombe to the top
The walk up from Pyecome Street via the Chantry campsite is a nice woodland track with tempting views through the trees to the South Downs across the way as you climb. Just over 1 km into your walk, you come to a gate and footpath signed to your right. There’s a National Trust “Wolstonbury” sign and you turn here. It’s roughly 2 km from where you parked to the top but once you’re through the gate, there are multiple different footpaths you can take. The lumps and bumps of Wolstonbury are straight ahead but I went right at about 45 degrees back on myself.
I followed this path towards the old rifle range until another footpath off to the left which takes you straight to the trig point at the top of the hill. The climb this way isn’t too brutally steep but before you turn right, just absorb the view for a moment. Off to the west, you can clearly see the pylons at Truleigh Hill, and Chanctonbury Ring in the distance. On a clear day, you can also see the Bignor ridge of the South Downs (the section between Arundel and Upwaltham).
To the east, the Jack and Jull windmills at Clayton are clearly visible as is the ridge of trees just above the Chattri Memorial. On a clear day, you can see Ditchling Beacon. To the north, you can see the North Downs and to the south, there is Brighton. There are 360 views and it’s already magical. But it gets better.
The history of Wolstonbury
Wolstonbury Hill is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Scheduled Monument. It’s owned by the National Trust. It is the site of what is known as a Ram’s Hill enclosure. These date from the Bronze Age (2000-700 BC) and are oval in shape, and surrounded by a bank and external ditch (with openings and pathways into the enclosure).
Ram’s Hill enclosures are rare and nationally important. It’s hard to get a feel for it when you’re up there but this aerial view give you a better idea:
The Ram’s Hill enclosure is not the only monument here and Wolstonbury also has a platform barrow, a cross dyke, and a bowl barrow, although, unless you’re an expert in these things, you won’t make them out. The enclosure was re-occupied and remodelled during the Iron Age and may have been used as a cemetery during the Anglo-Saxon period. Roman coins have been found here too but more of Romans anon.
Walk up to the trig point for the views, and then have a bimble about. In a straight line from the trig point, there is a footpath that takes you down and to the foot of Wolstonbury Vineyard. But standing at the top, it looks like an almost vertical drop with very little purchase for walkers and unsteady feet. So if you fancy that, walk west as I did, and you come across the striking remains of the old Victorian Quarry.
And the Wolstonbury Hill wildlife?
Wolstonbury Hill is the only place in Sussex where you may spot the nationally rare man orchid. You’ll also see lots of funny mounds which are apparently ant hills and the hill has the highest concentration of ant hills on the South Downs.
There is an alternative footpath back to the car if you fancy it, that takes you via Wellcombe Bottom to the north of Pyecombe (stop for a bite at The Plough) or just retrace your steps and you’ll have walked about 5 km.
An extended walk
if you fancy a longer meander, from the trig point and old quarry, there’s a footpath that leads around the side of the hill down to the vineyard and New Way Lane (if you don’t fancy the vertical drop). The straight lines of the vines are clearly visible from above.
The footpath is easy to follow into New Way Lane and you take the first footpath off to your left. This takes you past some llamas and Danny House.
Danny House (Hurstpierpoint)
Danny House has the wow factor. It’s a Grade I listed Elizabethan mansion that was built 1593–95 by George Goring. He was the son of Sir William Goring from Burton Park near Petworth. George also built Pelham House in Lewes. Danny House was apparently designed in the shape of the letter E to represent the Queen. There are extensive grounds where you’ll find The Danny Old One, an 800-year-old oak tree. I didn’t find it (but I wasn’t looking). The house is now split into apartments.
Randolph’s Roman ruins
The reason I walked this way was that I wanted to see if I could see anything of the Roman villa at Randolph’s Farm. From Danny House, you walk up to Bedlam Street (it’s just a lane) and then double back on yourself to Randolph’s Farm. Randolph’s is another Grade II listed 15th century building and there are remains of a “minor” Roman villa in the grounds. Don’t get excited because you can’t see them. But the fact that they’re here provides a little glimpse into Roman life. The Sussex Greensand Way Roman road passed through what is now Danny Park. Off to the west, you can just make out Bignor where there was a Roman palace. The villa at Randolph’s was probably owned by a “wealthy native” who was living a Romanised lifestyle.
From Randolph’s, it’s pretty much a straight footpath past Foxhole Cottages and back up Wolstonbury Hill to where you first saw the National Trust sign. It’s a steep climb but when you’ve caught your breath, retrace your steps back to the car.
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