Mount Caburn Walk
by Les Campbell and Robert Veitch
Spring into April with this invigorating journey through historical downland from Lewes to Glynde which Robert Veitch recently made with his friend Tim.
From Lewes station head towards the town, turning right into Landsdown Place, which becomes Friars Walk as the road arcs away to the left. At the bottom of the High Street turn right, into Cliffe High Street. Walk to the end, where St Thomas à Becket Church is located on the left. Across from the junction and slightly to the right, enter the narrow confines of Chapel Hill. The gradient (17% or 1 in 6 if using old money) will soon send a message to your calves as heartbeats begin to quicken. 150m uphill and cut into the hillside on the left, is a seat. ‘I will give you rest’ it says but if you do then it’s probably best to turn back.
Further on above the tree line, a glorious view of Lewes emerges to the right. The drone of vehicles on the A26 percolates the atmosphere, while trains rattle along the railway line. The River Ouse makes it’s sinuous way to Southease, and beyond that to Newhaven through the distant gap in the Downs.
Into the golf club car park follow the tarmac, as it turns left. Close to the end, step off to the right and through a gate into Southerham Nature Reserve. Follow the fence line on the left and keep going when the fence runs out. Aim for the marker post about 500m ahead. As the footpath forks at the marker, take the low path to the right, heading down towards Oxteddle Bottom. 100m beyond resides a lonely gate in need of a fence to guard. Beyond this gate the path continues to drop away and may be greasy after rainfall. A little further on are steps to another gate and entry into the dry valley of Oxteddle Bottom. Dry valleys form because chalk allows water to permeate and drain so quickly that surface waterways are not created.
Look left and aim for a marker post in the corner of the field, some 500m away, where grazing livestock may be gathered around drinking troughs. Beyond the post, pass through the wooden gate to the left of the metal five bar gate. It may be sticky underfoot here, but it will not last.
Walkers who know their sheep may be able to identify resident Southdowns. Glynde resident John Ellman developed the breed here in the eighteenth century.
Pass the dewpond on your left, walking straight ahead towards the fence. The path naturally curves left but remains flat. Enjoy the flat while it lasts. As the path straightens up, aim towards the stile on the left. It’s the easiest route to the summit. The sign by the stile announces Mount Caburn National Nature Reserve. Caburn Bottom, another dry valley is off to the right and part of the reserve.
Over the stile, there’s nothing to do but breathe deep and take it at your own pace. It’s almost half a mile, straight and uphill all the way. There’s no ski lift or escalator to assist, just shank’s pony, enthusiasm and the certainty of rosy cheeks. Mount Caburn will appear to the right, the peak rugged in comparison to the smoothness of the Downs. A stile in the fence marks the end of the climb. Remember the stile.
Over the stile, turn sharp right and follow the fence line. Through a wooden gate, next to a metal five bar gate enter the Mount Caburn National Nature Reserve once again. There are two ditches to pass through, the exposed chalk of the path leading the way. This can be slippery when wet. The ditches are over 2,000 years old and surrounded the settlement that existed here when the Romans arrived.
Beyond this the path disappears, but walk to the highest point (146m) and a bench will appear on the left. It’s time for a well-earned rest and to contemplate what should be a panoramic view of the Ouse valley and the South Downs from Firle Beacon to Castle Hill. When conditions are favourable, paragliders may be airborne, soaring amongst the heavens above. Alas, on our visit, the wind was blowing a hoolie and the cloud was so low we could barely see our feet.
Mount Caburn is of significant archaeological interest, excavated several times over the last 140 years. Finds include weapons, pottery, coins, animal bones and human bones. The horizontal lines in the surrounding slopes are ploughed strips from around the time of the Norman invasion. More recently, during WWII the area was fortified with Bren guns to repel German invaders. But for the actions of humanity, the view has remained constant for millennia.
Suitably rejuvenated, retrace your steps back to the last stile crossed, then turn sharp right. From here it’s downhill all the way, across the field then through a gap in the hedge and across a second field. Through another gap in the foliage, veer right and across a final field to the corner, through the last gate of the day and onto Ranscombe Lane.
Turn left, then at the end of Ranscombe Lane turn right. Walk through the pretty village of Glynde with its flint walled buildings. Beyond the slow flowing Glynde Reach, turn into the station car park where trains back to Lewes and beyond run on an hourly basis. Passing Mount Caburn and its majestic southern scarp slope along the way, enjoy the sense of contentment.
Distance: 3.5 miles
Map: Ordnance Survey Explorer Map No. OL11
Parking: Lewes (fees payable)
Refreshments: In Lewes, one pub in Glynde
Public Transport: Train services to and from Lewes and Glynde