I’m a fan of Daniel Start’s work. He’s written some lovely books about finding great spots to swim, and he kindly gave a great talk at the recent Night of Adventure. Here he shares a microadventure idea from his new book.
Despite the proximity of Brighton and other coastal towns, the great, green, rolling downs and hillforts of Mid Sussex, alive with salty air and wild swimming, exude a sense of ancient mystery and are perfect for discreet wild camping.
New from the publishers of Wild Swimming comes a new Wild Guide – full of wild camping, wild swimming and exploring lost ruins – all close to home. To win one of three competition copies, head here.
A profusion of ancient sites and hillforts crown the countryside, overhung with legend and providing sublime spots to escape from the everyday world. Chactonbury Ring is a great choice (as long as you avoid summoning the devil by running backwards round the site in circles), as well as the lesser-known Wolstonbury Hill. Head up the hills as the day draws to a close to bivvy out under the stars. From ancient forts to ancient trees – head into The Mens woodland in search of the centuries-old Idehurst Oak, whose huge fallen branch provides a habitat for insects and newly-grown plants.
Three cool rivers run north to south, like prongs of a fork, offering swimming and kayaking galore. You can canoe on the Adur, but to the west the Arun provides the better swimming, both near Arundel Castle and on the meadows of Waltham Brooks at Greatham. To the east, the Ouse was made famous by the Bloomsbury Group, near Virginia Woolf’s house at Rodmell. Upstream on the Ouse, the open fields of Barcombe Mills are a perfect place for cricket, leapfrog and other riverside games. The Ouse here is deep, with pretty grassy banks, ideal for cooling down after cartwheels or diving in for a long swim among the rushes. The well-known Anchor Inn is nearby, just a mile upstream, at the bottom of a dead-end lane. You can hire one of its fleet of blue rowing boats or swim for over two miles through remote countryside, the spire of Isfield church the only building in sight for the entire journey.
Much of the coastline is dominated by towns and cities, but head west towards Littlehampton for more rural beaches. Climping is at the end of a lane with only a pub and a mobile café in the tiny car park for sustenance. Here, a dedicated group of sea-swimmers gather every morning to dive from the groynes, swim the length of the beach and then huddle together in front of steaming mugs of tea. The fields and woodlands around here are alive with birdsong, while the dunes stretching toward Littlehampton offer a small oasis to those seeking solitude.
Our Perfect Weekend:
Wake up wild at Castle Rings, the wilder alternative to the popular Devil’s Dyke.
Canoe or swim with the tide from Arundel to Greatham Bridge
Climb to the top of Cissbury Ring hillfort and gaze out towards the sle of Wight.
Taste seasonal food at the Half Moon in Plumpton
Explore Mount Caburn’s orchid-rich grassland.
Row your boat upstream from the Anchor Inn to Isfield, swimming and picnicking along the way.
Play in the dunes at Littlehampton, just ten minutes from the train station.
Refuel at the Hiker’s Rest on the South Downs Way with organic cakes and tea.
Marvel at the spectacle of the murmurations over Brighton Pier.
Pitch your tent in The Secret Campsite meadows and forage for your supper.
Littlehampton West Beach
Wonderful dunes, just a stone’s throw from the station – nature reserve and naturists here. Gently shelving beach for children. Turn R out of the station then take the first L over the footbridge, by the Arun View Inn (BN17 5DD, 01903 722335). Then bear L down to beach. 15 mins, 50.7992, -0.5451 tqo
Atherington Beach, Climbing
A quiet rural shingle and sand beach. There’s a van selling teas, and a sea swimming club meets here regularly. Between Bognor and Littlehampton (A259), turn L by farm shop into dead-end Climping Street, signed Climping Beach. Pass palm-decked Black Horse Inn (BN17 5RL, 01903 715175) to car park at beach. Walk E up to a mile for rural dunes and sand (West Beach). 1 min, 50.7978, -0.5721 zb
River Swims & Kayaking
Barcombe Mills, River Ouse
Popular stretch of grassy river bank and meadows. Steep banks and deep water. 2 miles N of Lewes, turn L signposted Barcombe off A26. Find car park on R after a mile, after road to BN8 5BY, and head upstream past sluices to meadow.
5 mins, 50.9151, 0.0411 q1 A
Anchor Inn, River Ouse
Remote riverside pub. Bucolic swimming and boating for two miles upstream to Isfield. Hire boats from the Anchor and paddle by grassy meadows for the afternoon. Leave Barcombe Cross dir Spithurst, after ½ mile turn R down single-track dead-end Anchor Lane to find pub at end past BN8 5EA (01273 400414). Or walk upstream 1 mile from Barcombe Mills (above). 5 mins, 50.9264, 0.0513 2a1
Park in Isfield and enjoy a short walk to the river, then follow the footpath downstream until you find a suitable place to get in. Go down Station Rd at the Lavender Line, past the Laughing Fish pub, to find the bridleway track on the L after 500m. Follow it to the river ½ mile (TN22 5XJ) and head up or downstream. Anchor Inn (see entry) is about 1 mile downstream. 10 mins, 50.9366, 0.0550 1
Kneppmill Pond, Dial Post
Hilltop ruin and one of the largest stretches of water in Sussex, believed to have been created in the 16th century to power a furnace mill. Leave Dial Post village N on Swallows Lane. After ¾ mile go on foot through signed wooden gate and follow bridleway across field, over River Adur, and slightly right to meet up with Castle Lane bridleway. Ruins of Knepp Castle are on hill to R (RH13 8LH). Follow Castle Lane L ¼ mile to S edge of lake. Be discreet. 5 mins, 50.9783, -0.3542 U
Bury, River Arun
A tiny dead end hamlet with lovely grassy riverbanks downstream. Some people like to swim with the current up or downstream depending on the tide. 4 miles N of Arundel on A29, turn R at Squire & Horse (RH20 1NS) down into Bury and then Houghton dead-end hamlet (limited parking). Take footpath downstream 300m. Or explore upstream from Amberley riverside park (BN18 9GY). 5 mins, 50.9055, -0.5562 b1h2
Greatham Bridge, River Arun
Good access to Arun and views of the medieval stone bridge. Steep banks. Leading to Waltham Brooks Nature Reserve. A mile E of Coldwaltham (A29). Parking by bridge (before RH20 2ES). 5 mins, 50.9363, -0.5336 41N
Southstoke Bridge, River Arun
Quiet hidden stretch of the Arun, up narrow lanes N of the castle, or a pleasant walk upstream from the castle. White metal footbridge. High tide only. From Arundel, follow Mill Rd past castle and lake, for a mile until T junction. Turn L signed ‘S Stoke’ and continue a mile to church (BN18 9PF). Limited parking. 5 mins, 50.8817, -0.5417 21N
Kayak the River Adur
Put your kayak in at Shoreham, an hour before high tide, and paddle upstream to Upper Beeding, or further to Ashurst. Look for herons, buzzards and damselflies. Enter the river just E of Old Shoreham footbridge (near BN43 5DR). 2 mins, 50.8315, -0.2739 2
Ruins and Ancient Places
Bramber Castle, Bramber
Remains of a Norman castle on the edge of Bramber village. Gatehouse still very visible, with wonderful views of the surrounding South Downs. Castle Lane from roundabout on A283 for Steyning and Bramber villages, off A283 (near BN44 3WE). Signposted. Park in car park and continue up the path on foot. 3 mins, 50.8832, -0.3155 7k
Bignor Roman Village
Remains of a Roman home with striking mosaic floors in a rural setting. Pop into the Museum tea rooms afterwards for tea and cake. Open March–October, entrance fee. Lovely walks nearby, including Stane Street, a 56-mile long Roman road that once linked London and Chichester. Bignor, Pulborough, RH20 1PH, 01798 869259 1 min, 50.9231, -0.5955 q7z
Castle Ring, Edburton Hill
The Devil’s Dyke is one of the best hillforts on the Downs, and well worth visiting mid-week for sunset, but it gets very busy at weekends. Castle Ring, to the W, is wilder and also impressive. Enjoy the striking views as the sun dips below the horizon on summer evenings or stay out all night under the stars. A beautiful 2-mile ridge walk W from Devil’s Dyke (with café/pub, 01273 857256, well signed from the A27 Brighton), via Fulking Hill and several ancient earthworks. Or you can climb straight up the N escarpment on the bridleway near church in Edburton (BN5 9LN). 40 mins, 50.8850, -0.2414 6z*
Chanctonbury Ring, South Downs
Iron Age hillfort, distinctive for its circle of beech trees, with stunning views across to the sea. Legend has it that on a midsummer’s night you can summon the devil from the underworld by running backwards around the ring six times. Follow the footpath and signs from Chanctonbury car park and picnic site (Chanctonbury Ring Road, BN44 3DR, signed off the A283 near BN44 3DE). Also a longer but lesser-used approach from Washington car park, off the A24 a mile S of Washington (RH20 4AX). 30 mins, 50.8966, -0.3816 z6
Cissbury Ring, Findon
The largest hillfort in Sussex gives views as far as the Isle of Wight on a clear day. Many flint mines. Come here for dusk or dawn, or to fly your kite.
Heading S on A24, take L turn signed Nepcote, on very S edge of Findon. Continue ½ mile, around green, to turn R at ‘dead end’ (BN14 0SL) signed Cissbury Ring. Parking is on hilltop (50.8648, -0.3825).
20 mins, 50.8600, -0.3793 6qz
Mount Caburn, Glynde
Thought to have been settled during the Bronze Age, with ramparts and a wooden palisade added by Iron Age dwellers to protect their settlement. The fort was occupied from 500BC to AD100 and used by Romans, Saxons and Normans as a lookout point. Sit by the remains and watch the paragliders, or see the orchid-rich grassland glowing at sunset. Follow the public footpath starting almost opposite the village shop on Ranscombe Lane in Glynde village (BN8 6ST) for 600m and then bear L towards the summit.
20 mins, 50.8619, 0.0509 6b*z
Distinctive landmark with fantastic views. The walk up passes through beech woodland and spring wildflowers. Although the hill is sandwiched between two A-roads, they can’t be heard or seen from the summit. Heading S from Hassocks on the A273, turn R at the Jack and Jill Inn in Clayton (BN6 9PD, 01273 843595) into single-track New Way Lane. After 200m, take the bridleway on L, and follow 200m across field. Continue for 600m with copse on L and then bear W up to summit. 35 mins, 50.9086, -0.1769 6z*
Wildlife and Woodland
The Mens & Idehurst Oak
Atmospheric ancient woodland dominated by towering beech trees, interspersed with oak, hawthorn, ferns and flowers. The unusual name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘ge-mænnes’, which means ‘common land.’ See if you can find the centuries-old Idehurst Oak, which lost a huge branch in 2011. From Wisborough Green go SW on the A272 (dir Petworth). After approx 2 miles take the L turn for Crimbourne/Coldharbour at a small crossroads. After 150m, before RH14 0HR, find car park R, down a bumpy track. There are multiple footpaths into the woods from here. 5 mins, 51.0025, -0.5438 3z
Brighton Old Pier, Murmurations
Throughout autumn and winter evenings, watch the breathtaking spectacle of some 40,000 starlings wheeling and swooping in unison to create huge ribbons and pulsing swirls as they come in to roost above the burnt-out West Pier. Although in town, this is one of the best mumurations to be seen in the country. Fantastic views on winter evenings, all along the beach near the West Pier (BN1 2FA). The murmurations can start as early as 4pm. Hove end is somewhat quieter if the beach feels crowded. 1 min, 50.8209, -0.1500 4k
Parham Gardens, Pulborough
Impressive yet personal 16th-century stately home and gardens in 875 acres. Walled garden, parkland with deer and ancient trees, a maze and wildflower meadows. Look out for the Victorian ‘Wendy’ house in the walled garden. Main entrance is on the A283 between Storrington and Pulborough (RH20 4HR). Well signposted. 01903 742021. 1 min, 50.9186, -0.4931 5kq
The Buttercup Cafe, Lewes
If you find yourself in Lewes for the day, this little café is the perfect place to while away the afternoon. Home-made local food and proper cream teas. Closed on Sundays. The Downs are just a short stroll out of Lewes to the W. At Pastorale Antiques, 15 Malling Street, BN7 2RA, 01273 477664. 50.8747, 0.0193 s
The Half Moon, Plumpton
Quirky country pub set beside the road in the South Downs. Open fires in winter and large, elevated garden out back for summer. On the B2116 (Ditchling Road), BN7 3AF, 01273 890253. 50.9025, -0.0623 s
The Hiker’s Rest, Brighton
Delightfully simple hut with picnic benches in a farmyard on the South Downs Way. Serves homemade organic cakes and teas from a hatch. Chimineas lit in colder weather to keep you warm. Saddlescombe Road, BN45 7DE, 01273 857712. One mile E of Fulking on the South Downs Way. Exit A27 near Brighton for Devils Dyke, but then stay on road where it bends R with Devil’s Dyke Road signed left. Continue 2 miles to find Saddlescombe Farm entrance on R, parking on L. Closed Wednesdays. 50.8892, -0.1945 h
Jolly Sportsman, East Chiltington
Updated country gastropub with fantastic seasonal food. Chapel Lane, BN7 3BA, 01273 890400. 50.9206, -0.0488
The Shepherd and Dog, Fulking
Tucked at the foot of the South Downs ridge in a higgeldy-piggeldy village, the real appeal of this quirky little pub is its secluded garden with pretty stream, which has striking views of the steep ridge behind it. South Downs walks surround. The Street, Fulking, BN5 9LU, 01273 857382. 50.8880, -0.2287 hsz
Wobblegate Juice and Cider
Family farm that grows and presses Sussex apples. You can taste the juices and ciders before buying. Old Mill Farm, Cowfold Road, Bolney, RH17 5SE, 01444 881356. 50.9953, -0.2196 s
Hunter Gather Cook
Foraging and cooking school with focus on outdoor adventure and self-sufficiency. Expect to be thrown in at the deep end, get your hands dirty and have a go at everything from skinning wild meat to building the fire to cook lunch on. Barcombe, Lewes, 07921 863768. Exact location given upon booking. 50.9134, 0.0219 0
Camp & Glamp
Billycan Campig, Tortington
Rustic glamping set in 650 acres of farmland. A magical place with a fairy-lit bridge, communal campfire and delicious breakfast hampers delivered to your tent on Saturday mornings. Manor Farm, Arundel, BN18 0BG, 01903 882103. 50.8423, -0.5681 fb
Blackberry Wood, Streat
Quirky campsite full of surprises. Pitch your tent in a secluded woodland glade and light a campfire, or stay in a double decker bus, converted helicopter or gypsy caravan. Streat Lane, BN6 8RS, 01273 890035. 50.9168, -0.0792 fb
Blacklands Farm Campsite
Large, family-run campsite in oak-fringed meadows by a lake. Both caravans and tents permitted. Great on-site shop with all the essentials. Wheatsheaf Road (B2116), Henfield, BN5 9AT, 01273 493528 50.9495, -0.2483
Housedean Farm Campsite, Lewes
Simple campsite on a traditional working farm with glorious views and open-air shower. Some traffic noise can be heard, but don’t let this put you off this lovely site. Housedean Farm, Brighton Road, BN7 3JW, 07919 668816. 50.8668, -0.0565 fb
Kitts Cottage Campsite, Scaynes Hill
Camp in a huge meadow bordered by sheep fields and ancient woodland. New solar showers, numerous campfires, and breathtaking countryside views. Freshfield Place Farm, Sloop Lane, RH17 7NN, 07733 103309. 50.997, -0.0210 f
Knepp Safaris Camping, Dial Post
In the heart of a 3,500-acre re-wilding project, on disused farmland, this wildflower meadow has space for ten tents, or hire one of their bell tents. Expect a wealth of wildlife and over 16 miles of permissive footpaths nearby. Children must be 12 or over.
0117 204 7830 Canopyandstars.co.uk. New Barn Farm, Swallows Lane, RH13 8NN., 50.9716, -0.3632 fd
Pop-Up by the River, Steyning
Up on the downs or down by the River Adur, life is peaceful for campers and glampers alike. Be lulled by the sounds of the river and the glow of the campfires. New Wharf Farm, BN44 3AL, 0777 1535350. popupcampsites.com 50.9225, -0.3081 f
The Shepherd’s Return, Sutton
Peaceful shepherd’s hut on a private patch of green space. Organic breakfast hamper delivered each morning. 1 The Hollow, Sutton End, Pulborough, RH20 1PY, 01798 869364. 50.9376, -0.6034 g
The Secret Campsite, near Barcombe
Pitch your tent in the overgrown meadow or stay in England’s first tree tent, a suspended structure that resembles a harvest mouse nest. Fringed by ancient oak and hornbeam trees, it plans to become the first ‘edible campsite’, with everything from berries to edible flowers planted by the botanist owner. Brickyard Farm, Town Littleworth, BN8 4TD, 01273 401100. 50.9398, 0.0089 fd
Wowo Campsite, Uckfield
A winning combination of luxurious glamping and a laid-back vibe. Rope swings, woodland adventures and free camping for musicians who perform around the campfire. Huge site with lots of surprises. Wapsbourne Manor, Sheffield Park, TN22 3QT, 01825 723414. 50.9931, -0.0078 fg
Relaxed rural camping with South Downs views. Basic facilities add an extra sense of wildness. Pubs and cafés in nearby Ditchling. One mile SW of Ditchling. Call for directions: 07733 103309. 50.9085, -0.1278 dfb
The Wild Guide (£15.99, Wild Things Publishing) features over 1000 wild places to explore, eat and stay in southern and eastern England. A South-West edition is also available. To win one of three copies of the Wild Guide click here.