RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: Heyshott Downs

This is a strenuous walk of 5.5 miles (9kms) up and over the South Downs at Heyshott.

A large parking bay at the top of Duncton Hill on the A286 serves walkers for the South Downs Way at SU875166. From the Cocking Gap you climb steadily east up the hard stony track past Hill Barn and on for over a mile with the beech woods getting closer on your right.

By this time I have generally seen a Buzzard or three, a Red kite, and in the days when Hen Harriers were not persecuted on grouse moors in Scotland, I would see one of those too in winter, before they left for their northern breeding grounds. The tops are also good for a few Skylarks and even small wandering gatherings of Pied wagtails and Meadow pipits.

Five sign-posted paths lead left and descend the escarpment but I chose the sixth, so that you get a glimpse of the Bronze Age burial mounds complex in the meadow on your right as you bear left, north-west. The nearest tumuli in the ancient sacred ground is managed by the Murray Downland Trust and is now a fine sheep-grazed area of downland turf complete with orchids and blue butterflies to be seen in summer.

The by-way track descends down to Heyshott village through Ash and Yew woodland, and big old Beech trees nearer the bottom. On your left is the edge of the nature reserve managed by MDT, which is a trust run by volunteers for the common good. Among the orchids you will see here later in the year are the tiny Musk orchids. These miniatures are often no more than a couple of inches in height.

In the stony lane at the bottom, turn right for Heyshott village, then left when you reach the road. This takes you past the local pub through to St. James church with its graveyard full of spring flowers just like the road verges herabouts. A Georgian royal sign over the interior entrance shows a sturdy Royal Arms with a virile lion.

Turn sharp left then along the road past the Richard Cobden village hall along a very minor road with high hedges all the way for a mile to Cocking stream that runs close by the church.

Look there for the by-way sign (just past the footpath sign) which leads north, up the steep climb back to Hill Barn on the SDW outgoing track. That will make you puff.