RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: The Trundle

I TOOK a photograph of this week’s walk from the rear seat of a vintage Harvard war plane flown by BA Captain Richard Knight out of Goodwood.

It was a nice clear day as we circled what must be one of the very finest short walks in Britain, a mere 1.5 miles (2kms). The views are far reaching to the south, with the Channel, Isle of Wight and Solent; to the north way into the South Downs and Surrey hills. There are two large car parks which lead off the roads, about one mile south of the A286 at Singleton.

Also shown in the aerial photograph of the circular Iron Age camp is the West Dean Estate arboretum close to the right, which has the tallest Douglas firs in Southern Britain. This fine collection of rare trees was the favourite haunt of the owner: art patron Edward James. Above that at top right of picture is the long dark line of the famous yew forest of Kingley Vale national nature reserve.

The Trundle, built 2,500 years ago, was a small city for two centuries, built to safeguard its tribes from those on neighbouring hills such as Torberry, Cissbury, St Catherine’s and Old Winchester Hills. They were also a defence against invaders from the near continent, including France and Germany.

The Trundlers made their own cooking pots out of clay, and boiled water by dropping in hot flints. They stored grain and rain water in underground pits. The women wore bronze finger rings which could be adjusted to fit.

You will wonder at the size of the hill fort and the complexity in the construction of such a massive defence system, which also had enormous barbican entrance gaps at the eastern end. The blueprint came from Ancient Greece. The Acropolis in Athens was a highly ornate example of hilltop fortification.

The idea spread into Europe via the Barbarians, then the Germans; and was brought into Sussex by the Halstatt invaders. The sloping mounds of the Trundle were once vertical walls of timber framing, backed by chalk infill. The wood has all rotted into oblivion but the chalk remains surprisingly upright. The rim makes a lovely refreshing walk winter or summer. When the Romans arrived here, the Trundlers had already moved off the draughty hilltop into Chichester with their pigs, sheep, cattle and horses. Because of the very thin soils on the embankments, chalk flora flourishes, since many of the chalk flowers such as orchids tend to be pioneers, colonising newly opened ground. See Nature Trails for details.

My flight in the Harvard reminded me of those Battle of Britain pilots who were able to train on the kite instead of the Spitfire. It was a much more suitable plane because it was much cheaper to replace when the trainee crashed on his first flight.