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Secrets of the Sussex Landscape
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To coincide with our exhibition, Sussex Landscape: Chalk, Wood, and Water, travel writer Ellie Seymour, shared some highlights from her guidebook, Secret Sussex. Discover some of the best things to do in Sussex and experience the county’s diverse landscape from velvety rolling hills to dramatic coastline.
A novel way to discover the South Downs
The Chalk Stones Trail self-guided walking route is a fun way to explore the South Downs in West Sussex, near West Dean College. It takes about 2.5 hours to walk in total, following a path up and over undulating South Downs hills and through dense forest in search of a set of giant chalk stone sculptures.
The Chalk Stones Trail was designed to celebrate the chalky landscape and is a collaboration between Scottish environmental artist, Andy Goldsworthy, and Pallant House Gallery. There are 13 stone sculptures in total to discover at various points along the 8km trail. The stones were bright white, and clean when they were installed in 2002. Today, 20 years later, they look a lot different, some having almost been completely reclaimed by nature, which adds to their mystery.
Download a trail leaflet, here.
Secret spots for fossil hunting
There’s something otherworldly about the stretch of East Sussex coast, from Saltdean near Brighton to Birling Gap near Eastbourne. While most head for the Seven Sisters cliffs, another way to appreciate the landscape is to go fossil hunting. Most people don’t know that the beach at Peacehaven is home to giant ammonites, some measuring over six feet across in some cases. Despite their size, though, they’re not immediately apparent to passers-by, so it’s best to come at low tide for a chance to spot them.
An atmospheric walk through an ancient yew forest
Close to the village of West Stoke near Chichester is a unique nature reserve, Kingley Vale, home to Europe’s largest yew forest. It’s worth the effort to find it, if only to walk through the yew groves, and under the ancient canopy of twisted arching yew tree bows. It’s a humbling, transportive experience: you almost half expect to witness a druidic worship, medieval banquet, or stumble on the Game of Thrones film set. Considering most yew trees in Britain were cut down after the 14th century to make into longbows; those at Kingley Vale are remarkable for surviving. No one knows exactly how old they are, although some are said to have celebrated their 2000th birthday. They’re also intimidatingly gigantic – the oldest yew in the forest measuring over five metres in girth.
Find out more here.
Stargazing the South Downs National Park
Several sites around the UK are recognised as great places to stargaze without the light pollution of towns and cities. The South Downs National Park in Sussex is one of these landscapes. It was awarded International Dark Sky Reserve status in 2016 by the US-based International Dark Sky Association, along with the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales and Exmoor National Park in Devon. The park is also home to several Dark Sky Discovery Sites recognised by an initiative run by the UK Dark Sky Discovery partnership, these include Ditchling Beacon, Devil’s Dyke, Birling Gap and Bignor Hill. These places are recognised as good spots for seeing stars in the night sky with either the naked eye or a good pair of binoculars. They also have excellent public access.
Find out more here.
A little-known path through Shoreham’s rare coastal habitat
The port-town of Shoreham is home to an atmospheric Shoreham beach boardwalk that escapes most visitors’ radars. It follows a path through a threatened coastal habitat of globally rare, vegetated shingle designated a Local Nature Reserve in 2006. It’s home to around 90 recorded species of rare plants – and counting – some of which are highlighted on information boards dotted along the boardwalk. The Shoreham Beach Boardwalk starts or ends at Shoreham Fort and winds its way 1.5km to Ferry Road close to Shoreham Village. The Shoreham Beach nature reserve forms part of the newly created Brighton and Lewes Downs UNESCO World Biosphere Region called the Living Coast. It is the only Biosphere in the world to unite a marine and urban landscape.
Wild, overlooked and unspoiled Climping Beach
Shoreham isn’t the only rare, vegetated shingle beach in the southeast of England. There’s another in Sussex at Climping Beach, not far from Bognor Regis. It is also special in that it’s home to one of the only two dune systems in West Sussex – the other is at the Witterings. Both are heavily protected under the Site of Special Scientific Interest label, which also encompasses its vegetated shingle, sand flats, a small patch of saltmarsh and a nature reserve at West Beach, just east of Climping.
And finally...Pallant House Gallery
Located in the centre of historic Chichester, Pallant House Gallery is second only to the Tate for its collection of modern British art.
From November 2022 until May 2023 our exhibition Sussex Landscape: Chalk, Wood and Water, explored how the local landscape has inspired generations of artists and writers across the centuries. It showcased Eric Ravilious’s depictions of the South Downs, Andy Goldsworthy’s chalk stone sculptures, Wolfgang Tillmans photographs of the Sussex coast and much more.
You can find out what exhibitions are currently here. Make sure to include us on your list of things to do in Sussex for your next weekend away in this beautiful part of the country!