The South Downs National Park takes in rolling chalk hills with views over the ocean, ancient forest, and open heath land. Humans have been part of the story of the Downs for many thousands of years, evidenced by burial mounds atop the hills, earth works and the ongoing interactions of agriculture. Parts of the South Downs are popular with many visitors each day but wander a little further and you’ll reach quiet spots which rival the known ones for their beauty.
Discover the Secrets of Kingley Vale
The yew woods at Kingley Vale Nature Reserve are famous for being some of the oldest trees in Europe. They’re engaging, gnarly trees with a long association with witches and warrior ghosts. One story says that they were planted to celebrate a battle victory of the men from Chichester over marauding Vikings. But they are not the only Yew trees worth admiring. Find Black Bush House on your OS map and head from the tumuli at the top of Kingley Vale towards the house. As you go take time to adventure into the woodland on your right, there are winding footpaths that will take you through a forest of enigmatic yews, twisted hawthorn trees and centuries old sessile oaks. On the way there is dew pond with a bench gazing out towards Goodwood, an enjoyable spot for a snack. Take a moment to look behind the pond down into the meadow, which is rich with wildlife and at times stunningly beautiful with an array of wildflowers, you’ll hear the hum of the bees and the song of many birds in the summer and understand why the South Downs are such a loved part of Sussex.
People of West Sussex
As you sit there, on the bench made by a local artist emblazoned with red kites, know that you are sharing a place that has been revered for millennia; from the prehistoric humans who built a fort there, to the Bronze age communities who buried their dead in the tumuli, and to the priests of the Roman-Celtic Temple who worshipped there. Traces of our ancestors can be seen in the shape of the earth, there’s a revealing documentary that brings this hidden archaeology to life, it’s an enjoyable watch: Secrets of the High Woods film - South Downs National Park Authority.
Agriculture in the South Downs
The interaction between agriculture and the South Downs has been key in the formation of the landscape. You may find grazing animals at the top of Bow Hill above Kingley Vale. The grazing animals keep the grass shorter and allow a mix of species to flourish. Make sure you keep your dog on a lead in the nature reserve and keep an eye out for grazers, sometimes it looks like there are no animals but they are often clustered together in a dip. If there was no grazing the land would revert to scrub and in time to woodland and many plants and pollinators would no longer be able to survive here. It's a delicate balance! Much of the South Downs is farmland and the park authority work closely with many farmers to try to enhance the area for wildlife whilst still producing amazing food that we can enjoy in the local restaurants and farm shops.
A Moment of Romanticism
We have a deep affection for Kingley Vale, it’s a place entrenched in the hearts of local people and most of us have fond childhood memories of discovering it. Climbing on the yews, getting to the top of the hill by the hardest route (which is straight up the middle & very steep), picnics at the top with panoramic views, night walks shared with deer & badgers, lying in fields of butterflies in the sunshine and endless cycling trips. It is a romantic place with restorative powers, we hope you enjoy exploring it as much as we have over the years. The easiest route in is via the main carpark on West Stoke Road, it’s a five minute drive from our holiday cottages near Bosham. We’ll show you on a map when you arrive and you can discover the secrets of the woods for yourself.