Ditchling Beacon to Blackcap in the east and Wolstonbury in the west

by Martin Spencer

Route is marked on the Ordnance Survey website:
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map122
Start/End: Ditchling Beacon car park
Distance: About 30 km
Time: About 3 hours

This route combines some of the best mountain biking the South Downs have to offer: fast riding along the ridge, some wide open downland, woods, and fast downhill tracks (with the compulsory climb back up again!). This route can be done in either direction and has a bail out half way round. There are two possible diversions off the escarpment to pubs in Ditchling and Plumpton.

Route Description: From the car park cross the Ditchling Road and follow the South Downs Way east along the ridge. This is the only bit of flat riding you will get so make the most of it and enjoy the views north over the weald and south to catch glimpses of Brighton and the sea. Although the South Downs Way takes a sharp right before the high point at Blackcap; it is worth getting to the trig point for the spectacular views east to Cuckmere Haven and the Seven Sisters.

Double back off Blackcap and pick up the South Downs Way again heading due south. After about 1km, fork right off the South Downs Way onto a fast tight trail keeping Buckland Bank on your left. After about 2.5km you will come out onto tarmac. Turn sharp right and dive off downhill the tarmac track to St Mary's farm. At the farm do not take the obvious route up Franklin's Bottom but go left through the gate and up a steep farm track which takes you up over Stanmer Down. Just off the top of this climb is a gate to the left. Another short, sharp drop takes you through a gate at the bottom and into a seemingly remote and forgotten valley. Follow the edge of the woods but don't miss the next gate on the right which takes you up a steep climb through magnificent beech woods to a bridle path junction underneath the power cables.

A well made path takes you through Highpark Woods and up to the Ditchling road. Cross straight over and follow the contour round to the right for about 400m. This is the bail out point. If you have had enough you can turn right up the short sharp climb and it's about 1km back to the Beacon car park.

Better though to dip down to the left and along the valley floor before climbing up past Lower Standean farm, cross over the Sussex Border path in open farm land, over Middle Brow and down to the A273. Cross over and rejoin the South Downs Way for about 100m. Just before Pycombe Church turn right up the road which turns into a small uphill track leaving the village behind. As you come out of the trees at the top, Wolstonbury Hill comes into view. Take the gate on the left and follow the route up the edge of Wolstonbury with Wellcombe Bottom dropping impressively off to the right. The bridle path does not take you to the top of the hill but it is worth walking the short distance to the top to see what remains of the iron age fort and for spectacular views stretching off to the dramatic escarpment at Devils Dyke and Chanctonbury Ring in the distance. The route takes you round the back of the hill where you get to the best downhill of the ride in a deep cutting under a woodland canopy. Don't miss the sharp right at the bottom to take you back along the north side of the hill, down into Wellcombe Bottom and out onto the A273 at the Jack and Jill pub.

The route through Clayton up to the Clayton Windmills is a bit of an uphill slog. If the weather has been bad, or you have had enough, there is a tarmac route up to the windmills off the A273. From the Windmills it is gentle incline up the well made track that is the South Downs Way all the way back to the Ditchling Beacon car park.

There are two good pubs in Ditchling: The Bull and The White Horse, which can be reached via the bridleway which goes off the Beacon on the eastern edge of the Beacon road by the Ditchling Beacon car park (this downhill is fun even if you don't want to go to the pub!). Turn right when you get to Underhill Lane and then left into the Nye path. This brings you out into the village. The Half Moon pub can be reached by taking the Plumpton Bostall track off the ridge 2km before Blackcap.

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