The Stunning South Downs

I was delighted when Natural England announced the creation of the new South Downs National Park at the end of March. Although I now live over 600 miles from the South Coast of England, as a Hampshire lad I still have a strong bond with this beautiful part of the country.

The South Downs between Winchester and Chichester is where I fell in love with the natural world and spent many happy hours exploring and wandering. I have fond memories of school trips to Buster Hill and the Queen Elizabeth Country Park (on the day a mini-tornado struck the Iron Age museum), the glorious oak woodlands of Kingley Vale and the historic houses at the Weald and Down Museum at Singleton. I learnt how to use a map and compass in those hills, undertook my first overnight expedition walking from near Petersfield back to Rowlands Castle.

Buster Hill and the Queen Elizabeth Forest As a teenager I would often get the train or bus out to the Downs and then walk back across the hills to my home. Many solitary hours would be spent exploring  chalky footpaths and quiet country lanes as I grappled with the quandaries of “growing up”. As a student at university in London, I always knew I was nearing home when Harting Down appeared into sight from the train window and we soon plunged into darkness as the railway tunnelled beneath the Downs.

The South Downs may not be as remote and rugged as the Cairngorms but in my mind it encapsulates the essence of much of rural Britain that lies on the fringes of urban and suburban life. Peter Friend writing for New Naturalists online sums up why it is such as special place. In the meantime I am already planning a few walks for when I visit in late summer.

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