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Sussex walk: The Long Man of Wilmington

PUBLISHED: 10:28 09 February 2016 | UPDATED: 10:28 09 February 2016

The iconic Long Man upon the side of the South Downs above Wilmington dates back to at least the 18th century

The iconic Long Man upon the side of the South Downs above Wilmington dates back to at least the 18th century

Archant

This circular walk encompasses downland, woodland and hedgerows

The mysterious Long Man of Wilmington is a 72m (235ft) tall figure on the side of the South Downs above the village of Wilmington, near Eastbourne. Expert opinion is divided on the subject of his age: some think he dates back to the Neolithic period, whereas others say he didn’t appear until the 17th century. Once depicted in chalk, he is now formed of white-painted breezeblocks. An illustration from 1710 shows the figure looking much as he does today, but another depiction (seen in 1776) shows the giant holding a rake and scythe, suggesting that his symbolism relates to agriculture and thus perhaps also to fertility. According to folklore, the long sticks he holds are dowsing rods, reflecting the belief that he stands upon a ley line. Others believe him to be positioned to foretell the weather; hence the old local rhyme, “When Firle or Long Man wears a cap, we in the valley get a drap” (cap meaning clouds and drap meaning rain). The ancient barrows on the hill above the white figure indicate that this has been regarded as a sacred site since the Bronze Age; the Long Man is important to modern-day Druids, who hold rituals here throughout the year. 


Where to refuel - The Giant’s Rest Pub

This pub in Wilmington village offers local cider and beer, and great food made with Sussex produce, including traditional pub dishes, Sunday roasts, gluten-free meals and options for vegetarians. Families and dogs are welcome and when it’s chilly, the log fire will be blazing. Alternatively refuel halfway by detouring into Jevington village (at stage 6 or 7 on the map), where you’ll find The Eight Bells pub and the Jevington Tea Garden.

01323 870207, giantsrest.co.uk, BN26 5SQ

Information

• Location: Wilmington, near Eastbourne, East Sussex

• Distance: 6m (10k) – two or three hours to walk.

• Terrain: a lot of up and down; grass and chalk paths

• Where to park: in the car park just south of Wilmington Priory


The walk

1 Head out of the car park, across the road and head right along the raised narrow path that runs between hedging and a field.

2 At the end of the path, beside the road, head left along a wider path that leads towards the Long Man.

3 Follow the path through hedgerow and then head through the gate and up the grassy path to the foot of the Long Man. Next head right, walking alongside fencing. The path runs along the bottom of the hill and eventually curves left.

4 Go through the gate and head left, walking uphill on a chalk path. Soon join the wide chalk path that joins from the right, and then loops around the side of the hill. At the top of the hill, you will pass ancient barrows on your left.

5 Go through the gate and follow the path, which bears right and runs alongside fencing. You will then come to a signpost, where the way divides – head left along the South Downs Way. Follow this narrow path across the field, marked by a series of posts. Eventually you will pass through a gate and walk alongside woodland.

6 Go through the gate and walk between hedgerows. At the crossing of paths head left, remaining on the South Downs Way, which takes you downhill through woodland. Eventually the path divides into three – take the left hand route, which takes you along the edge of a wood.

7 At the chestnut trees and horse fields, the path curves right. Just past the metal gate, head left, walking uphill on a chalk path between hedgerows. Maintain direction.

8 Just after the narrow path that leads off right, head left uphill on the narrow (and easy-to-miss) path at the small signpost. If you reach fencing, you’ve gone too far. Go over the stile and bear slightly right, crossing the field towards a signpost. After the post, go over the stile and follow the path downhill, over another stile and then diagonally across a field. At the grass band which divides the field, head sharp right towards the tree line.

9 Head left on the wide path through trees and past Folkington village.

10 Head left on a wide chalk path that leads along the edge of the field and soon takes you over a stile beside a gate. Maintain direction, walking along the field edge next to woodland.

11 Go over the stile and head right, walking uphill. Go through the gate and turn left, walking through woodland.

12 The way divides at a beech tree – head left here, going through the gate and then follow the path along the bottom of the hill. Eventually you will reach the Long Man – here head right through the gate you came through at the start of the walk and retrace your steps back to the car.

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