Our Rolling Hills - David Dimbleby

PUBLISHED: 16:55 05 January 2010 | UPDATED: 09:52 20 February 2013

David Dimbleby Picture by Kate Eastman ©2006

David Dimbleby Picture by Kate Eastman ©2006

Away from the hectic world of British politics, David Dimbleby likes to take his dogs for a stroll on the dramatic South Downs. With their mixture of gentle slopes and the steepest climbs the hills have a breathtaking beauty. In an extract from th...

"I am lucky to live just below the north-facing slopes of the South Downs, a few miles west of Beachy Head, where the Downs finally slide into the English Channel. It is a steep 400-ft climb to the top, which protects it from crowds even on sunny summer days.

There are three ways up. To the east is the gentlest slope through rough meadow and past what look like terraces cut in the chalk, probably old chalk workings now covered with gorse and pitted with rabbit holes and badger setts. A scruffy walk this, which emerges on the side of the down and offers a tantalising glimpse of the sea. In the centre is the steepest climb, straight up to the top, often walking sideways using the sheep trails to keep a grip on the smooth turf. At the top of this walk, which I reach huffing and puffing, is what the map shows as a Neolithic burial mound and the sea, sometimes blue, but often a dramatic leaden grey streaked with silver where the sun finds a gap in the clouds."

Then there is the westerly route, passing woods which huddle at the foot of the Downs, eerie places where fallen trees have been bleached and eroded by sun and wind over so many years that they now look like the skeletons of giant fishes backbones, with a few spines protruding from them. From here it is another steep climb with pauses along the way to look across to Pevensey Bay where William landed, the marshes stretching across to Herstmonceux, the low Weald and the high ridge of Ashdown Forest behind. All three routes bring their own pleasure and sometimes I stand at the bottom while the dogs circle restlessly watching to see which way I will go, deciding which has the best light and which is protected from the wind.

Swooping skylarks

There are deep purple violets half buried in the turf in spring, then thousand upon thousand of cowslips, and orchids sometimes out in the open, sometimes hidden in the woods. And always the skylarks, swooping up and hovering high above. Sometimes on a warm day I lie on my back screwing my eyes up against the sun searching for the source of the music, not satisfied until I see tiny brown wings beating manically...


Latest from the Sussex Life