South Downs Way: Devil's Dyke

Devil's DykeHistoric and beautiful and left largely untouched by anything other than the elements for centuries, the South Downs are among the most stunning natural landscapes anywhere in Britain. In pursuit of a good walk, we made our way to Ditchling Beacon and pointed our feet - and our best pal's paws - in the direction of Devil's Dyke.

Starting out a little after sunrise, Ditchling Beacon - one of the South Down's highest points - is breathtaking. Mist hovers close to the Iron Age era ditches and fort banks. The winter sun is low and bright, the temperature barely higher than freezing. The knowledge that the chalk beneath our feet was formed 100 million years ago makes our toes curl in our boots.

With the sea to our left, we step out in the direction of Clayton Holt, home to an ancient and gorgeous woodland estimated to be 10,000 years old. Our hairy companion bolts onwards, ducking and diving along the quickly-muddying pathways until the Clayton woodland's cluster of beech and ash trees come into view.

He darts and dives between them until he's temporarily out of puff and then we amble onwards into Clayton village and poke our heads inside the village's Saxon church - complete with a fiery, devil-heavy 11th-century fresco depicting the Last Judgement - before seeking out Clayton's other notable feature: a quaint pair of Windmills named Jack and Jill, each standing on undulating, ancient burial mounds. They each seem so at home in the landscape that they might have just sprouted up from the ground like trees.

From here, its onwards to Pyecombe - another picture-postcard village whose name sounds like a location plucked straight from a PG Wodehouse story - and the hamlet of Saddlescombe, where the views across the downs are among the finest anywhere. Great swathes of green streak away in every direction including, away to the west, Devil's Dyke.

The largest dry valley in Britain, Devil's Dyke has been popular with day-tripping tourists since the Victorian age, when there was a fairground, a cable car crossing the hillside and a small train line which brought visitors up from Brighton. None of that remains now, but Devil's Dyke remains an iconic part of the British countryside - for the views and the history all around it and, just as importantly, the many picturesque routes towards it from across the famous downs.

After all that ambling, we make our way to a local pub, The Shepherd and Dog. Here, there's good local ale, an excellent menu and - equally essential - a bowl of water waiting for our fellow traveller. To twist an old maxim, they look after the details in the Devil's Dyke. Pack your walking boots and see for yourself.