Author interview: Deirdre Huston, Day Walks on the South Downs
- Wednesday 5th February 2020
Featuring walks in some of the most historic and scenic areas of the South Downs National Park, the second edition of Deirdre Huston’s Day Walks on the South Downs comprises twenty circular routes suitable for walkers of all abilities. With easy to follow directions and Ordnance Survey maps for each path, the guide ensures fantastic walks while pointing out those all too necessary refreshment stops.
In this interview, Deirdre tells us why she loves the South Downs and about the positive impact the National Park is having on the local communities in boosting the tourism economy and preserving the area’s stunning natural landscapes. She also offers advice on how visitors can ensure they leave as small a carbon footprint as possible and reveals her favourite walking route in the guide.
How did you select which walks to include – was it a hard decision?
Guidebooks evolve. Some walks are around iconic locations, others are near nature reserves or historic points of interest while a few are personal favourites. I usually start with familiar landscapes and then explore new places. I’m always conscious of offering my readers an interesting selection of trails through varied habitats and landscapes with a good geographical spread.
What do you think walking on the South Downs offers that you can’t find elsewhere?
The South Downs offer elevation and the chance to exert yourself on some gradients. Relish occasional sea views or vistas over the low Weald towards the North Downs. Venture up onto the downs in the early morning and you may witness a swirling mist which transforms these low hills into an otherworldly place of mystery and magic.
What first drew you to the Downs?
I love the chalk grasslands because it’s such a unique habitat which supports bumblebees, butterflies and wildflowers. Sussex Wildlife Trust, National Trust and the RSPB have amazing nature reserves which protect rare and special habitats to encourage biodiversity. The unique history fascinates me too, preserved by places such as Saddlescombe Farm. Whenever I walk, I look for clues to the past: discarded Neolithic flints, Iron Age ramparts, burial mounds, chalk figures, smuggling routeways, literary haunts, seasonal tracks used to move pigs down into the Weald for pannage, meeting places for smugglers and routes trodden by fishermen’s wives. The list is endless!
How do you think the South Downs National Park benefits the local communities?
It publicises the opportunities for leisure and tourism, helping rural communities to prosper through encouraging visitors and cooperative projects. For walkers, they offer information on easy access trails with their Miles not Stiles scheme.
It’s the South Downs National Park ten-year anniversary this year, how important do you think it has been to local conservation so far and what more do you think it can do?
The South Downs National Park has been invaluable in raising the profile of this unique area which includes hidden gems such as ancient woodlands and heaths, as well as the much-loved and renowned chalk hills. The SDNP helps protect this valuable landscape from development, but there is always more to do!
What advice would you give to walkers to help them leave as little negative footprint on the Downs as possible?
Beyond the obvious advice to take litter home, think about how you travel there. In my walks for Vertebrate and Sussex Life magazine, I aim to include start points which are not on the Downs. If you walk up to the Downs from nearby car parking or train stations, you get more exercise too. It makes reaching the top much more satisfying!
To someone visiting the Downs for the first time, which walk would you say is a must?
Walk 19, A Favourite Walk. The Seven Sisters Cliff Path is magnificent: windswept white cliffs overlook the sea. Follow our route to venture beyond the obvious and explore nearby Downs and forest, pubs and cafe.