Back in July (I’ve been busy!) I did an 8 mile walk from home to home via Woodvale Cemetery, the Race Course, a community orchard and some Access land to a very deep well in Woodingdean. Then completed the circuit via Happy Valley, some young bovines, Mount Pleasant, a golf course, Whitehawk, some grazing sheep and the General Hospital.
Trying to avoid public transport and get some interesting walking demands exploring things closer to home. The well was something I’ve heard about but never seen – not that there is much to see, just a twee bit of masonry and a heavy steel grid over a watery hole outside a Nuffield private hospital. The site was previously occupied by a technical training school for boys, built to help poor boys find a trade, and the well was started to find a cheaper water supply to the planned workhouse (still standing and part of the Brighton General Hospital buildings) The project did not go well (pun intended), a 6 foot wide shaft was hand-dug by workhouse inmates (free labour) to a depth of 400 and some feet in two years, the hole being lined with bricks as it descended BUT they did not find water.
Shafts were driven horizontally to intercept water, but none was found. So they decided to dig deeper, but only 4 feet wide this time, and still brick lined. Digging and bricklaying went on 24 hours a day until March 1862, when a bricklayer noticed the chalk floor of the well beginning to bulge upwards. A very rapid exit was needed as water began to pour into the base of the well. Men scrambled up ladders climbing up to 1285 feet to the surface. It is still the deepest hand-dug well in the world, and its base is 850 feet below sea level.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before getting to the well (which is at the end of the short projecting stick on the route shown above) we walked through a community orchard managed by local residents. They’ve planted hundreds of fruit trees and maintain meadow grassland areas. The air must be clean because there is a lot of lichen on the trees (above).
After the well diversion we walked south along the top edge of Happy Valley to find a spot for lunch. We must have provided a much needed novelty for the herd of young cattle, who slowly made their way over to us, egging each other on to be bolder. Once one of them had chewed my left bootlace we felt we had to withdraw!
This was the beginning of the return journey, over Mount Pleasant, and down into Wick Bottom:
This is Wick Bottom looking north, and Mount Pleasant is on the far right. From here on we get increasingly urban, with a golf course to cross, then down into a narrow track through thick bramble scrub on what was once a landfill site, but provided me with a few handfuls of ripe blackberries that day.
After passing through part of the Whitehawk housing estate we faced the steepest challenge – up a track over more open downland, complete with sheep, to the racecourse and General Hospital:
It seemed a lot steeper to me than this picture suggests. Volunteers have been clearing this slope of shrubbery over several years to allow the much rarer chalk grassland species back in, and now the grass is kept open by judicious application of sheep.
A brief taste of a summer now gone.