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Worthing, Sussex, United Kingdom

Friday, 4 March 2011

Cissbury in the sun

It's something of a truism that we don't appreciate that which is on our doorstep, and I thought the other day that although it's only a few minutes away I have spent little time on what is arguably Sussex's finest ancient monument.

Cissbury is a magical place, the largest neolithic structure in the south east, and part of a network of similar forts across the South Downs. The approach from the bottom is steep and the concave slope denies the walker views of the ramparts until the last minute, probably a intentional design feature. The ramparts are now covered in turf, but I imagine that in it's heyday this part of the structure would have been stripped back to the bare chalk, no doubt a formidable sight in ancient times, visible from miles away.

The true scale of this site can only be gauged from a visit, even the short hour I spent there today is insufficient to cover all the ground. There is truly something for everyone, the amatuer historian will scrape away at the flints thrown up around the rabbit holes in the hope of finding an axe head or similar artefact, the ecologist will poke around in August looking for signs of the adders that are occassionaly found sloughing their skins on the site, and children will delight in open land and huge ramparts to play on.

The north west corner is littered with evidence of flint mining, and from here the visitor can see the satellite forts at Chanctonbury and Highdown Hill, conveniently placed to watch across the Low Weald, and provide warning back to the main camp, from where in good light one can see the other major sites at Whitehawk Hill and Mount Caburn.

That these places met a violent end when the Romans came is not in doubt, artefacts found at Caburn have suggested a ferocious last stand, but no such evidence has been found at Cissbury that I know of. Maybe it was just too well defended and the Romans contented themselves with conquering all that surrounded and leaving Cissbury to stew, cut off and alone.

Walking around the ramparts shows just what a comanding position the site has, and how well chosen it is for such an important site, with access to huge quantities of flint and defensive views out across what would have been salt marsh to the open sea, and back inland for miles on either side. On a good day the Isle of Wight is clearly visibile, and yet the highest part of the site is tucked away near a back corner with only a trig point to identify it.

It was here I found shoulder from a chill north easterly behind an ancient oak to enjoy my lunch.

There are ghosts here, those from the ancient past, and even some of my own from previous visits - when I passed through with Bernie last year on our way to a picnic at Chanctonbury, when Mandy fell and broke her flipflop after ignoring my advice to wear slightly more substantial footwear, and when I came here alone in the wet winter of 2000/01 wondering which path to take in my life.

Today though was the first time I felt I had actually been to Cissbury, actually visited, rather than passing through on my way somewhere else. The peace here is a privelege to be enjoyed and a reminder of a time centuries past when the loudest noise a person would ever hear was the cry of the war trumpet or the bark of a dog.

Two pheasants startled me, breaking cover from some gorse just entering it's first flower and sqauwing their warning cry as they rose in unison to fly into the hazy late winter sun. Other than that the place was silent except for the faint hum of a tractor as a farmer far below in Findon ploughed the land ready for this year's crops, as his ancestors have for a thousand years or more in the valley below the ring.

The route can be found here:


A good place to donate your spare pennies is


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