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Balsdean WW2 History and Other Walks

Tanks move into Balsdean, shortly after May 1942? Photo: Holland Mercer Collection.
Tanks move into Balsdean, shortly after May 1942. Photo: Holland Mercer Collection.

It has been a long time since my last blog. I have been hiding away from the world since Covid writing a book, with the help of my mum, on the WW2 history associated with the Balsdean and Castle Hill Downs, including the associated villages of Kingston near Lewes and Woodingdean. The book was supposed to be finished by Christmas. Last Christmas. But we kept finding new things to research and I kept making the book more detailed, so now we hope it will be ready for people to buy *this* Christmas 🙂

Meanwhile, I have now emerged from hibernation and have resumed being a volunteer Brighton & Hove Healthwalk Leader, more or less exclusively on their Balsdean and Castle Hill National Nature Reserve walks. The scenery is stunning, the company friendly, and I get to share all my local history knowledge with all and sundry! The regular walkers are very tolerant of my enthusiasm which, though I think this is a good thing, I also believe it says more about their generous natures than anything else!

The walks include:

  • A Tuesday morning circular healthwalk through Castle Hill National Nature Reserve; a very nice circular walk around the former site of Newmarket Farm, where my mother’s family used to live during the first half of WW2.
  • An afternoon linear healthwalk every second Saturday of the month to Rottingdean, via Balsdean Valley, past the former site of Balsdean Farm which my mother’s family worked for when they were living at Newmarket Farm.
  • The first of hopefully several history walks;
    • Since I am currently researching this period for our book, and because it is on the afternoon of All Hallows Eve, it will be both an exploration of WW2 Balsdean’s History as well as a remembrance of all those who lived, loved and worked there during the years leading up to and including the WW2.
    • My mother and I have collected many old photos of Balsdean (several of which are to be found elsewhere on this blog). I have laminated several, and it is fascinating to compare the modern views with those photographed in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
    • I have guessed it might take us 3 hours (I could talk for more – my challenge is what to leave out, not what to put in), but hopefully we will have completed the walk before then.
    • If we are lucky the newly appointed Elena Gelibter may join us. Her job is to look after all us Healthwalk Leader volunteers, as well as, with help from her colleagues, to produce the wonderful packed programme of walks for all of us to enjoy. If you have any questions regarding B&H City Council Healthwalks programme she is the person to contact.

If you are new to the Healthwalks programme I must ask you to sign up via Brighton & Hove Council’s website: https://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/health-walks

For those who are already registered a copy of the latest Healthwalks programme is available here. May I also ask, in these challenging times, that we take sensible precautions:

  • Dressing for the autumnal weather (there will be a considerable amount of time standing around on my history walk, stopping at points of interest along the way, looking at old photos and me telling the stories behind the events and locations);
  • Wearing sensible footwear – the ground is uneven (lots of trip hazards from flints and rough grass), at times very steep, at times muddy, and compacted chalk paths can get very slippery when damp.
  • Accessibility: I have never seen a wheelchair user access the Castle Hill and Balsdean Downs. In theory the pedestrian gates should be wide enough for a chair, buggy or mobility scooter to get through, but the ‘vehicle’ would need to be suitable for very rough challenging terrain, and the chair user and or their support team would need to be physically fit and up for a challenge. Also a plan B would be required for if/when your vehicle breaks down miles away from the nearest access road. Personally I would welcome the challenge, but I would not wish to be held liable in an emergency. Any feedback on this would be welcome.
  • Children: Personally I welcome children, and if present I would tailor what I have to say to them in particular – especially if they have questions – they ask better questions than most grown-ups (though I don’t promise to know all the answers)! However, I would request they are kept under control. We have some vulnerable walk participants who may struggle with over-excited individuals. I would ask all parents or guardians to be responsible for them at all times.
  • Dogs: Personally I also welcome dogs, but – like children – only if the owner is able to keep the dog under control at all times. We do have some vulnerable people attending our walks, one of whom I witnessed almost knocked flying by an over-excited dog. Where there are sheep or other animals in a field, the dog must be put on a lead, or if requested for any reason by a walk leader.
  • Social distancing, etc. I think we all know the routine by now.
    • Luckily I am quite good at projecting my voice to enable all to hear what I have to say no matter how stormy the weather may be!
  • And please bring a smile 🙂
Rainbow west of Newmarket Plantation.
Rainbow west of Newmarket Plantation. A moment of joy on a dark and stormy history walk – December 2019.

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