Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Haunted Walk around Bramber Castle - part 2

2) Leave Bramber Castle, cross the A283 and head south along Maudlin Lane. This lane soon bends to the right, then reaches a crossroads. Go straight on into Spers Lane. At the end of this residential road a track continues southwest to climb the steep face of the South Downs. At the summit of the hill it meets the South Downs Way. Cross the lane in front of you and head northwest along the crest of the hill along the well signed South Downs Way. Follow the South Downs Way to the mighty earthworks of the Chanctonbury Rings, on the right.

This most haunted of landmarks is home to a diverse collection of supernatural entities. The most dangerous is without doubt the Devil himself. It is here that he conducts his bargaining with mortals who want to sell him their souls in return for their wishes on this earth. All you need do is to run around the earthworks anti-clockwise seven times at midnight on midsummers eve. The Devil will then appear carrying a bowl of milk. Should you wish for great wealth, power or some other earthly delight the Devil will give it to you, in return for your soul. The bargain will be sealed by taking turns at drinking the milk.

On the other hand you may care for the rather less dangerous feat of raising the ghost of Julius Caesar. To achieve this, you should walk around the earthwork counting the beech trees that stand here, and striking each one as you pass with your hand. This feat is rather easier since the Great Storm of 1987 which brought down over half the trees.

The only ghost which is seen here with any regularity – few people wanting to talk to either the Devil or Julius Caesar – is that of an old man with a long beard who sits on the banks of the earthworks and gazes out over the surrounding countryside. He appears to be a gentle old boy who bothers nobody and seems content to be left in peace.

This is said to be the ghost of an English warrior who escaped, wounded, from the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He fled west along the downs until he reached Chanctonbury Rings, where he collapsed and could go no further. The local folk brought him food and water, and hid him from the vengeful men of the Norman invader. When the man recovered from his wounds he stayed here, living in a small hut he built inside the ancient earthworks and earning his living doing odd jobs for local farmers. Who he was or where he came from, he never told anyone. But hour after hour he would sit and gaze out over the Sussex countryside. Whoever he was, his ghost remains.

Before leaving Chanctonbury Rings, look along the track that runs due west, part of the South Downs Way. This leads to the village of Findon. The route is haunted by an enigmatic man in black who rides a powerful black horse at full gallop. He has been seen at odd intervals spurring and whipping his mount up the hill and along the crest toward Chanctonbury Rings. When he arrives, he vanishes without completing whatever urgent business brings him here at such speed.

3) Retrace your steps about 300 yards east from Chanctonbury Ring. A bridleway, marked by a blue arrow veers off to the left. This bridleway plunges steeply downhill through woodland heading northwest. This is a steep route and the surface is deeply rutted. It can be very slippery after rain. At the foot of the hill the bridleway passes through a gate to become a surface lane.

4) Follow the lane for about 100 yards to a junction. A wider lane goes straight on, while a narrow lane signposted “Private Road” turns right. Turn right along the private road - which is also a public footpath. This lane crosses another, passes Great Barn Farm and jinks sharp left to enter the gated and very private grounds of Wiston Park.

5) Instead of following the lane left, go straight ahead across open fields following a footpath that skirts the grounds of Wiston Park. This emerges back on to the lane near a house. Turn right and follow the narrow lane to pass Charlton Court. The lane becomes Mouse Lane on the outskirts of Steyning. At the end of Mouse Lane, turn right into High Street, then turn left at a crossroads into Vicarage Lane. Follow this road to reach the Church of St Andrew.

The present stone church dates back only about 900 years or so, but stands on the site of a much older wooden building. It was founded in about 680 by St Cuthman. Cuthman was born into a family of shepherds in Somerset and for some years followed his family trade. He then experienced a vision of Christ, abandoned his work and took to a wandering life preaching to the poor. One day he was travelling along the valley of the Adur when the axle of his cart snapped in two. Cuthman took this to be a sign from God that he should settle down. This he duly did, building a wooden church on the spot where his cart collapsed. The holiness of Cuthman attracted other followers seeking a religious, peaceful life and so Steyning came into being.

The ghost here has nothing to do with St Cuthman, but is that of a much later holy person. In the 13th century a holy woman named Milian came to Steyning to seek enlightenment and sanctity at the church founded by St Cuthman. The locals gave her a small hut in the churchyard, and the monks of Harham Priory, a few miles to the west, promised her bread and vegetables free of charge. Unfortunately Milian proved to be as quarrelsome and bad tempered as she was learned in the scriptures. She picked quarrels with any passing priest or monk, launched legal suits against vicars and bishops and generally made a nuisance of herself.

The problems she caused did not end when she died, they merely changed their nature. She no longer began law cases nor argued about obscure theological points. Instead her ghost took to appearing in church when the priest was preaching and expressing her disapproval. These days she does not appear so often and, when she does, merely flits about the churchyard.

6) Leave the church and turn left along Vicarage Lane. This road ends at a T-junction. Turn left along Jarvis Lane. This crosses the A283 to become King’s Barn Lane. Turn right into Roman Road and follow this road back to Bramber Castle.

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