If you park in the car park to the NE of the ring, it is a long climb up a 'bostal' path, and then you double back on yourself as you turn left at the top onto the South Downs Way. This is a bit of a drag, but better than trying to scramble more directly up the steep, wooded slopes. We tried coming down the 'quick way' but soon realised the only way down was on your backside!
Alternatively you could park to the SW and take the South Downs Way east to the ring.
I must admit to having a slightly strange sense of foreboding as we made the climb and I am not sure why. Maybe it was the vehicles we had seen parked up on the hill, or the spooky local folklore I had read (see links).
When you get up here, you are rewarded with a fantastic view. Cissbury Ring and flint mines to the South with the blue sea as a backdrop and Wolstonbury jutting out sphinx-like to the East. An excellent vantage point.
We were disappointed to discover 3 4WD's and parked next to the Ring, with their drivers were packing up after a nights camping. When I spotted them from the bottom of the hill I was expecting a wild Solstice free festival, but it was just some SUV driving muppets who didn't even give us the time of day. Quite what these individuals were doing up here on the midsummer's eve I don't know (black magic to bring petrol prices down perhaps?), but how lazy and disrespectful to bring your stinking vehicles across an area of outstanding natural beauty and park them next to an ancient monument. Needless to say we were happy to see them trundle off and then we had the place to ourselves.
Most of the beech trees planted by Charles Goring in 1706 were indeed flattened in the storms of 1987. The ones that remain are on the south bank mostly, and provide some delicious shade. The interior of the Ring has been replanted, but is still quite scrubby and immature.
We were surprised to find a barbed wire fence around the interior, but there is a well worn entrance at the east (close to the original entrance).
I am always interested in places that the R*man's decided to build temples on. Maiden Castle is one of the most famous examples, and it always suggests an existing sacred function for the site.
I ventured into the interior and it is a bit of a creepy wood with evidence of lots of campfires.
It is so overgrown I couldn't see any evidence of the temple, which is apparently only a few inches below the surface. I did manage to get a bit lost in there and had a brief 'Blair Witch' moment when I was convinced I wasn't going to find my way out! I now put this down to the 8% Cider and an overactive imagination.
There are also a couple of interesting cross ridge dykes, bowl, saucer, platform barrows and hlaews (rare Saxon Burial mounds) Click the Magic plug in on this page for more info on their locations.
Check out the links on this page for more background and go and feel the vibes of this absorbing place for yourself.
"The local people call the spot Mother Goring; and at one time there was a custom of coming up to the Ring to see the sun rise on the morning of May Day. The Ring is said to be haunted by the apparition of a man on horseback...."
An ABC of Witchcraft Past & Present.
[Chanctonbury's] traditions have been extensively reported and collected by Dr. Jacqueline Simpson. The earliest example which she reports occurs in Arthur Beckett's The Spirit of the Downs: 'If on a moonless night you walk seven times round the Ring without stopping, the Devil will come out of the wood and hand you a basin of soup.' .
Others substituted a glass of milk, or stated that Satan will 'offer you porridge from his bowl' after you have run thrice round the earthwork. Several variants of this versioin have been collected from newspapers and from oral informants during the past fifteen or so years.
'If you run round seven times while the clock is still striking midnight, the Devil will come out. There's something about porridge, but I cannot remember what."
"If you run round backwards seven times at midnight, the Devil will give you a glass of milk."
"It is said that if you run round the Ring three times at midnight on Midsummer Eve, the Devil comes out from the trees and offers you a bowl of soup."
Other versions of the circumambulation also involve raising the Devil; thus, a teenage girl reported that seven circuits at 7.00am on Midsummer morning would raise Satan. Another informant stipulates that the circling is to be 'three times anticlockwise on Midsummer Eve,' while a more earthy variant calls for the practitioner to circumambulate '17 times stark naked on a night of the full moon.'
[..]The Devil, however, was not the only one being raised - three circuits brought a view of 'a lady on a white horse,' while twelve rounds at midnight on Midsummer Night conjured up a Druid. In the 1940s, some people apparently feared to circle the Ring at night 'lest they should meet the old white-bearded ghost that walks with bent head, seeking his treasure.' Finally, a 50 year old teacher reported that circling seven times at midnight on Midsummer Eve would mean that 'all your wishes will come true. We all believed that when I was a girl.'
There's obviously no single version but lots of variations - though the idea of 'circling' is at their heart. Simpson apparently laments that no version explains whether you should accept the beverage/food or not, or what will happen if you do. "She considers at arm's length" a suggestion that it could come from folk memories of real rites in the Romano-Celtic temple, but concludes that it, and 'that the Chanctonbury Devil is a dim memory of a Romano=Celtic god' is "an attractive hypothesis, but no more."!
Circling as an Entrance to the Otherworld
Samuel Pyeatt Menefee
Folklore, Vol. 96, No. 1. (1985), pp. 3-20.
Simpson's (surely definitive!) article on Chanctonbury's folklore can be found in Folklore volume 80, p122-131.
The young son of the landowners, Charles Goring, planted the beech trees of Chanctonbury Ring in 1760. There are various romantic tales about their birth - that as a child he ran around the hill scattering their seeds, or that he often went up the hill with a little flask of water to tend to his little seedlings. A less sympathetic story tells of him sending his poor servants up the hill with buckets of water! A more pro-proletariat version has the lowly girls and boys of the village sowing the beechnuts.
(collected together in Westwood and Simpson's 'Lore of the Land' (2005).)
This tree-covered hilltop includes a fort, dykes, and a now-destroyed burial mound. The Romans also built a temple here. Numerous traditions have grown up such as that the Devil will appear if you run backwards seven times around the clump of trees at midnight on Midsummer Eve and he will offer you a bowl of milk, soup, or porridge. Although you may have worked up an appetite with all the exertion I would advise you to refuse - it's really payment for your soul.
The trees are said to be uncountable (although the 1987 hurricane did apparently thin them out); but anyone who does count the right number will raise the ghosts of Julius Caesar and his army. The ghost of an old white-bearded man is said to search for the treasure buried in the hill; and the hooves of invisible horses have been heard.
As you will know if you've been following David Dimbleby's 'Picture of Britain', the composer John Ireland found great inspiration in the landscape of Chanctonbury Ring and Harrow Hill: his 'Legend' was written whilst wandering here. In his final years he lived in a windmill overlooking the Ring.