Britain's Newest National Park

The ruins of Cowdray Castle in Midhurst

  The South Downs National Park is the newest in the UK and covers 628 square miles in the south of England and is also home to 108,000 human beings.  The ‘Down’s themselves are a set of chalk ridge hills that basically stretch from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in East Sussex, ending in the iconic and yes, well known suicide spot, Beachy Head.   The hills areas are all included in the park itself and whilst it would be easy to assume that the large south coast urbanisation would be included, such as Brighton, Bognor, Worthing and maybe even stretching north to Horsham and Burgess Hill and so on but they are not.   Even the Cathedral city of Chichester is not included. The bulk of the National Park is a largely rural area in Hampshire and West Sussex and the only significant sized towns it includes are Midhurst, which is where the HQ  of the park will be ultimately situated, Petersfield and the lesser sized town but probably better known, Petworth as well as Arundel and then to its far east, Lewes, the town that is universally known for taking Guy Fawkes Night on November far too seriously.  It is a town that is half carved out of the hills anyway.  The half that isn’t was badly flooded in 2000.  It does not take a scientist to work out why.

  One could go into the geology of it all, but I can leave you to google that.  I did do it at GCSE though.  Whilst most of those I was with that day in Year 11 were bored, I was thoroughly thrilled to have a day on the downs overlooking most of Sussex putting chalk and mud into a former baked bean can.  I also went on scout camp on the downs, near Devils Dyke on a very hot July weekend when I was 11 years old.  I really was not interested in playing football at 4am, but was sort of forced into it.

  I now find myself living right in what is now the National Park.  A great place to visit and spend time, please do not get me wrong.  The South Downs National Park epitomises everything that is good about the south of England.  Indeed the whole of England.  A tourist could come to England, have a few days in London to see the all important sights and then come to the South Downs, see what it has to offer and go away feeling nicely England-ed (not a word, I know)   To live though it is different as much like other parts of Britain, house prices have become out of reach of the local people.  They will never, ever own one even if they really wanted to and starved themselves saving what they had.  Midhurst’s unemployed are disproportionate to the rest of the region, there is little local work.  The agricultural work, much of it on the Cowdray Estate appears to be undertaken by eastern Europeans, and their accents are plentiful in and around the town.  It is Polo country too, a sport watched largely by the wealthy from outside of the immediate area.  They come and eat in the (sorry, over priced) pubs and resturants.  Polo brings in a lot of Argentinians too as the form for horsey sport is very popular there.  Hence the Hotel in the main street proudly selling “Argentinian” steaks (no thanks…I honestly really would rather eat horse)   Goodwood is not too far away either, but again, that is a Horse racing court – and the two annual motor sport events that are unashamedly more for the well healed. 

Butser Hill
A sunny late Autumn afternoon on Butster Hill, the highest point of the South Downs National Park, and part of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield in Hampshire