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|A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton
by Paul K Lyons
1 - Happy valley, once wooded, where land cost £10 an acre, but Bubble Cars can kill
I'm on the busy Falmer Road, by the entrance to a car park and recreation ground, having been dropped off by a Brighton bus. This is the busy B2123 that links Rottingdean to Falmer. Once upon a time, it was called Rottingdean Road, but times change. Then, when it was called Rottingdean Road, there was very little of Woodingdean, but the place grew and grew and now stretches north and east of here. It is generally accepted, says Jennifer Drury, on the excellent BrightonandHove website, that the name Woodingdean evolved from its association with Woodendean (i.e. wooded valley) Farm, first recorded on a map of 1714, which was situated a mile or so south. Sites close by the Falmer Road have revealed Neolithic and Roman artefacts, but the earliest recorded settlement appears to be Wick Farm dating from 1296.
In his book, 'Woodingdean - Reflections and the Millennium', Peter Mercer explains how Woodingdean was mapped in 1899, and then again in 1917, when 17 families lived in the village. Demobilised war veterans, he says, purchased land at £10 an acre. According to an entry in Wikipedia, the area was notorious for shacks - with architectural styles ranging from Wooden Hut to Railway Carriage Body. Life in these kind of plots, it says, was satirised in a 1927 stage play by H F Maltby called 'What Might Happen'. It was in the early 1920s, that the name Woodingdean was used instead of Woodendean. In the late 20s, the mock-Tudor Downs Hotel was built a little north of here at the crossroads with Warren Road. Also in the late 1920s, the area was incorporated into Brighton County Borough. By 1954, there were over 1,000 houses in Woodingdean and 44 social or commercial buildings. Today, the area has a population of around 10,000.
Falmer Road has a couple of claims to fame or infamy. Apparently, it is the highest main road in Brighton (at 535ft) - although at this stop near the car park, it isn't. More infamously, in 1967, the mother of the actor Errol Flynn was run over and killed by a Bubble Car, not far from the Downs Hotel. The Bubble Car was an Isetta made at the old Brighton railway yard a decade earlier by an Italian company called ISO. It cost £399 and had a 250cc motorcycle engine, according to newspaper reports at the time.
This is not an attractive place to stand around and contemplate the past, but it's the nearest point to the 450 northing I can start walking west. Behind me, on the east side of Falmer Road, is Crescent Drive South, with signposts to Woodingdean Methodist Church and Rudyard Kipling School. Before me is the entrance to the car park, which is defined by an ugly perimeter ridge of chalky earth. It's an untidy place, with recycling containers for 'All clean food and drink cans', 'All clear bottles and jars', 'All clean green glass bottles and jars', and 'Newspapers and magazines'. There's lots of full plastic bags lying around. A sign says: 'Warning - Motorists beware car thieves operate in this area.' Another notice tells me I am in Happy Valley, but commands 'no horses, no golf'.
Beyond the car park, I enter a large flat grassy area with several football pitches and goal posts, and a few benches dotted round the edges. This morning there's only a few dog walkers. I cut across the rough grass of one pitch towards the hill ahead. On the ridge above, I can see two horses trotting. I arrive at a barbed wire fence, which separates the recreation ground area from the scrubby hillside, and walk along it south until I find a stile. Grey wool caught on the wire and narrow worn tracks along the contours of the hill indicate sheep are grazed here sometimes. I climb diagonally in a southwest direction - through the long grass, and round patches of brambles - towards where I think the imaginary east-west line I'm following (the 450 northing) will cross the ridge. I can stroll where I like because this is open access land - see the Countryside Access maps.
Arriving at the ridge, I meet a trackway called Old Parish Lane, which used to be the boundary between Wick and Woodendean Farms. I'm only about 100 metres above sea level, but there's a good view across Woodingdean to the east; and, to the north, I can see the line of Warren Road which heads towards Brighton and is partially built up.
by Paul K Lyons
A Straight Line Walk Across Brighton - along the 450 northing
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