Follies & Long Men: A Mini Adventure in the Sussex Countryside

I try to get out wild camping with my buddy at least once a month although this seems to happen more in the winter months than it does in the summer for some reason.  Normally it’s just a one-nighter at one of our favoured secret spots in East Sussex with a choice bottle and a chance to relax and reset.

For this trip, I was searching for something a little different and I decided I wanted to set up somewhere more scenic than a chalk pit or the deep forests.

There’s plenty of Tumuli and ruins in Sussex so I searched for ruins on google maps and surprisingly I didn’t find anything that really stood out so I widened my search to include West Sussex and came across a place called Racton Folly in the woodlands above Chichester. It was a fair distance away but once I saw some old pictures of the ruins I was certain this was the place to go.

It was commissioned by the 2nd Earl of Halifax, possibly as a summerhouse for the nearby Stansted Estate, though an alternative theory suggests it could have been constructed so the Earl could watch his merchant ships dock at the nearby port village of Emsworth.

Built between 1766 and 1775 the folly has a triangular base, with a round turret at each corner. The walls are made of red brick faced with flints and it stands four storeys high (80 feet). Sadly, it has been abandoned for over a century and is in a state of ruin, with the floors and much of the flint facing having disappeared and its roof has caved in.

Unlike many ruins of its type it sits amidst the woods and is relatively isolated and although it is owned by nearby landowners it is not fenced off and is completely unmanaged leaving it open to anyone who makes the effort to find it.

We set off early to avoid traffic and with the exception of a few dead ends in the country roads around the ruin we found it pretty easily. Sadly, we found it to be very overgrown and totally unsuitable as a campsite. With the cladding having fallen away the inner brickwork is loose and we saw more than one brick fall whilst there. The site has also been heavily vandalised and littered with the remnants of fires and empty bottles of alcohol.

All in all, it’s an amazing building sitting in the middle of nowhere but the site doesn’t have a particularly nice feel to it so slightly dejected we headed back to the car and started our long journey home.

On the way back, we checked out a few more possible sites closer to home but being the Summer solstice and with the weather being so great the countryside seemed to be overrun.

The solution to our mini adventure came a lot closer to home and when we arrived we wondered why we had taken a 160-mile round trip to find the perfect spot on our doorstep.

We are blessed in East Sussex for iconic scenery, the white cliffs of Lewes, the South Downs Way and the Seven Sisters Country park to name just a few. We chose something just a little more off the tourist trail, at least in the sense that most people view it from a distance rather than walking right up to it.

Behold our chosen bedroom for the night… The Long Man of Wilmington (or woman depending on your beliefs). Previously hewn out of the chalk hills in stark contrast to the green fields the Long Man is now viewable year-round as it has been renovated with lime mortar and bleached stone slabs set into the original carving.

The plan was simple, Head to the Giant’s Rest pub which is about 1 ½ miles away from the Long Man grab some dinner and have a few pints of Cider and then head up to the long man to Bivvy camp nearby.

As usual we involve a pub in our adventures things don’t go quite to plan. The food at the Giant’s Rest was fantastic and both the staff and locals were so friendly we ended up staying in there until closing time.

Luckily it was only a short walk and we only had day packs containing our bivvies, sleeping mats and a lightweight sleeping bag (the temperature was still 14 degrees Celsius despite the time of night but we were expecting some rain in the morning hence the bivvy bags.)  Feeling the effects of too much cider we stumbled our way down the road, head torches on full beam to ward off any approaching vehicles and onto the chalk pathway that winds its way up to the Long Man.  The moon was shining brightly which was a great help as we quickly pitched out bivvies using an ancient barrow mound as protection from the wind. It didn’t take long before we were both fast asleep.

I woke early, around 5:30am as the sun rose, the bivvy had done its job and the light rain earlier in the morning hadn’t caused us any problems. It was a lovely morning so I lazed around reading for a few hours listening to the grazing sheep and watching the rabbits hopping around just a few meters away from us. It was rather idyllic and the sun shone just enough to dry everything off before we set off home.

I highly recommend stopping by the Giant’s Rest Pub during your travels around the South Downs. The food’s great and they have a couple of rooms to. I can’t think of a more idyllic spot to stay and the breakfast is top quality.

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