A modern Pilgrimage from London to Sussex | Alastair Sawday's Special Places to Stay

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A Modern British Pilgrimage

A Modern Pilgrimage to Sussex

Walk a modern pilgrimage through the very landscapes that inspired Britain’s most treasured writers and composers. To honour the 100-year anniversary of the classic hymn Jerusalem, the collective of modern pilgrims - The British Pilgrimage Trust - have mapped a journey from Cobham to Haslemere, stopping to sing the hymn joyfully at churches and other sacred sites along the way.

Although a hundred years whizzed by between William Blake writing the poem and Hubert Parry penning the music, ironically the two bursts of creativity that produced Jerusalem happened within six miles of each other in two Sussex villages. The full celebratory pilgrimage traces the song’s London/Sussex links for ten days, connecting the landmarks, people and places featured in the lyrics and embodied in the uplifting musical score.

You too can be a modern pilgrim - embrace the song (out loud or inwardly) at the roadside churches or places of outstanding natural beauty you’ll encounter along the way; taking the tune back to the landscapes that helped to create it. But you don’t have to walk the whole five-day path – nor do non-singers have to sing! Take off on your own pilgrimage by walking two days in the centre of the pilgrimage, starting in Dunsfold, through a picturesque landscape of woods, fields and valleys. Pause for a local ale from Surrey Hills Brewery and add in a gorgeous stay at one of our Special Places in the South Downs to keep a real spring in your step.

You’ll finish our suggested two-day part of the pilgrimage on top of the highest hill in Sussex, The Temple of the Winds, where it’s hard not to feel humbled by the majesty of the view. If you are moved to sing Jerusalem then belt it out – it doesn’t have to be in tune. If you prefer to stay quiet, simply capture that delicious, serene feeling and take it home with you.

Modern British Pilgrimage to Sussex

A modern pilgrimage from London to Sussex

Distance: 23.3 km  l  Time: 1.5 days l   Difficulty: Easy/Intermediate  l   OS Map: OL33

Day 1: Dunsfold to the Black Downs | Distance: 15.3 km

1. Begin at Dunsfold. This small village can trace its history back to the Stone Age, and was once a great industrial centre – though you wouldn't be able to tell, looking at it today.

2. The old Church of Dunsfold lies half a mile outside the village, down by the river which flows into Arun. Historians proclaim its holy well to be a place of ancient pilgrimage, and some claim this was once the village centre and burial place of the old Britons. Leave your trail of song at the holy well water and sit in the nearby church on the oldest pews in England.

3. After Dunsfold, walk through the watery woods toward the hills at Ryestreet Common and the village of Chiddingfold. The Crown Inn, on the green at Chiddingfold, is a genuine pilgrim hostelry, having been built as a resthouse for walking Cistercian monks in the 13th century. Their pilgrimage was from Winchester to Thomas Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. Chiddingfold’s other great fame was as an Elizabethan glass-working centre – there were once eleven glassworks on the village green.

4. Stride Mill Lane south west, between the hill and the woods, before delving into the Netherside woodland path. When this becomes a lane, follow it past the old Furnace ponds of ancient ironworks. Cross the Petworth road at Ansteadbrook, then step into Sussex, the county in which Jerusalem, the song, was born.

5. From here follow lanes to Roundhurst Common, where you cut left through woods to reach Jobsons Lane. A few hundred metres south, Roundhurst Barn awaits. Expect luxury B&B in a 17th-century barn, sumptuous comfort ensconced in oak-beamed antiquity.  

Day 2 (half-day): The Black Downs to Haslemere | Distance: 8 km

1. Rise early in the morning and strike out to the final pilgrimage song destination, the Temple of the Winds on the Black Downs. A favourite site of inspiration for Alfred Lord Tennyson, an early adopter of William Blake’s art and poetry. 

2. The Temple of the Winds gazes out south east to expansive views over the South Downs National Park. Sing like the British Pilgrims and proclaim Jerusalem at full volume out to the landscape! Voices on hilltops can become caught in thermals and such voices, in song or speech, will rise. Perhaps this is why ancient people knew hilltops to be the holiest places to give gifts of song to their gods? 

3. Head slowly north toward Haslemere. Follow the Serpent’s Trail, then the Sussex Border Path, through Chase Wood toward Valewood. Reach one of the many springs that flow from the foot of the Valewood where you can wash away your pilgrimage journey in a cleansing gesture of ending. 

4. Climb into Haslemere, following backstreets into the heart of town where you’ll return to village life of cosy coffee shops and boutiques, as well as the train station that will carry you back to the life you left behind. 

Download our PDF and strike out on a modern pilgrimage. 

Download the South Downs walking tour pdf

For those of you that are keen to do the whole pilgrimage from outer-London to Haslemere, download the GPX files that map the entire route over 10 days. Be sure your mobile device is well-charged and always keep a trusty OS map to hand as well.

Download the South Downs Walking tour GPX files
Local tips from our Owners
Sip artisan ale

Re-energise with beer-battered haddock and smoked bacon risotto cake at The Swan Inn. Wash it down with a glug of ale from Surrey Hills Brewery before getting back on track.

Sweeping views

Take a stroll from The Barn at Roundhurst to the Temple of the Winds, the highest point in the South Downs National Park with sweeping views over three counties.

Winkworth arboretum

Visit Winkworth Arboretum in autumn for an explosion of colour across 1,000 different trees and shrubs. Spot exotic fruits and seasonal fungi, walk beside lakes and along wetlands.

Stay at one of our Special Places

The Dovecote at Greenway
Chiddingfold - Surrey, UK

It’s homely here. Rest your bones at this warm home with plump beds, lovely home-grown breakfasts and a blooming marvellous garden. 

The Barn at Roundhurst
Lurgashall - Sussex, UK

Full of smart rooms and high rafters, this magnificent 17th-century barn is hidden in deep country with great local walking.

The Venison House
Loxhill - Surrey, UK

A delightful retreat for two in a lovely walled garden. Sleep in this stylish, circular cottage and be woken to an impeccable breakfast.

South Downs points of interest

Meander into the South Downs National Park on your pilgrimage and pop in to our Special Places en route. Whether it’s for a night’s kip or a delicious meal, you’ll leave refreshed.

See the detailed itinerary of the British Pilgrims' full route for more information of the 10-day walk.

Download the South Downs walking tour pdf

Many thanks to South Downs National Park for photography, and to The British Pilgrimage Trust for their inspiring pilgrimage.