England's oldest public footpath was worn into the chalk in prehistory.
The 99-mile South Downs Way, Britain's most accessible long distance path, crosses the downs from Eastbourne to Winchester. Starting points for this long but easy hill walk are just over an hour by train from London. Good rail, road, bus and taxi connections make it easy for beginners to join the path for a weekend, or an afternoon.
This 6 mile stretch, between the West Sussex villages of Washington and Amberley was photographed in June. From Washington, a village path climbs to join the trail on Barnsfarm Hill. Soon cultivated fields give way to pastures and meadows quivering with poppies. Dozens of varieties of wild flowers thrive -- vetch, clary, scabious, pale flax, eggs and bacon, cinquefoil, scarlet pimpernel. The views from the South Downs go on and on. On clear days, walking the South Downs Way is like flying over hamlets, farms and grand country houses like the Elizabethan Parham House.
In Washington, cottages with gabled, thatched roofs and gardens of rampant impatiens, geranium and cotoneaster tumble down embankments toward the curving lanes. Even the town's Norman-style Church looks as though it has grown out of the landscape.
Climbing from Washington into the South Downs
From Washington, a village path crosses the highway via a pedestrian bridge and then climbs to join the trail at the top of Barnsfarm Hill.
Scarlet Pimpernel and Pansies on the South Downs
We spotted dozens of varieties of wild flowers -- vetch, clary, scabious, pale flax, eggs and bacon, cinquefoil, scarlet pimpernel, several kinds of thistle and the tiniest white pansies we'd ever seen.
Poppies Flourish on Fallow Land Along the South Downs Way
Higher up, cultivated fields give way to pastureland and acres of grassland quivering with poppies.
Even the Farm Buildings Seem to Pose
Red roofed farm buildings float on seas of blue green barley, feathery rye and summer wheat.
A Painterly Landscape on the South Downs
Within minutes of leaving the village centre, we are surrounded by a landscape out of Constable, the lower hills a patchwork of grain crops.
A Landscape Shaped by Man
From high up on this chalk 'desert', it is possible to discern the way at least 5,000 years of human habitation have shaped the landscape. Long barrows, tumuli (3,000 year old burial mounds), earthwork circles and the signs of prehistoric agricultural enclosures and cross dykes are carved across the hills of the South Downs Way.
Parham House and Gardens
Elizabethan Parham House and Gardens, seen from the South Downs Way, is considered one of Britain's top stately homes.
At between 575 and 675 feet, the hilltops here may not seem high. But because the shallow, dry soil can't support large trees, the view just goes on and on. On clear days, walking the South Downs Way can feel like flying over tiny villages, farms, grand country houses and the sinuous Arun River.
Along the South Downs Way, mile markers keep walkers on track. Here, the marker between Washington and Amberley, in West Sussex, England.