On the trail of the polished axe
The earliest settlement in Sussex was on the chalk soils of the South Downs which were the easiest to work and farm in the county. The subsequent use of much of the downland as sheep pasture has tended to avoid the destruction of such remains by farming that is more modern. This short walk illustrates the range of remains that can be found within a small area.
LENGTH – 3.5 miles
TIME – 2.5 hours
START – Jevington Car Park, Jevington, Polegate, BN26 5QJ (O.S. Explorer 16 – NGR 562014)
PARKING – Jevington car park and The Pentlands, at the south end of village.
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS – Pub in Jevington.
This walk contains stiles.
Ploughing in pre-Roman Sussex was a tiring activity. The primitive ploughs had to be used twice – up and down then across and back over the same piece of land to break the soil. The resulting square fields gradually became terraced into the hillside separated by banks of soil called lynchetts. On the steeper parts of the Downs these have been preserved by the absence of later ploughing, with a very fine example of such a field system clearly visible on the left during the ascent from Jevington.
The ridgetop tracks, which this part of the walk follows, are the oldest routes in the country and probably date back to Neolithic times. Such routes favoured easier travel on the dry and relatively vegetation free downland over the wetter routes below. Goods, especially fine polished axes of various types of stone, were traded around the country by means of such tracks, with fine examples from as far away as the Lake District making their way to Sussex.
At first glance Butts Brow appears to be a modern car park. However, recent tree felling and aerial surveys using lasers have revealed a Neolithic enclosure in the form of a single bank and ditch buried under the later developments. It is most visible on the west side where a low area of curving earthwork is visible from the public footpaths approaching the car park from the south.
Neolithic enclosures are rare in Sussex, so the recent discovery of the Butts Brow site only ½ mile away from a well-known site at Combe Hill is surprising. Combe Hill illustrates a site of continuing importance to our ancestors over hundreds of years. Around the top of the hill, two rings of interrupted banks and ditches form a “causewayed camp” which was constructed around 3000 BC by Neolithic people equipped only with animal bones, antlers and wood spades. But what was it for? It cannot be defensive as the banks are not continuous. A space for use as a temple or an arena/trading area seem the most likely uses and this is possibly the site at which the precious polished stone axes were traded or given as gifts between different tribes or family groups.
Guarding each end of the approach to the hilltop camp are the spirits of the Bronze Age people, buried hundreds of years later. By now the camp had fallen out of use but it was still respected as a sacred space. Rejecting the communal burials in long barrows of their Neolithic ancestors, the Bronze Age people of around 2000BC, constructed round mounds over single people, usually buried as if asleep, curled up on their side, facing the sunrise and often clutching their possessions. By now flint and other stone axes had been superseded, but these newer inhabitants were often buried with polished bronze axes instead. The mounds originally were shining white chalk but are now grass-grown and damaged by antiquarians digging into them looking for treasure.
The route now descends through the area of ancient fields seen earlier, allowing the extent and size of the system to be appreciated, even after 2000 years of erosion. Such systems are difficult to date but the accidental discovery of Iron Age pottery of around 500BC in rabbit holes may represent the initial formation of the fields or the improvement of an earlier system as iron plough shards replaced less-effective bronze ones.
Whilst Jevington Church post-dates the theme of this walk, the re-use of Roman bricks to form the heads of some of the arches in the tower give firm evidence for the presence of a substantial Roman building nearby. Inside the church, a stone tablet shows a figure of Christ thrusting a sword into a twin beasts of evil at his feet which may represent Christianity overcoming the pagan sites so clearly visible nearby.
Whilst we have taken reasonable endeavours to ensure the information is up to date and correct, you will be using the information strictly at your own risk. If you come across any inaccuracies whilst you are on your walk, please contact Wealden District Council’s Community and Regeneration team.
The self-guided walk descriptions are provided to help you navigate your way, however we recommend that you plan your route prior to walking the route and that you carry an Ordnance Survey map of the area being walked and follow your position on the map as you proceed.
Please note, we cannot be responsible for the conditions of the footpaths and land and you are responsible for your own safety.