Brighton's juxtaposition between the sea and the South Downs is a pretty special place to be. October is a time when us Brightonians tend to ditch the call of the sea in favour of bracing country walks and warming pints by a roaring pub fire. While I love the summer, there's nothing quite like crunching through a forest of fallen leaves with the dog on a brisk autumn day. And if you choose your route well, you'll find some formidable country pubs.
Even our local bus company has recognised the need to escape and puts on special services called 'Breeze up to the Downs' to trundle the hordes out to Devil's Dyke, Stanmer Park and Ditchling Beacon throughout the year.
One of my favourite walks is Devil's Dyke, a 10-minute drive from the seafront, on the boundary of the South Downs National Park. If you're going to do it properly, start off with a pint of Devil's Dyke Porter at the Devil's Dyke pub at the top. Legend has it, crotchety old Satan was attempting to drown the parishioners of the Sussex Weald by carving out a channel down to the sea. But his hard work was scuppered by an old lady who lit a candle, which he thought was the sun was rising, and fled before he could finish his dastardly deed.
There are several circular walks you can take around the grassy chasm, all boasting magnificent views over the Sussex countryside. Time it right and on a bright, clear day you'll see swarms of hang gliders who take off from the Dyke, flying like rainbow-coloured pterodactyls swooping down to the sea.
"One of the best things about being a dog walker in Brighton is the choice of different walks to enjoy," says Katie, who runs local dog-walking company, Bow Wow Meow. "The exposed hilltops give you brilliant panoramic views down to the sea, while the secret trails which wind through the acres of woodland means there's always something new to see."
A great place while away a few hours with the kids
Credit: Dominic Alves
Once a firing range for the Canadian tank regiment, Stanmer Park by the University of Sussex is another popular weekend escape. Edged by a steep, thick woodland of beech trees hiding rope swings and tree camps, it's a great place to while away a few hours with the kids. Stanmer village has a quaint little church and a farm, but I generally head straight to Stanmer House, a stately home-turned-gastro pub, for a homemade Scotch egg and a reviving sherry or two.
Stanmer House - a stately home-turned-gastro pub
Credit: Nick Harvey
But it's not just by day than Stanmer appeals, Nicky Fish from Second Nature, an outdoor learning company, hosts bi-monthly Bat and Owl Prowl walks around the woods with a bat detector (yep, she's a real life bat woman). "The bat walks are fascinating for both kids and adults," says Nicky, who uses a bat detector to listen to the mysterious calls of the bats. "Just being in the woods at night is very magical. On my walks, we've also had many up-close-and-personal encounters with the local tawny owls." The organised walks run until the bats hibernate, usually around mid-November. Nicky's next walks are October 10 and 25.
Ditchling Beacon - the third-highest point on the South Downs
Credit: Peter Castleton
For a more of a physical challenge, head out to Ditchling Beacon, the third-highest point on the South Downs and renowned for the beast of a hill which destroys cyclists every weekend. From the top you can see all the way down to the sea and north across the patchwork hills of the Sussex countryside.
If time allows, follow the South Downs Way footpath around the northerly edge of the city, past the cutesy Jack and Jill windmills at Clayton and over to Devil's Dyke. Or just head straight down the Beacon, sometimes through the clouds, to Ditchling village, where you can reward yourself with a pint of Long Man ale in The Bull before bracing yourself for the climb back up.