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The Devil’s Dyke is a V shaped valley roughly 100 feet deep that was created by erosion caused by an ancient river, however local legends would have us belief that it was created by the Devil himself, hence its name.
There are a few variants of the story concerning the formation of Devils Dyke. The basic premise is that the Devil wanted to flood the Weald of Sussex with sea water and thus destroy the churches there. In order to do this, one night he set about digging a trench through the South Downs to divert the water. This trench is now known as the Devil’s Dyke. The Dyke was not however completed as he was tricked into believing morning had come early and he fled leaving his work unfinished. One version of the story says during his digging the Devil disturbed a rooster, which started to crow, hence making him believe it was dawn. Another version has him being discovered by an old woman who was awakened by the digging noise. Going outside with a candle, she came across the Devil, who, seeing the naked flame thought the sun was rising and hence he fled. Sometimes both elements are suggested, with an old woman or nun tricking the Devil into believing it was dawn with a candle and by causing a cockerel to crow.
The story of the Devil digging the Dyke has in some versions included other locations. The last sod of earth he flung out with his shovel just before fleeing is said to have landed in the English Channel and is now known as the Isle of Wight. A large rock in Hove Park is said to have been kicked there after the Devil stubbed his toe on in whilst digging the Dyke.
Yet another tale attached to its formation has the Devil in the guise of a huge goat who was driven away from the area in a fit of vanity when he thought his coat might get wet. In this instance the Devil’s Dyke is said to be the remains of a hoof print he left behind.
Stories of the Devil did not frighten visitors away and during the Victorian and Edwardian times it was a major tourist attraction with a cable car, railroad, fairground, bandstands and an observatory.