Crouching under the leafless bony branches that kept scratching the scalp under my windblown hair I wondered where the hell I was going. Not for the first time that day, I was lost on Harting Down on the hunt for the Vandalian Tower.
I’m not a walker, but after my first outdoor experiences last year of camping and hiking I snapped up a pair of raspberry pink walking boots from Mountain Warehouse in the January sales and have been trying to explore more of my home in the South of England over the last few months.
Atlas Obscura has always been a favourite of mine for finding curious sights to visit in the UK, and it was here that I first read about the Vandalian Tower just a short drive from my hometown.
Finding the Vandalian Tower
I’ll be honest, after spending so much of the last few months on budget buses across Europe, I was also really keen to get out more in my car. We’ve been together for almost 9 years this October and I miss driving so much when I’m travelling.
Getting to Harting Down Car Park
So I hopped in Denny (that’s the name of my battered Ford Fiesta) and went on the hunt for the Harting Down car park. This in itself was a mission as Denny was suffering from a few clutch problems and the winding country roads became slightly dangerous when he began refusing to accelerate in third gear.
Note: Denny has since gone through his second clutch replacement operation and recovered well with a 650 mile roundtrip to Lancaster last weekend. Well done Denny!
For those who might want to go on the hunt for the Vandalian Tower in the future, here’s a few details on where to park:
Harting Down car park postcode: GU31 5PN
Harting Down car park charges: Free for Blue Badge holders & National Trust members; £2 per day
If you need to pay for parking, there isn’t a machine at the car park so you need to pay either by mobile phone (instructions on a board) with your credit/debit card or you can pay online in advance.
Finding the Vandalian Tower
To get as close as you can to the Vandalian Tower (which isn’t that close by the way) you need to walk from the Harting Down car park towards the view over the villages below, parallel to the road. Then turn left and follow the path across the road and onto the next section of the South Downs Way.
Of course, I went right and added an extra leg to my journey before spotting the Tower from a distance and turning back!
However, it did mean that I got to enjoy this incredible view…
Those are my walking boots by the way – did you really think I was joking when I said they were raspberry pink?
So once I turned in the correct direction and crossed the road I ended up in a shady wooded path. Well it’s not that shady – but as a new walker I’m still getting to know where I am and am not allowed to be and I was a little worried I would get shot by an angry farmer.
As it turns out, the Vandalian Tower is on private land. And honestly, I think that sucks because it means you have to enjoy the view of this 18th century piece of history from behind three barbed wire fences!
But then you remember that you’re looking at something built in 1774 in celebration of the founding of territory that no longer exists in a state of America that no one remembers. So even from behind three wire fences the feeling is pretty cool….
So if you want pictures, you’re going to need a zoom lens or permission from the landowner. If you just want to know why this tower still exists even though the land of Vandalia doesn’t, read on…
The rise and fall of Vandalia
For the long story, all credit has to go to James Donald Anderson who wrote this epic history. I’m here to tell you the short story which goes something like this…
Over a ten year period during the 1760s – 1770s a company of landowners in neighbouring states persisted in applying for permission from the English Crown and Government to formally establish a colony on the land known as Vandalia. Click here to see a map of the intended colony!
The majority of the original company was made up of the Wharton family, who went into business with none other than Benjamin Franklin. But despite being a member of the Founding Fathers of the United States, he failed to successfully found Vandalia as a profitable colony.
Another interested businessman went by the name of Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh, and it was he who commissioned the tower in the grounds of Uppark Park in honour of the intended colony. Completed in the same year as the death of Fetherstonhaugh, he didn’t live to see the fall of Vandalia and his tower still stands today. Although with slightly less grace…
The United States of America proclaimed themselves an independent republic in 1776, around the same time that the prospective Vandalian landowners lost all hope. So I can’t help but be a little moved by this tower that stands as a reminder of the hope that America inspired in so many English businessmen before we had our tea thrown in to the harbour…