Wednesday, 11 February 2009

South Downs Way Day Five Amberley - Botolphs

Amberley Trains
For me this was rather an odd section of walk to undertake since it is the closest piece of long distance walk to pass by my house (it gets to within four miles at Chanctonbury Ring). It was a stunning October Day when I set out to do this section, with the first signs of winter in the morning. Lots of low lying mist and a real chill in the air that I hoped would subside quite quickly. I took the train to Amberley and when I alighted I could see my steamy breath for the first time for many months.

Amberley Castle
There was a short piece of road walking along the B2139 to regain the official South Downs Way at the wonderfully named High Titten (sounds German for something?). This was a lane which led up onto the Downs alongside the Amberley Museum. The museum is housed in a large chalk quarry and celebrates an eclectic mixture of industrial archaeology. It makes for a fascinating day out (see their website at ) and is highly recommended. As I climbed High Titten, views of the museum were obscured and only hints of what goes on below were evident. At the top of High Titten, the lane drops back down off the Downs to Amberley village, about a mile north of the station. I faced my first climb of the day, Rackham Hill, which took several stages before I finally got to the top.

Amberley Mount View
Once at the top the views were absolutely stunning, with the air being crystal clear. I stood at the top and scanned around with my binoculars for some time. From this point I could see as far away as Hampshire, Surrey, the Isle of Wight and even across to East Sussex. A lot nearer than any of these distant counties were the castles of Amberley and Arundel, both guarding the River Arun at each end of the gap it had carved out through the chalk hills. Further away the distinctive white roof of Butlins at Bognor could be clearly identified among the strip of buildings along the coast.

Chantry Post
Eventually I pulled myself away from the view and got on with the job in hand. This section of ridge was almost completely flat and I soon developed a quick pace as I made my way to the first landmark of the day, the Chantry Post. Although it felt good to quicken my stride, I made sure not to miss the views across to the sea and the spring-line villages below me. Soon I came upon Parham House, one of the most beautiful stately homes in these parts. Just behind I could see the small greensand ridge that runs just to the north of the scarp slope. This is a blink and you’ll miss it feature, in stark contrast to the mighty greensand ridge that runs parallel with the North Downs. There is a giveaway small quarry just near Storrington that is locally popular with rock climbers that can be clearly seen from the Downs at this point.

Chantry Hill
I soon came to Chantry Post, one of the old fashioned wooden marker posts that are sadly infrequent along the South Downs, but usually important enough to warrant a map reference. By now lots of dog walkers and even a few horse riders were out ready to enjoy the sunshine that was beginning to get quite warm. Most were a friendly bunch, glad to be out enjoying one of the last warm days before autumn and winter really closed in.

Descending into Washington
Shortly after the Chantry Post, I lost the ridge temporarily as the path descended towards Washington Village. At this point is a choice of routes with a northerly ‘safe’ route that avoids directly crossing the A24 and the route I took, which allows for a game of chicken across the four lanes of the Washington by-pass. Luckily when I got there the road was largely devoid of traffic so I had a trouble free crossing. On the other side I began my climb to the top of Chanctonbury Ring, the second big climb of the day. This was a slog, but taken quite slowly I soon got the reward of another new view across the Weald.

Chanctonbury Ring
Chanctonbury Ring marks the nearest point to my house on the SDW (about four miles away) and I could quite easily have walked home from here (and have on occasion), but being the completist I decided to press on to the Adur Valley, another four miles or so away. However, before doing so I stopped for lunch so as to have a good look once again for places I could pick out with the binoculars. Petworth House could be seen, along with Gatwick Airport even though they were both at least twenty miles away. The Ring itself was beginning to look in better health, having been ravaged by the 1987 Hurricane. This flattened most of the trees, turning a very distinctive landmark into a shadow of itself for many years. I am guessing that with the current rate of regrowth it may be back to what it was in my lifetime.

Chanctonbury View Towards Worthing
From Chanctonbury Ring it was mostly downhill to the Adur Valley, although still quite a long way. Shortly after I came across Steyning Bowl, a favourite haunt for hang and paragliders. There weren’t any about today though, probably on account of there not being much wind and it being a weekday. The Bowl has an appropriate name, a huge dry valley that looks like it has been gouged out of the Downs.

Steyning Bowl
The SDW continues down Annington Hill towards Botolphs Church, one of the oldest in these parts. The view down the Adur Valley was spectacular from Annington Hill, but if I’m honest it has none of the charm or beauty of the Arun Valley. It’s been rather spoiled by the erstwhile cement works that still act like the elephant in the room, and the Adur viaduct that carries the A27 around Shoreham just to the south. Lancing Colleage, with its preposterously enormous chapel does its best to add character but is rather overshadowed by its two industrial neighbours.

River Adur
Away to the north, there is a good view from here to Bramber Castle that once guarded the Adur valley. Very little, other than a tall fragment of wall remains but it is still strangely castle like. As I descended to Botolphs there were many warnings of the SDW being closed ahead, but I had little option but to do my best as the bus stop I was headed for was right next to the closed piece of footpath. I crossed the Downs Link, which used to be the railway line from Shoreham – Horsham and which now serves as a cycle route linking the North and South Downs. Next it was over the river and I could immediately see what the problem was ahead, with a large section of footpath being completely reconstructed. The diversion wasn’t too bad though, adding only a few hundred metres to the end of my route. When I arrived at the bus stop I waited less than five minutes before the bus came by, what a result!

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