Tuesday, 3 February 2009

South Downs Way Day Four Cocking - Amberley

Leaving Cocking
It was Good Friday when I next was able to get out on the hills and as a result of different public transport arrangements on bank holidays I had to undertake a section out of sequence. The weather forecast was good for today, but the early signs didn’t look promising, with rain clouds in the area. As I waited for the bus from Chichester to take me to the start of the walk the heavens opened and during the early part of the journey there was torrential rain.

Just as I was getting a bit nervous about the weather for the remaining part of the day, the clouds cleared and by the time I got out at the crest of the hill above Cocking Village the rain had disappeared and the sun had come out. It was now a cold but beautiful sunny day, ideal for walking. Over in the distance was the threat of more wintry showers with other rain clouds across various parts of the Weald. Ostensibly though it looked like I might strike lucky for the rest of the day.

Not This Way!
I wasn’t the only walker who alighted from the bus; another couple got off at the same stop and were visibly dressed up for a day out on the Downs. I was relieved though when they headed in the opposite direction. The Way crossed the A286 at this point and I headed east, up the long and gradual climb to Heyshott Down. It was a bit of a rude awakening for the day, but not a bad plod to the top. I was pleased to be getting out onto the Downs that were familiar to me after the previous two days, which were pleasant but not the kind of Downland scenery I was used to.

Grafham Down Post
Eventually I got to the top of Heyshott Down and from here it was a relatively level walk for the next few miles. I also had the path pretty much to myself, largely I suspect as a result of the appalling weather earlier and my early start on a bank holiday. Heyshott Down and Grafham Down a little further along the path are fairly wooded sections of the path and views across to the north were sporadic. Those views that were afforded were pretty spectacular as the earlier rain left a sparkle in the air and everything was so clear.

Cloud Line
Along the way there were periodic interruptions to the peace caused by game birds that were alerted to my presence and would fly up with great fanfare and cause me instant heart failure. Other than that most of the signing birds were fairly quiet, presumably hunkered down because of the cold weather.

View to Bignor Hill
At Grafham Down there was some activity, with a couple of farming types out and about in their four wheel drive vehicle. Shortly after I was passed by a large number of horse riders out for a canter. There was no-one else silly enough to be walking though! Once past the nature reserve of Grafham Down, the path opened out into a clearer section and the views became much better. Over in the distance I could see the facilities of the racecourse at Goodwood about five miles south west of my position. To the north I could see the Greensand Ridge quite clearly and up ahead I thought I could just make out Wolstonbury Hill, to the north of Brighton.
View to Bignor Hill

I eventually got to the crest of the hill above Littleton Farm and through a small piece of woodland. As I left the wood the view ahead was staggering. I could see along the whole ridge of the Downs between Amberley and Wolstonbury Hill approximately twenty five miles away as the crow flies. All the main hills, such as Chantry Hill, Chanctonbury Ring and Devils Dyke could all be seen and I spent some time squinting through my binoculars at this amazing view.

Looking Back From Bignor Hill
I descended into Littleton Farm and passed a family preparing to climb in the opposite direction. I didn’t feel too much sympathy as I could see that my path ahead was the ascent of Bignor Hill. I took the climb steadily and plodded my way to the top. I have made quite good time to get this far, but was quite surprised to see that according to the sign board I still had six miles left to go today. I had thought that I merely had the ascent and descent of Bignor Hill and that I would basically be in the Arun Valley. How wrong I could be! When I got to the top of the slog up from Littleton Farm I realised that it was at least another mile to the car park on top of Bignor Hill.
Arun Valley

When I got to the top the views were to the south rather than the north and behind me I could see the Isle of Wight, the Solent and swinging round the view of the entire coast from Havant to Worthing. Highdown Hill was very prominent ahead, and I could see down towards Arundel. Eventually when I got to the car park it was obvious that people had roused themselves and were going to get out to enjoy the day ahead. By now it was almost lunchtime and I basically had the descent down into Amberley left ahead of me. After what seemed to be an endless chalky path ahead of me I discovered a sting in the tail when the path descended down into a dry valley. By now the day had warmed up and the climb the other side was longer than I expected. The skylarks were busy making lots of noise, a sound that I forever associate with this part of the country.

All too soon I reached the unpleasantness of the A29, one of the most dangerous road crossings still left untackled on the South Downs Way. The path crosses the road at the top of Bury Hill, a bit of a racetrack section of the London-Bognor Regis road. From here I got my first good look at the Arun Valley, with Amberley ahead, one of my favourite views of the whole trail. From here it was a fairly easy descent into the river valley and a short walk along the river bank to Amberley Station where I concluded the day.

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