The first week in March should have been filled with the joys of spring but for reasons that will be explained it was far from idyllic.
I don’t often feel guilty when out walking, why should I for I am sharing the stunning South Downs through my words, walks and photos; bringing a little happiness to many, that’s the idea anyway.
But the first week of March wasn’t a week I could go out walking with a clear head. I couldn’t get over the feeling of guilt that potentially loomed.
Walking for Health
A close family relative suffered a heart attack during the first week of March, unforeseen and unexpected. Life was quite simply not the same from then on. I should add at this early point in the blog post that my relative has survived and is on the long road to recovery, with a prognosis of being fitter and healthier in time.
You can understand how going out walking at such a worrying time didn’t seem right in my head, how could I enjoy the South Downs views, the landscape when I was worried about family. So I didn’t walk, I did what everyone does at a time like this, I worried, I thought and I stayed close to the phone and loved ones.
A week later and things had changed beyond my wildest imagination. My relative was home amongst family and following hospital treatment very much on the mend.
A week in politics might seem a long time but 7 days in reality is life changing.
So now I’m walking with renewed purpose; I’m sharing my passion of the countryside with you, I’m sharing photos of lovely locations and I’m walking because fortunately my health says I can. It is very easy to take life and health for granted and the month of March has shown that what we enjoy one moment can be denied the next.
Amberley Circular Walk – 13 Miles
The second week of March was spring-like, warm sunshine and mild temperatures, a reason to be happy. I choose to walk to Amberley, a lovely village close to the River Arun, a location that never fails to make me smile.
I set off from Storrington, an easy village to base many South Downs walks from. As is often my chosen route, I walked Church Street to the end of Greyfriars Lane and climbed the now familiar trail that took me up on high to Kithurst Hill, rising above the beech trees and the busy village streets below.
I turned right and headed west, meeting the South Downs Way (SDW) trail half a mile to the west at Kithurst Hill car park. The car park was almost empty except for two horse-boxes, two humans, two horses and two very happy dogs.
Rackham Hill 193 Metres of Bliss
After chatting to the horses, dogs and the owners I carried on under the morning spring sunshine towards Rackham Hill, marked on OS Maps with a trig point 193 metres above sea level. Unfortunately the trig point is within a fenced-off field, so no up close shots today but with stunning views I was far from dismayed at a bit of steel wire in the photos.
Several public rights of way lead off the South Downs ridge at Rackham Hill, giving an excuse to explore off the main South Downs Way (SDW) which can be busy on summer weekends. My destination today was Houghton and that was a simple case of continuing walking west along the SDW avoiding the crowds. Do you see them in the photo above!
It was whilst walking at Rackham Hill that I had a chance to say a little thank you, for the past week. If any spirits / gods / aliens were listening I hope I made sense. No one around, just the birds tweeting and the panoramic views. If ever I was thankful for my good health and the good health of others it was here and now.
High up with commanding views south to the English Channel and north to the misty North Downs it was great to be able to place one hiking boot in front of the other; repeat after me.
Houghton and The River Arun
I had walked to Houghton from Storrington several months ago and I had a destination in mind for some photos and a chance to stop and admire. I followed the SDW alongside Downs Farm until the SDW trail met High Titten and then the B2139 road just outside the Amberley Industrial Museum.
Following the main road to Houghton I walked under the railway bridge at Amberley Station (in Houghton!) and then I took a right turn immediately after the railway bridge to walk alongside the River Arun northwards, on the SDW. Passing by fellow hikers almost always brings a genuine greeting, an unspoken sense of understanding. Aching legs, beating heart, feeling alive.
The starter months of the New Year were not particularly wet in the South East of England and it was pleasing to see by early spring that the river banks had dried out significantly. My last walk along the banks of the River Arun were a sideways slippery struggle. Fans of wetlands do not fear, there was still plenty of groundwater at Amberley Wild Brooks, just a little less now.
Even though I could hear and see traffic on the Houghton to Storrington road and the passing Southern Railway trains, this riverside walk was relaxing, good for the mind and soul.
South Downs Way River Crossing
The South Downs Way crosses the River Arun to continue its climb westwards up to Bury Hill via a sturdy steel footbridge, built to survive the worst winter flooding that can and does occur here when the River Arun is in full flood.
Even though I had taken lots of photos of this bridge before, I still found plenty of angles that looked pleasing on the eye (my eye!). The breeze was gently rushing through the reeds, the river flowing silently by. I had made the right choice earlier in deciding to walk to Houghton and Amberley. Warm spring sunshine made for a very pleasant riverside hike. Giving some clarity to the events of the previous week.
Amberley Wild Brooks – Sole Cleansing
After my photographic encounter with my favourite steel bridge I followed the River Arun in a northerly direction, keeping on the right-hand side bank as I walked. In the distance over to my left, across the Arun I could see the village of Bury. I knew from my OS Map that this was the cue to look right for a footpath across the flood plain in the direction of the railway line and Amberley Castle.
A single post on the riverbank with a small painted arrow marked the time for me to turn right and walk east across the flood plain towards Amberley village. According to the OS Maps there are no public rights of way northwards along the banks of the Arun until closer to Pulborough. This restricted access is because of the SSSI status of the wetlands and to protect ground-nesting birds.
Amberley Wild Brooks is the name given to the large area of wetland flood plain that is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. As you can see from my photo above, even on the designated footpaths the ground is very wet and boggy. It wasn’t wise to stop and linger too long on the flood plain as I’m not the lightest of hikers with rucksack on.
Amberley Castle – The Back View
Once off of the wetlands there is a railway crossing to be negotiated. If you are visiting from outside of the South East be aware that these railway lines use third-rail electrification so keep dogs on a tight lead! I continued walking east after crossing the railway towards Amberley. I hadn’t walked this footpath before and wasn’t expecting to pass so close to the locally famous Amberley Castle. Now a hotel this castle once played a role in the English Civil War.
Amberley Castle was built as a 12th-century manor house and fortified in 1377. The site on which the castle stands belonged to the Bishops of Chichester. The walls are quite impressive and not what you would expect to find in a sleepy South Downs village. I followed the road into the heart of the village. Amberley is very much your typical chocolate box village. Thatched cottages, cosy pubs and occasional hikers.
Amberley to Rackham Mill
For the return walk from Amberley to Storrington I took a lowland route I had walked before, following the West Sussex Literary Trail, a 55 mile route from Horsham to Chichester Cathedral. I was only walking as far as Amberley to Storrington but the trail takes in some lovely local countryside, including Rackham Mill and Parham Park.
After walking 1.5 kilometres east from the village centre towards Rackham along Rackham Street I took a footpath on my left which is marked as the West Sussex Literary Trail. I walked this footpath several months ago and was pleased to say that this time I didn’t sink into the groundwater. The path follows the edge of Amberley Wild Brooks and crosses over several drainage ditches via typical double plank bridges and a Pooh Sticks compatible bridge.
After a few twists and turns the trail arrives at Rackham Mill. The mill dates from around the early 19th century and is part of a private dwelling. The West Sussex Literary Trail (WSLT) runs through the estate between private house and watermill, so any photos would need to be taken discretely and from the public path only unless you ask nicely.
Parham Park and Airfield
Leaving the idyllic watermill behind I carried on walking the WSLT towards Parham Park, via a short section of road and my favourite signpost. Despite being closed out of tourist season, Parham Park does have year-round access via the Literary Trail public right of way. Fallow deer can often be seen close to the path in the deer park and the South Downs ridge makes a lovely backdrop to this final part of the walk.
Parham Park is an SSSI, so wandering off the access road / footpath is not normally allowed. Even so, the walk through the grounds is always lovely and makes for a handy lowland route back to Storrington.
Walking for Extra Health
I had time on my hands as I left Parham Park, so rather than end my walk a mile up the A283 in Storrington centre I decided to add another mile or so of greenery to the walk and took a footpath that runs from Charity Farm alongside the grass airstrip of Parham Airfield, home to many gliders.
If you want to watch the gliders being towed into the air, or watch their near silent landing then this footpath, clearly marked on OS Maps would be an idea spot to sit and watch. It goes without saying that the airfield can be a dangerous place if you wander off the marked footpaths, so don’t!
I followed a rough rectangular trail around the glider field, sticking to the public footpaths and ended my walk with a satisfying, healthy 13.04 miles walked.
Walk The Walk
As my opening few paragraphs mentioned, this walk meant something more than just a hike on the South Downs. It was my promise to myself to keep fit, to keep walking, to encourage you to walk more. There are trails to be walked all over the country, urban or rural.
It makes no difference where you walk, only the photography and the topography changes. This walk was for you SB.
Route: Storrington to Houghton and back.
Download Map of Route
Distance: 13.04 miles (20.98 km)