The South Downs Way: Day 3 – South Harting to Amberley

(20th April 2016 – 20 miles + 4 additional miles)

Today was my longest and toughest on the SDW and, as I’d also arranged an early supper date with my sister, I was marching against the clock too.   I woke early, packed, demolished a grand  breakfast, paid my bill, pulled on my Meindl boots and was climbing back to the top of the Downs by 8.30.

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It was a glorious morning and the woods were ripe with the scent of wild garlic.  The forecast gave sun all day and I wanted to cover a good few miles whilst it was still cool.

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Horse chestnut leaves

Didn’t really happen: the light was so perfect and new plant growth so fresh that I stopped repeatedly to take photos and drink in this first rush of spring.

South Harting, South Downs Way

South Harting

At the top of the climb, and back on the trail, I looked down over South Harting, the church and my B&B.  Both the pub I’d visited the night before and the village shop are owned and run by the villagers.  The same is true of the shop in Amberley and it is now a common way of keeping rural businesses open.  And good job – my walk would have been all the poorer without the pub and these two village shops (with their award-winning pies).

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My eyes drifted to the left and over the wooded hills I’d crossed the day before to, far off, the mast on top of Butser Hill.  I’d sat there at lunchtime yesterday and it always surprises me how much ground one can cover on foot in just a few hours.

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A bench, sited by a genius, delayed me even more

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before I struck out on fine open Downland

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on soft, perfect-walking turf.

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31 done, 69 to go

Regular mileposts gave me a running tally of miles covered, and miles still to do.  Almost a third done!

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As well as long miles there were plenty of stiff descents and climbs today

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but on day three, and getting into my stride, I didn’t find them too onerous.

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Recently harrowed fields glowed with emerging wheat

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and eastwards I had a clear view of the scarp edge receding into the haze.

German pilot memorial, South Downs Way

“In Memoriam Hauptmann Joseph Oestermann Pilot 1915-1940”

Shortly after entering Phillis Wood, I passed the easily missed memorial to Joseph Oestermann.  He was the pilot and only fatality of a Junkers 88 shot down by an RAF Hurricane in 1940 and, given that his mission was to bomb airfields during the Battle of Britain, I find it moving that passers-by and locals still respect his resting place.   (The Hurricane pilot was shot down later the same day but, after ditching into the Channel, he survived).

Devil's Jumps, West Sussex

Devil’s Jumps

A little further on and I paused again at The Devil’s Jumps, a 3000 year old barrow cemetery.  Disconcertingly, a clean-cut, bloodless deer’s foot lay on the path … which unsettled me somewhat if adding nicely to the silent and eerie atmosphere.

Marks memorial, South Downs Way

At my feet and almost invisible, I noticed a small weathered plaque inscribed with the words, “Mark liked it here 23 July 1960 – 20 April 1998” .  For the second time in half an hour the simplicity and understatedness of a memorial moved me.

yellowhammer

Yellowhammer

There were no people on this quiet section of the SDW but plenty of bird-life,

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a herd of fallow deer and the irritating scream of peacocks from nearby Monkton Estate.

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Leaving the woodland of Monkton, I also left the heavily wooded half of the Way:

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the rest of my walk would be more classically rolling Downland.

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As the day wore on and with such good weather the path became busy

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and I smiled at how some people would avoid saying hello by suddenly and intently studying the ground before their feet or staring pointedly at some fixed point on the horizon as they passed me.  I tried not to take it personally.

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A fine April is probably the perfect time to walk the South Downs Way with fields of dandelions,

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daisy lined paths,

Skylark

and the constant trill of skylarks.

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Regularly checking my guidebook, I knew when a descent from the High Downs was imminent … but often the steep reality was more disheartening than I’d supposed, as here coming off Cocking Down.

cocking-village

8 miles from South Harting and about 13 miles from Amberley, the village of Cocking – half a mile off the trail – is a popular stop-over on the South Downs Way.  I had considered spending the night there on this trip but it didn’t fit comfortably enough into my six-day schedule.  I have wild-camped on the Downs above the village in the past … after a slap up feed at the village pub, The Bluebell Inn.

chalk stone Andy Goldsworthy

Chalk Stone by Andy Goldsworthy

In 2002, the British artist Andy Goldsworthy set a series of 14 chalk boulders linking the South Downs near Cocking to West Dean, though this one on Cocking Down is the only one I saw.  Initially Andy thought they would weather away within a couple of years but at this rate they’ll be around for centuries.

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With my eye on the time, I set a fast pace and at one point had to politely, persistently back away from a very chatty walker who otherwise would have carried on talking for hours.

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But I still took plenty of photos: the view back to Cocking Down;

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synchronised grazing;

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gentle spring sunlight;

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solid English names;

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the way ahead;

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first beech leaves;

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and a distant strip of English Channel.

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At 3.30 I got my first glimpse of Amberley and the half way mark on the ‘Way.

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But it was just a glimpse and I had a further long fall and climb on the path

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River Arun

before finally crossing the River Arun an hour later

Pied wagtail

with a pied wagtail close encounter.

Amberley castle

Amberley castle

Though I have been to ‘Amberley’ before, I hadn’t quite realised that what I think of as Amberley – where Amberley railway station lies – isn’t Amberley.  The station is actually in Houghton but the village of Amberley is about a mile to the north, past the castle.

Amberley

Amberley village

My sister was arriving on the 6.30 train and I’d arranged to meet her in the pub next to the station.   I  thought I still had plenty of time but when I finally reached proper Amberley, I discovered that my stop for the night was still another half mile beyond the village.

The Sportsman Inn, Amberley

Hot and bothered, I reached The Sportsman Inn, booked in,

Amberley wild brooks

glanced out of my window at the remarkable view over the Amberley Wildbrooks Nature Reserve, showered, dressed and charged breathlessly the mile and a half back to Houghton and The Bridge Inn rendezvous with my sister.

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I arrived about ten minutes early, sipped icy shandy and fiddled with my phone.  I took this selfie – which doesn’t accurately portray just how shattered I felt.  It was a great choice of pub with superb food but I must have been somewhat delirious for, after that brilliant meal, laughs and chat, I offered to pick up the bill.

Too much sun and long miles must have fried my brain.

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The South Downs Way: Day 2 – East Meon to South Harting

(19th April 2016 – 12 miles)

After my disappointment at last night’s food, I charged downstairs for some serious, no-nonsense feeding … and this time I wasn’t disappointed.  The full English was generous; actually quite superb. and my liking for the ‘Ye Olde George Inn’ notched up two points.

East Meon

East Meon church

With a full stomach, at last, I stepped outside, buckled up my gaiters, pulled on my rucksack, loosened my belt a notch, rubbed some dried muck off my trousers and set off, whistling, to rejoin the South Downs Way.

East Meon (2)

East Meon

Today was my shortest leg.  Whilst accommodation on the trail is plentiful, it isn’t always perfectly spaced.  During the planning stage, my brain had throbbed over arranging six fairly equidistant stop-overs.  In the end I gave up – hence a long first day, this short one, followed by a long twenty-miler.

South Downs Way Day 2 (1)

By 9am I was back on the path with an immediate warm climb through woods;

to birdsong and wild-flowers.

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At the top, the trees thinned to reveal brilliant 360° views over Hampshire.  With a lot of sky.

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I was in high, bubbly spirits, slowly spinning to look about me when a fast shadow passed overhead.

Red kite South Downs

Looking up, a large bird of prey whooshed past again – a red kite.  In my excitement (I’d never seen a kite on the Downs before) I barely had time to focus my camera before the unhelpful one sailed away.  A party of three women ‘Wayers stopped to see what all my fuss was about but were visibly unimpressed when I told them.  (They lived in  Oxfordshire, where kites are two-a-penny).

Ram

I was in no hurry on this short day and walked slowly, meeting  the Most Impressive Ram Of The Day;

Fat Goose

and the funniest, loudest, most inquisitive, quarrelsome goose.  I rather fell for him … or her.

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The path carried me on through woodland and puddles and avoidable mud

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until I stopped at an unremarkable copse, just off the path.  It was here, eight years ago, that I slept after a long, long walk from Amberley and an increasingly desperate search for somewhere unobtrusive to pitch my tent.  My dog, Hobbes, grunted when I produced her blanket from the bottom of my rucksack and laid it at the foot of my sleeping bag.  (As usual though, by the morning she’d shimmied up and her nose touched mine).

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I used Trailblazer’s ‘The South Downs Way’ guidebook on this trip and liked it very much

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with its simply drawn maps

HMSO South Downs Way (3)

but I prefer the Ordnance Survey map sections,

HMSO South Downs Way (1)

and beautiful illustrations

HMSO South Downs Way (2)

in my treasured, much-used, 1979 HMSO edition.

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At Butser Hill, the highest point on the SDW, I stopped for my regular boot-selfie and a day-old sandwich from Winchester M&S.  It was OK with a slightly, not altogether unpleasant, fermented after-taste.  I’d tell you the filling but I can see your eyes glazing.

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As I ate, I watched a National Trust worker tending his flock and felt voyeuristic watching him though my zoom lens, if a little jealous too.

Buzzards South Downs

I walked down the hill to pass under the busy A3 and spotted two buzzards a couple of hundred yards away.  Slowly, I stalked closer but they flew off as soon as they saw the cut of my jib and before I could get too close.

Queen Elizabeth Country Park

A little later, I stopped at the Queen Elizabeth Country Park visitor centre for OK tea and OK cake and remembered how Hobbes and I had struggled to find enough drinking water during our adventure.  (Hobbes was happy to lap from puddles – me, less so).  We were only able to camp in 2008 when a kindly cyclist saw me banging my head against the centre’s dry tap.  He gave me his bottle of water and I was so grateful (at not needing to divert, by bus, off the path to fill my own bottles) I almost kissed him.  Only the look of alarm on his hitherto friendly face, stopped me in time.  Now, in 2016, there are several more path-side water taps along the SDW … and they all worked.

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The 600 hectare QE park is a mix of downland and one of the largest continuous areas of woodland in the south-east.  It also has  20 miles of paths; but the SDW is clearly signed and route finding straightforward.

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The ‘Way used to follow an unmetalled road used by cars (and still does according to my guidebook) but it now diverts to higher, quieter ground and for once, I was totally, gratefully alone.

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The Shipwrights Way?  The Staunton Way?  The Hangers Way?  England has such a rich choice of paths – many of which, like these three, I’ve never even heard of.

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The afternoon wound on as I left the Park behind and followed a broad track eastwards.

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With plenty of time, I stopped often to sit on the verge or a tree stump, to drink water, study my guidebook or eat an apple.  There are worse days to spend a sunny day in April.  The Hampshire Downs are more wooded than those of Sussex and whilst I enjoy sylvan walking, far-off views are often obscured and the true sense of rolling Downland is muted.

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At 3pm, I took a sharp left off the main Way and descended the scarp edge,

Wild garlic

past swathes of wild garlic

South Harting

to the village of South Harting with its beautiful verdigris church steeple

South Harting (2)

and handsome buildings.

The Ship Inn, South Harting

The Ship Inn, South Harting

The state of ‘The Ship‘ pub was alarming and I panicked at the prospect of a beer-less evening.  Thankfully, though ‘The Ship‘ has closed for good, ‘The White Hart‘ a little up the road is still open.  Tugging off my rucksack, I sat outside in afternoon sunshine with a pint of lager shandy and, of course, a packet of cheese and onion crisps.

South Gardens Cottage B&B, South Harting

A few minutes walk away is ‘South Gardens Cottage’, which might be the prettiest B&B I’ve ever stayed in.

South Gardens Cottage B&B

I loved my Enid Blyton room, and immediately felt at home in this fascinating C15th, gloriously old-fashioned home.  After a bath, (no new-fangled showers here) I returned to the pub for decent grub (no moans about portion size or overpricing, note) and to write up my journal.  I anxiously checked the BBC weather app for the days ahead but needn’t have worried.  The sun would be shining for a while yet and tomorrow I’d have a clear – if hot – 20 mile march to Amberley and the half way point of the South Downs Way.ave

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