South Downs: Chantry Hill from Arundel
|River Arun at dusk|
|RELATED PHOTO GALLERY|
The South Downs Way is one of southern England's finest footpaths. Starting on the coast at Eastbourne and finishing in the pilgrimage city of Winchester - where you can still ask for the ancient 'wayfarer's dole' of basic sustenance, it follows quiet and scenic byways for 100 miles. Parts are superb - the clifftops from Beachy Head to the Cuckmere valley, great striding swathes of escarpment through much of Sussex, and the final downland descent into Winchester - but, perhaps most important, nowhere is it dull.
However, crafting a good circular walk can be a challenge, as away from the main path, route-finding can be fiddly, footpaths unkempt and views less dramatic (and slow to change). Nevertheless the circuit I walked on a sultry and intermittently sunny day last June (devised for TGO Magazine) was a cracker - even if, at 18 miles, a tad long for my out-of-condition legs.
My day started by the river Arun as it wound past Arundel's magisterial castle, following it briefly upstream before peeling off through the immaculately-maintained Angmering Estate to Blackpatch Hill. During these first stages, the character of the country was sylvan, with flitting dragonflies and deer starting from the undergrowth. But the downland asserted itself once the summit of Blackpatch was struck. Its trig point commanded a wide sweep of territory, showing billowing barley prairies climbing gently along the path ahead towards the unseen South Downs scarp. This was reached at Chantry Hill, where suddenly the Sussex Weald opened out northwards in a carpet of greens and yellows peppered by chimneys and church towers flagging cosy villages. A left turn along the South Downs Way gave me several miles of classic aerial clumping before I reached the Arun once more, from where I shadowed its sinuous course through water meadows and osier thickets to the perfect village of Burpham, sitting on a shelf between the chalk uplands and the river's flood plain, and so back to Arundel.