Walking: Highlights of the South Downs Way - pt 3

Posted on: 30 April 2010 by Mark O'haire

We complete our trail along the South Downs Way, taking in the A286 via Crown Tegleaze and Littleton Farm.

The Way continues in an easterly direction with a long climb from the A286 via Manorfarm Down onto Heyshott Down, with only very restricted views to the south. However, a short detour takes you to the triangulation point at the summit of Heyshott Down, from which there are fine views to the north. Thereafter, you enter another thickly forested section. The going is very fast at most times of year, as the trees provide welcome shelter from summer heat and reasonable protection from the rain. You continue over Graffham Down, above the attractive village of Graffham which is hidden from view by the trees, although easy footpath access to the village is possible. As you reach Woolavington Down, the woodland begins to thin out and a slight upward incline takes you to the summit of this section, the 830 ft junction of paths known as Crown Tegleaze. There is an elegant signpost here but the views are still limited because of the thickness of the surrounding forests. However, beyond this point you leave the dense forest behind and suddenly the ground falls away, your route dropping steeply through fields to reach the A285 Chichester–Petworth road at Littleton Farm. If there is time to spare, it is worth walking a short way down the main road to the right to view the little flint church of Upwaltham. Originally built in the twelfth century, the nave and apse have remained completely unchanged since.

Downland churches

Visits to downland churches such as Didling and Upwaltham are an integral part of walking the South Downs Way, and you should try to include time to explore them in your itinerary. Sadly, access to churches on this or indeed any other national trail can be something of a hit-and-miss affair in these days of vandalism, and the building may be locked with no information as to how to gain legitimateentry. Thankfully, there do remain many churches around which you are able to wander at will, with literature to assist and enlighten you, whether a glossy guidebook or a selection of ageing copies of the monthly church magazine.

After crossing straight over the A285 the route climbs again, following a wide track which passes the edge of woodlands on Burton Down, and emerges just south of two prominent masts signifying the advent of Bignor Hill from which there are superb views on a clear day. These will include the spire of Chichester Cathedral and the coastal settlements of Bognor Regis and Pagham, with the sea forming a rich blue backcloth. Nearer at hand, but worthy of a photograph or two, is Halnaker Windmill, sitting proudly on its hilltop; it dates back to 1750 although it has been heavily restored since. Shortly, the Way meets Stane Street, a Roman road constructed to link Chichester with London. The area is steeped not only in history but pre-history; just south-east of the junction with Stane Street is the site of a neolithic camp, and there are numerous tumuli nearby. The Way passes across a car park, with a very steep road running down to Bignor and its Roman villa which was discovered in 1811.Wooden buildings with thatched roofs have been built over the exposed foundations to give some idea of what the villa may have looked like, and there are also some fine mosaics to see.

Back on the Way, an airy walk on a wide track just north of east takes one to Toby’s Stone, a memorial to a well-known local huntsman. Here is one of the best views so far, encompassing the Arun valley and downland beyond, the Sussex coastal plain, and the sweep of countryside north of the Downs. It is at its most spectacular when the Arun has flooded and many parts of the valley are under water, but on any clear day the views to the coast and the sea are stunning. Reluctantly, you have to drop down to the foot of Westburton Hill, then after a sharp right turn the Way gradually climbs once more onto Bury Hill, skirting the extensive woodlands of Houghton Forest to the immediate south. Excellent views open up once more, the most enticing prospect being the Arun valley straight ahead. There is a slight descent to cross the very busy A29, then the Way plunges down to the fl at valley bottom and having reached and crossed the Arun, follows alongside it for a short while before rising to meet the B2139 and turning right. A left turn here takes you to the village of Amberley which contains an imposing castle ruin dating back to 1380, thatched cottages and a Norman church.

The Way follows alongside the B2139 briefly before branching left on a country lane, but by continuing straight on you arrive at the railway station and the refreshment facilities at Houghton. Adjacent to the station is the Amberley Working Museum, a magnificently comprehensive array of exhibits, memorabilia, crafts and trades of yesteryear, with a particularly fine display of old buses. The sight of a double-decker bus parked close to the route should not therefore encourage you into thinking that you have an easy ride back to base, for it may simply be the museum’s latest exhibit, having been declared unroadworthy over forty years ago and not been driven at all since ferrying a troop of Girl Guides to Butlins in 1965.

The Big 
Walks of the SouthThe Big Walks of the South

Extract reproduced with permission from the chapter on The South Downs Way in The Big Walks of the South by David Bathurst (Summersdale, Paperback, £8.99).  This book and its companion book, The Big Walks of the North are available through all good booksellers or by clicking here.

If you missed the first two instalments click for part one and part two can be found here.

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