Thursday, 8 October 2009

Wey South Path Day 3 Billingshurst - Amberley

Rowley Lock Bridge
Six weeks on from my last excursion and how the landscape has changed! We have been lucky with September weather this year, but unfortunately I didn’t pick the best day today, as it was resolutely gloomy for most of the morning with a lot of dampness in the air first thing. This is my final official expedition on the Wey-South Path, although I may be tempted later on to have a go at completing the route dubbed ‘London’s Lost Route to the Sea’. The navigation itself continued beyond the length of the Wey South Path, down the River Arun and along another canal between Ford and Chichester Harbour that was closed even earlier. That though is for another time.
Rowley Lock
I parked at Amberley Station (I wasn’t tempted to start my rail journey from Worthing as connections are awful) and took the hourly train service to Billingshurst. The single fare for the 12 minute journey was an eye watering £4.20, but at least parking was free at Amberley (be warned though, there are only a handful of spaces). Billingshurst isn’t terribly convenient as a staging post but probably as good as you’re going to get. I then retraced my steps along the footpaths I had stumbled along the other week to get back to the Canal at Love’s Bridge. I went back as far as there to right the wrong of not having any pictures on the previous day’s walking. This stretch of canal is tantalisingly close to Drungewick Lane and surely it can only be a short time before this stretch of canal becomes navigable once again. Indeed as I went further south to Rowley Lock, the restoration of the old lock is both remarkable and a little strange. This is because it seems to be stranded from the rest of the canal and offers a brief glimpse of what the whole thing will look like when restoration is finally complete. My eye was drawn to a large pylon straddling the canal at this point, for it appears to have been planned that way, with no attempt made to infill the canal to accommodate it.
Stranded Section
Ahead is some good canal walking for a mile or so as far as Newbridge. On the way I passed a lifting bridge that had been put back into place as early as 1980 by a group of task force volunteers. As I wandered further along I was joined by the River Arun, a rather more attractive waterway at this point. Alongside the canal though were some fantastic looking blackberries, which I just had to take with me! Within 15 minutes I had plenty enough to make me a crumble later – fantastic!
Restored Lifting Bridge
Newbridge is the crossing by the A272 and the river crossing is quite impressive. The canal crossing has sadly been reduced to a culvert, but there is still a canal cottage alongside. Further on though there is a much better canal cottage, alongside what would once have been a wharf. As I continued towards Lordings Lock, it was quite obvious that the canal was once again disappearing into the countryside and for a good quarter of a mile or so across one field it has almost disappeared, having been infilled.
Eventually as I got towards Lordings Lock I heard a very strange clanking noise and naturally assumed that a working party were out. The lock comes as a real surprise after the obliterated section of the canal. It has been mostly restored and I soon realised that the clanking noise wasn’t a working party but the waterwheel which supplies water to the canal (or the bit of it in the lock – either side is obliterated). It is a truly remarkable relic from a bygone age, completely stranded from other parts of the canal but just about complete (apart from lock gates). There is a small picnic area on the site (presumably put there for the benefit of canal volunteers) and it seemed the perfect spot to have my picnic lunch. I can’t say it was particularly peaceful as I was accompanied by the constant clank clank of the waterwheel. The air was full of the pungent smell of ripe blackberries as all the adjacent bushes were absolutely groaning with ripe fruit. I guess that being so far from a parking area, this is not a spot that attracts many fruit pickers.
Lock Keeper's Cottage
After inspecting the lock and waterwheel for some time and scoffing my sandwich I started on again. The aqueduct across the Arun here is missing but on the other side I picked up the course of the canal once again. For the next couple of miles it doesn’t appear that much work has been done to the canal bed itself, but in truth this is probably more to do with the time of year I am here (all the vegetation still in place from summer growth) rather than lack of effort on the part of the volunteers. It is obvious that this part of the canal is being very much readied for boat traffic as most of the major engineering features such as bridges and locks have all been restored as far as Haybarn Bridge. It is a very pleasant walk along this stretch and because all the infrastructure is now more or less in place it is easy to imagine the canal in working order some time in the not too distant future.
Lordings Lock

Haybarn bridge is an oddity. It isn’t the original bridge and is also the only swing bridge on the canal. It has been brought here from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and was installed in 2004 (see for pictures of the installation). For canal path people now though it represents an abrupt end to the towpath that the Wey South Path has followed for about 4 miles. In fact it is the last proper section of towpath walking at all heading south. From here I immediately passed through a deserted farm (probably because all the farm workers are busy getting ready for winter out in the fields) and then along a track seemingly heading towards Toat Monument, a folly tower that was built in 1827 to commemorate a hapless London tea merchant called Samuel Drinkald who apparently was thrown from his horse and killed on the very spot. Apparently his brother was a local racehorse owner, perhaps suggesting why he is commemorated here. Alas the tower cannot be reached on foot as it is sited on private land but acts as a tantalising landmark for miles around.
Haybarn Bridge
As it happens this is the closest the path gets to the monument and apart from a very brief meeting once again with the canal at Lee Farm Bridge a little further on, the route now takes on a slightly frustrating and lengthy detour away from the canal. This is because there has been a denial of access across the private land straddling the canal and there are relatively few footpaths in this area of the Arun Valley.
Pallingham Folly
By now it was early afternoon and the sun had finally put in an appearance. In fact within minutes it was pretty warm, which made the unaccustomed climb up past Pallingham Lane quite uncomfortable. The path heads up through pasture land and eventually reaches a country lane, where I turned left. A mile or so tramp along the country lane followed while I anxiously looked out for the lane that would reunite me with the canal for the last time.
Lengthy Deviation
All in all the deviation was more than two miles by the time I got back to Pallingham Quay Farm. This was once a substantial port, very difficult to believe now as the canal is mostly overgrown and the River Arun looks like not much more than a trickle. Just past the farm and the path crosses Pallingham Bridge, the last evidence of the canal itself and just a few yards from its very overgrown southern junction with the River Arun. Having completed a sizeable diversion to get here I soon realised after looking at the map that there was no prospect of a riverside walk either as the Wey South carries along the only available right of way swinging to the other side of the valley to follow another country lane almost all the way to Stopham Bridge.
Pallingham Quay
Eventually I reached a racehorse training area and the path deviates from the road here which was a welcome relief. The view from this spot was fantastic – ahead I could see the line of the South Downs and the ridge from Amberley to Washington. In front were the Amberley Wild Brooks and Pulborough Marshes, where I would eventually be headed. Nearer was Pulborough dominated by its church and just in front of me. While I admired the view I could also see the task ahead of me still for my ultimate destination was of course Amberley Station, situated just at the foot of the Downs ahead.
The Downs Ahead
I was pleased to leave the road behind a little further on and initially I wandered up through a sunken lane with lots of roots on show from the trees that were desperately trying to cling on. The lane was the main access to some very lucky homeowners who had the whole of the Arun Valley spread before them as a view. I turned left here and headed towards the remains of a Norman Motte and Bailey Castle, now completely hidden from view by woodland. The trees were a mixed bunch but with lots of sweet chestnuts among them. Squirrels were busily trying to gather what they could, while the trees themselves were starting to lose their spiky nut casings with a vengeance.
Stopham Bridge
Ahead I could hear the unmistakable sound of a busy road and soon enough I came upon the A283 at Stopham Bridge and reunited with the River Arun. The main road now passes over a modern bridge, but just to the south is the very attractive Stopham Bridge, which is essentially mediaeval and was unbelievable still carrying traffic until only a few years ago. In fact the old road markings and traffic light fittings can still be seen. Now thankfully only non-motorised transport can use the old thing, which is a scheduled monument. Adjacent is the very attractive White Hart public house and I made a mental note to come here for a spot to eat sometime soon.
The White Hart
Stopham Bridge marks a complete change of pace for the walk. The canal seems a long way behind me now as I negotiate the marshes that are the main feature of the Arun Valley between Pulborough and Amberley. Initially I crossed the Rivers Arun and Rother, which were once linked by a canal tunnel with remains still to be found hereabouts (I didn’t look, but this man has - By now I was getting slightly anxious about time as all my blackberry picking and picnicking loitering had caught up with me a bit. I crossed the old Pulborough - Midhurst rail line (mental note - explore this some time) and then the A29 before I headed across the marshes past Coldwaltham alongside an old canal cut that was constructed to cut off the large meander loop of the river.
Greatham Bridge
The next bridge across the River Arun is another corker – the 18th Century Greatham Bridge. Crossing this is a little tricky though as there is no footpath – it’s as well to make full use of the reservations on each of the masonry arches to make sure that you don’t get run over! Fortunately it was pretty quiet today and so I didn’t have to worry too much about traffic. The middle span is metal and slightly out of keeping with the masonry arches, but I suspect this was because it was needed for navigational purposes. This was my last crossing of the Arun today, the fourth in total and the river at this point looks much more like it is still capable of handling some decent sized boats.
Amberley Wild Brooks
I headed along the Arun bank for a short distance before the river meandered away once again. The path forges a fairly straight line across the Pulborough and Amberley Wild Brooks and after the closed in nature of the canalside section is was good to once again get out into ‘big sky’ country. I passed through a couple of farms and a herd of deer who couldn’t decide whether to watch me or flee (in the end they did neither – they ran a short distance before realising that I was no threat).
Foot of the Downs
When I reached the marsh I was slightly perturbed by the rather ancient looking sign suggesting that the marsh was dangerous. My imagination worked overtime, thinking about swamp monsters and quicksand, but in truth after such a period of dry weather it was an easy crossing. I bet it wouldn’t be much fun in the depths of winter though! As I approached Amberley I could here the most horrible sound. At first I couldn’t decide what it was, it sounded like a conveyor belt that needed oiling. As I got closer I realised it was a very large excavating monster with caterpillar tracks being driven by a grinning Environment Agency officer. He gave me a cheery wave for getting out of his way, but in truth I was never going to hold him up – he was big and mighty and I was an insect ready to be squashed!
Amberley Village
The Downs started getting closer and closer and I was starting to look forward to meeting the car once again. The sun was out again irritatingly, just as I was thinking about finishing my walk. The view across to Amberley Castle was lovely, although the best side is definitely the front side. This walk though wasn’t going to pass that close and this was the best view I was going to get.
Amberley Castle
Eventually I reached Amberley, one of the picture postcard villages of Sussex with its thatched cottages, castle and church. I poked into the village shop which had a lovely array of homegrown tomatoes lined up outside. Mundanely I only got a drink to wet my whistle, but this is a hidden but lovely little village shop well worth visiting.  The last section of the walk leaves the village and follows the road up over High Titten to give tantalising views of the old Amberley Museum below. This is also the route of the South Downs Way and a number of walkers were heading towards me, making the most of the lovely sunshine in this late afternoon. For me though it was a short plod down to the station to meet with the car and the end of the official walk.The Wey South Path is a hugely enjoyable short walking project. For speed walkers it’s not much good as there are many obstacles and diversions en route. It’s not particularly challenging as there aren’t many hills but for anyone interested in industrial archaeology I can’t recommend it highly enough. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I shall definitely continue down the Arun at some point and explore the rest of the waterway, including not just the river but the old canal between Ford and Chichester.

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