Saturday, 7 July 2012

Arun Valley Walks - Arundel to Amberley

Arundel View

After the success of our family expedition a couple of weeks ago the weather was nice enough for us to have another go & so we had to find another route that was of similar length that had enough interesting things to see on the way that the girls would enjoy the experience.  Not really an official walk, but one which I had fancied for some time was to walk across Arundel Park and the Arun Valley between Amberley and Arundel, in a sense continuing the exploration of the countryside that would have been followed by canal craft using the ‘Lost Route to London’ followed in part by the Wey-South Path that I completed in 2009.  However, in view of the windy weather, the small children we had with us and having the sun at our backs we followed the route northwards from Arundel.

Arundel High Street

The journey on the train from Amberley is an hourly frequency and takes only five minutes, but left the wallet a bit light, being a very steep £7.40 for the four of us!  Arundel station isn’t the most convenient, dumping passengers on the busy A27 about half a mile to the south east of the town and leaving a rather unpleasant walk for would be visitors to the town.  Luckily, when we reached the bridge over the River Arun things improved immeasurably.  The bridge was the first opportunity for a sit down and the surroundings were pleasant enough for the girls to want their picnic already.  This worked out nicely as it meant that we had less to carry for the rest of the trip!

Arundel Post Office

Looking at the size of the River Arun, it is hard to believe that this was once a thriving port.  The odd pleasure boat comes through here now, but the former wharves have long since been replaced by housing.  Littlehampton took over port duties from Arundel some miles further downstream, but even that has long since ceased to be a port in the meaningful sense. 

Castle South gate

Arundel is probably one of the most picturesque towns in all of Sussex (and there is quite a lot of competition in that regard).  On this sunny Saturday it really looked at its best and despite the odd closed shop the town centre looked to be in fairly rude health.  We marched up the hill past all the antique shops and galleries designed to cater for the many tourists that descend on the town.  At the top we passed the enormous gateway to Arundel Castle, the gothic seat of the Dukedom of Norfolk.  Strangely, I have not visited the castle since before I can remember, but have a feeling that this will change very soon!  The castle itself is a bit of a sham, as much of what can be seen is the Victorian vision of how a castle should look.  There is an original castle somewhere inside but it isn’t easy to see from outside the walls.

Arundel Castle

Further along the road and we passed by Arundel Cathedral, another gothic creation that vies with the castle for prominence on the Arundel skyline.  It probably succeeds from the western side since the Castle occupies the eastern slopes of the town.  The Cathedral wasn’t dedicated as such until 1965, as the main Catholic Church of the newly formed diocese of Arundel and Brighton.  The girls were in a hurry to get out on to the open Downs so they could run about so only a cursory look at the architecture was afforded as we passed by.

Arundel Cathedral

We crossed the road and headed up past the cricket ground.  This is one of the most picturesque grounds in all of Britain, hosting at least one County Championship game for Sussex each year and is a thoroughly enjoyable place to watch this most English of games.  The arena is not actually visible from the track sadly, but ahead we could see Hiorne Tower, which acted as a good focal point for the way ahead.  The tower was built as a folly by Francis Hiorne for the 11th Duke of Norfolk in the 18th Century for apparently no better reason than proof that he could.

Hiorne Tower

The onward path wasn’t quite so easy to spot as we headed down into Swanbourne Valley below.  This heads down slowly to a point where two dry valleys meet to become the one that is now occupied by a small lake so beloved of water birds from miles around.  Normally our walk in this area extends only as far as a loop around the lake.  Today though we would be heading onward, up the initially steep hill on the other side to the very top of Arundel Park.  We plodded our way slowly up the hill, admiring the wild flowers as we did so.  This year seems to have been a bumper one for wild flowers – they are in such profusion everywhere and this part of the Downs was no exception!

Arundel Park
We were rewarded at the top of the hill with one of the best views from anywhere on the Downs, looking out towards the upper reaches of the River Arun.  Far below the river meanders around the base of the hill we were stood on, cutting a cliff as it does so.  The puffy white clouds together with the wind made for some interesting shadow patterns on the landscape as they raced along.  In fact the skyscape was almost as interesting as the landscape, with high level cirrus type clouds in evidence high above the fair weather clouds.  Trails from aeroplanes heading to the London airports also added to the mix, creating some very interesting patterns indeed.
Arundel Park View

For us though the high level walking was very short lived as our path headed down the other (steeper) side of the hill.  The wildflowers that had been lost through the sheep fields that we had travelled through now returned in profusion, mostly a palette of purples and yellows, with the odd common spotted orchid thrown in.  It was quite a steep track though and we had to keep our wits about us so as not to slip over.  At the bottom where we entered some woodland the path was especially slick after all the rain we had had.

Common Spotted Orchid

We passed through the large flint wall that surrounds Arundel Park and turned right to follow the path back towards Arundel alongside the River Arun.  We wanted to cross the river at South Stoke via the only bridge in these parts.  The path through the woods was no joke though – some of the forestry vehicles had obviously been this way before us and there were a lot of very large muddy puddles disrupting our progress.  For the kids this only added to the adventure of the trip, especially as it was touch and go in some instances whether they could hang on to their shoes!

Shadow Over the Barley

Eventually we picked our way through the woods and came out into a section alongside some large barley fields.  The combination of sun breaking through the clouds, picking out certain parts of the fields and the wind waving the feathery crops around was quite a mesmerising spectacle that we all enjoyed.  Eventually we reached the  small village of South Stoke, where we stopped in the churchyard for a bit of a breather and an afternoon snack to help small people’s energy levels.  Fortunately St Leonard's Church was open and so we took the opportunity to look inside.  It was a very peaceful church, not very large but well kept and with a modest stained glass window at one end.  The church itself was built of knapped flint, like most proper downland churches, but also had an unusually thin tower.  In the churchyard was a small flock of sheep being used to try and tackle some of the grass that had grown up around the graves.

Fearsome Mud

After some refreshment and a few minutes to rest we pushed on, heading around the perimeter of the church and making our way down to the River Arun.  We crossed via the substantial bridge that looked as if it were provided for a possible road route that never quite happened.  A look at the map will show that the roads stop no more than about half a mile apart on either side of the river.  I guess having a through route would encourage far too much traffic, so perhaps it is a godsend that it doesn’t exist, for the tranquillity of the valley.

St Leonard's Church

We turned immediately left and followed the riverbank for a short distance before heading through another stretch of woodland that appeared to follow a former meander loop.  Again the mud through here was fearsome in places and we had to lift the children over the worst of it.  Yet, the flowers through here were doing really well, with guelder rose, elderberries, cow parsley and briar roses all doing really well and adding a lot of colour to the woods.  The second bridge of our walk was a distinctive little suspension bridge, which seemed to take us across the bog that had now formed from the old meander loop.

Arun Bridge

The field the other side was full of bullocks – almost all of them stopped what they were doing as we headed through and stared at us.  It made us all feel rather self conscious!  We headed quickly but steadily across the field, breathing something of a sigh of relief the other side (although we weren’t seriously in any danger).  At the far end of the field we entered the village of North Stoke, a place that seemed to be stuck in a time warp, well out of range of normal passing traffic or visitors, stuck down here at the end of a lengthy cul-de-sac road.  I guess this would be an ideal place to live for lovers of peace and quiet!

North Stoke Suspension Bridge

We headed along the road initially for the last leg of the journey, but soon opted to take a slightly longer route along a footpath heading back to the river after we had some uncomfortable encounters with cars.  The footpath turned out to be little better as we had to use various pieces of wood to try and help us cross the path-wide puddles that had formed.  By the time we had reached the riverbank once again we had stretched every leg muscle possible trying to avoid the worst of the mud, getting stung or prickled!  At the riverbank we found another obstacle in the shape of another herd of bullocks completely blocking the path the other side of our stile.  They formed quite a formidable barrier to our onward progress but luckily a few handclaps soon moved them on and they didn’t cause any bother.  The rest of the walk along the riverbank to Houghton Bridge was uneventful and surely nicer than walking along the road.

Being Watched

We did face one last unpleasant stretch though across Houghton Bridge, a rather narrow structure that can only just accommodate two lanes of traffic.  As pedestrians the crossing is a little scary, so we hurried across when there was a momentary absence of traffic.  It was a bit of a sting in the tail after such a pleasant and peaceful walk.  We were really proud of the children who completed the five miles with no great problems and had a thoroughly good time exploring on the way.  I have a feeling we may well try other routes in this area, helped by the presence of the train line.  There are numerous possibilities between Billingshurst and Littlehampton to keep us amused!

Houghton Bridge

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