Friday, 30 November 2012

Arun Valley Walks Pulborough - Amberley

Pulborough Church
I had reserved walks in the Arun Valley for family outings but during the short days in the winter months I am struggling to find the motivation to go further afield.  I am stuck with both the Serpent Trail and the Sussex Border Path since both onward sections need availability on a weekday/ Saturday and generally I only have Sundays available.  In the absence of a family accompaniment I ummed and ahhed about whether to go back but eventually I succumbed and headed over to Amberley Station.

Autumn Bracken
I had chosen a route that to be fair was a little further than my children could walk – from Pulborough to Amberley using a different route to the one taken by the Wey-South Path that I had walked a few years back.  This route would enable me to look at the small town of Pulborough before heading across the RSPB Pulborough Brooks reserve and via the small villages of Rackham and Amberley before finding myself back at my origin, some 8 miles later.

Autumn Almost Done
It was a glorious late autumn morning, with lots of sunshine and no wind.  The last of the leaves were hanging on the trees, with barely any traces of greenery left.  I was one of two people getting on at Amberley and six minutes later I was in Pulborough.  The station is a well preserved former junction station (the old line to Midhurst hasn’t run since the mid 1950s, although the bay platform is still very much in evidence) and sports a good number of hanging baskets.  These were surprisingly being tended, although the flowers were mostly gone.

Edge of Town
I turned left out of the station and headed along a tarmac footpath that passed between the railway and adjacent fields.  Almost immediately the sound of St Mary’s Church bells rang out over the countryside, signalling the start of worship at the historical church.  I turned and headed along another lane to reach the church shortly after.  Unless I had the intention of joining the service it clearly wasn’t going to be possible for me to explore inside.  I nevertheless enjoyed the sight of the early morning sun on the golden stone of the church from the outside and the sound of the bells clanging out their refrain.  The church itself is sited in possibly the most attractive (and probably oldest) part of the town, retaining a village feel.

Arun Fishing
I crossed the very busy A29 road and continued onwards past the attractive looking Chequers Hotel and along a lane that followed the crest of the Greensand Ridge.  Unlike the Greensand Ridge to the north of The Weald, the southern version is much smaller and continues almost unnoticed east-west parallel to the South Downs, tracking a few miles to the north of the chalk ridge.  The lane had wonderful views out across the Brooks below me and across to the Downs to the south.

Arun Reflections
I dropped down into another part of the village and finally the bells stopped, leaving me to enjoy the peace and quiet of the early Sunday morning once again.  I crossed the road, passed the library and headed out of the village past a wonderfully old house that sat just above the river floodplain, probably only just above where floodwater could be expected.

Flight of the Swans
As I got to the floodplain I expected rather stodgy and muddy conditions in view of the recent weather but instead it was fairly good going.  On the bank of the River Arun I paused to look back at Pulborough and enjoy the serenity of the river.  In fact so slow was the flow that all the riverbank trees and bushes were perfectly reflected in the water.  Sadly there were no puffy white clouds at this stage, as they look really good in reflections.  Along the riverbank were a number of fishermen hunched over their rods, no doubt hoping that the benign conditions would also help with their catches.  They were surprisingly friendly; most of them passing the time of day with me.

Watching Brief
Somewhere along this stretch of riverbank was apparently a Roman Road, which crossed the river at right angles and headed east-west.  It is known as the Sussex Greensand Way, but traces are almost completely disappeared into the countryside.  I passed over it without noticing any features; my only clue that it was there at all was the rather large interpretive board announcing its existence.  Maybe one day I might find some way of devising a walk that incorporates some of its route?

I eventually reached the end of the riverside path and was directed back across the floodplain towards the main RSPB reserve.  This was a bit of a trial, for this section was particularly mucky and it took all my powers of picking my way through to prevent myself sinking into the quagmire.  I was very relieved to get onto the slightly higher ground of the visitor part of the RSPB reserve.  The footpath across doesn’t really promote birdwatching, since the organisation really wants people to pay for the privilege.  It is worth doing though – the hides are well equipped and the walk around very pleasant.  For me though, that would be for another day.

Bramble Colours
I did get a little lost through the reserve as I think I missed a sign.  I eventually did manage to retrace the route and came upon Wiggonholt Church, a delightful chapel sized place of worship.  Due to its remote location, church services don’t take place every week although the door was open to allow inspection inside.  I had the place to myself in this little peaceful spiritual oasis and since I had walked through lots of wet grass to get to it I didn’t even have to worry about muddy boots!

Wiggonholt Church
After a few moments to pay my respects I headed off across towards the RSPB Visitor Centre, which was starting to get very busy with the leisure visitors (all the serious twitchers would have been here for a long time!).  I negotiated the crowds getting out of their cars and heading off to pay their money for what I had just seen for free!  Not that I am advocating an avoidance of payment, just finding it curious that a public footpath heads off right across the reserve.

Inside Wiggonholt Church
My onward path took me through Wiggonholt Common and the pine forest that is at the less visited part of the RSPB reserve.  The light was fantastic through the late autumn forest, with those deciduous trees that are dotted in among the pine trees really showing off the zenith of their colours.  The woods though looked very different today on account of the clear cutting of a section to the left of the path.  Indeed the machinery was still on site and making quite a racket as I approached.  Yet somehow even this destruction couldn’t detract from the beauty of probably the finest part of today’s walk.

Wiggonholt Common
Eventually I came to a road and onward progress needed to be made by tarmac.  In some respects this was a relief as it meant that I would have a break from muddy conditions.  However, this area is not as muddy as most due to the sandy soils of the Common.  I headed along the road for quite some distance, enjoying the autumn colours and the wisps of wood smoke hanging in the air from nearby cottages.  Eventually I came upon the western gateway of Parham Park, with its very attractive looking lodge houses and an exquisitely coloured tree decorating the scene.  Walking across the park is fantastic at this time of year, but sadly it was not on today’s itinerary.

Parham Western Lodge
I re-entered the woods just north of Rackham and initially passed through more sandstone country before dropping down onto the floodplain once again.  This slowed my progress once more as I had to deal with some very sticky conditions.  I was now on the route of the West Sussex Literary Trail, surely a future project?  This is a walk from Chichester to Horsham celebrating some of the places that were haunted by famous classic authors such as Shelley.  I did think that even he would have struggled to wax lyrical about the conditions underfoot today.  I passed by the delightful Rackham Mill, now just a residence rather than a working mill.  The original buildings date from the early 19th Century and present an idyllic spot for someone interested in wildlife and/ or bird watching.

Fiery Autumn Colours
My route continued across a field that had been harvested of its maize, but which had been otherwise left untouched.  I suspect that it got far too wet for machinery to finish the job and it was therefore left to the local pigeons to deal with.  There were certainly plenty of them as I crossed the field, all flying up in unison as I got closer and resettling about fifty metres further forward.  This happened a number of times before they clued into the fact that they ought to encircle me and land behind me.  There were so many it was more like watching a flock of starlings.

Rackham Mill
I was pleased to reach another road as by now I felt like I was walking on platform soles from the large cakes of mud that had developed underneath me.  I soon stomped them off and was able to pick up pace again as I headed through Rackham village.  This linear village has developed along this ridge top road and I soon became aware of the stunning views to my right back across the Arun Valley towards Pulborough where I had started my day.  By now it was approaching lunchtime and the roast dinner brigade were gathering outside The Sportsman pub waiting for their grub.  The twitchers seemed to be out in force too and I passed a large group making use of one of the only spare spots for the view across the valley.  The bulk of the equipment they were carrying was frightening and put my little camera bag into perspective.

Pigeon Field
Eventually the road took me down into Amberley village, one of the most picture postcard downland villages you are ever likely to come across.  In contrast to the activity in Rackham the village seemed very quiet indeed, perhaps explaining the sad demise of the Black Horse pub in the centre of the village.  This is a pub that we had been to a number of times to eat and it was very sad to see it out of business.  Signs up in the village suggested that it might be turned into housing, which wasn’t a popular choice by any means.  I noted that it had a Peter Oldrieve sign outside, surely now living on borrowed time, so I grabbed a picture of it before continuing on.

Black Horse
I had the choice at the village to continue on my planned route via the castle and back along the riverbank or using the road to return to Amberley station.  I chose the river route so that I could get a closer look at the castle.  However, I soon wished that I hadn’t for not only did I see very little of the castle (as it was mostly hidden behind the 60 feet high curtain wall), but I then had to endure the swamp of the River Arun and its floodplain. The castle is now a luxury hotel, with prices starting in excess of £300 per night.  It is a castle of some antiquity though, with a history stretching back to the 1100s and was originally used as a fortification for the Bishops of Chichester.

Amberley Church
Of more interest perhaps than the castle was the church of St Michael, which looked fantastic in the wintry sunshine.  Sadly my boots were in such a state that I didn’t fancy wandering around inside for fear of getting dirty looks from other visitors of which there were a few milling around.  I viewed from outside only but did notice a small gate in the wall of the castle that intrigued me.  I suspect it was a secret entrance to the church for the castle dwellers.

Amberley Castle
The last half hour or so was miserable walking.  The view across to Bury Church was very interesting from the path and this enticed me to continue across the marsh.  It would once have been the footpath to a ferry crossing that existed for 300 years between the two villages, but which ceased in 1965.  I have noticed references to the ferry service still in existence, although stating that the ferry is now closed.  Hardly front page news since it is getting on for 50 years ago!

Bury Church
I cursed and grumbled all the way along the riverbank back to Amberley, wishing I had taken the drier option along the road.  However the views up to the Downs were very enjoyable, as were the sounds of lapwings flying around in the distance.  My rout managed to get me back all the way to the railway station without any further road walking along the busy Houghton road, so I was thankful for that.  All in all a very interesting and varied walk, with plenty of history and natural sights along the way on what was a very modest length of just short of 8 miles.


  1. Lovely! Thanks for the tour, Paul. We have very little Autumn color here in the AZ desert and I so enjoy the beauty of the colorful foliage of Fall!

    1. Thanks very much Judy. Amazingly in the 2 weeks since I completed this walk autumn has given way into winter. Within a few days all the leaves finally left the trees! I'm glad you enjoyed this walk and my pix! How was Thanksgiving?

  2. Looks like a good walk. I did some youth hostelling in Surrey in my teens but unfortunately never made it down to Sussex. Hopefully one day. Walks on bright autumn days are one of my favourite things.

    1. Thanks Martin,
      Autumn walks on bright sunny days are indeed a joy! Autumn now given way to winter so hopefully I'll have some bright crisp frosty days to look forward to!

      Thanks for visiting and commenting - much appreciated


  3. Hi Paul

    It looks like you had good weather and little wind judging by the blue skies and the stillness of the river.

    It's sad to see all these old pubs closing down. On many long distance trails nowadays we see a pub sign on the OS map only to find it long gone and turned into private housing.

    It's another sign that our old England is not what it was.


  4. Hello Bill,
    Good to hear from you again. I have been luckier with the weather lately and have managed a few late autumn outings. Sadly the footpath conditions are universally awful and so I am having to pick routes quite carefully and I am going to places taht I would not have previously considered. I think country pubs are really struggling now in the same way that village shops have done for many years. As you say it is sad to see so many go to the wall.

    Have a good week and thanks for checking in.