Sunday, 29 January 2017

Arundel Park and South Stoke

Daybreak at the Castle
Sometimes it is necessary to use the end of the day in order to get the best conditions but more often than not the real magic is afforded to those who get up early for daybreak.  This was definitely the case on this particular walk.  I was up long before dawn and on this particularly frosty day I was anxious not to go to far from home.  I plumped therefore for this walk, one of the closest to home in Pathfinder Guides volume 66 West Sussex and the South Downs (walk 18).  It is a walk I have done many times but not blogged.  I have also never done it in the depths of winter so this was to be a new experience.  One of the reasons I wouldn't contemplate it is that it can be a mudfest - the heavy frost this morning neutralised that aspect.

In The Deep Midwinter
I had the pick of parking spots in Arundel - another benefit to getting here early.  Arundel is justifiably a very popular place for walkers and visitors who want to browse around the small selection of interesting shops.  This means that parking can be at a premium later in the day but no worries before the sun came up!  After being in my nice warm car the cold was bitter - how glad I was of my woollens wrapping me up against the frost.  I took the short path from the road to the riverbank and as I did so the sun slowly rose above the trees off in the distance.  This orange ball of fire looked at odds with the frozen land over which it now glowed.  

The river looked extreme;y cold and perhaps would be frozen too if it weren't for the fairly strong flow and the twice daily influx of salt water that rushes in on the tide.  Over in the distance the castle was now starting to glow orange with the rising sun.  For a rather grey and austere building at the back it looked amazing with a dose of red glow on it!  Along the river the first hint of fog started as soon as the sun came up.  The misty conditions seemed to increase the frostiness around me and my hot breath was playing havoc with my camera as I seemed to need to demist it every time I took a shot.  The frost seemed to cling to every piece of vegetation, dead or alive.  In fact the skeletons of the dead vegetation seemed particularly enhanced by a coating of the white stuff.

Jack Frost
Progress along the riverbank was slow as I enjoyed all of my surroundings.  I wasn't alone despite the early start.  At least three dog walkers were also out and we all agreed what a fabulous morning it was.  Eventually I turned to face the iconic view of Arundel Castle and as I did so I realised that the pictures are surely taken from the opposite bank as I could not quite get the angle for decent reflections. Eventually as I reached the bottom of the castle the sun had changed from orange to a golden glow and the frontage of the castle was bathed in the most beautiful light.

Golden Glow at the Castle
I pressed on through the town and as I climbed the hill I bumped into the first of the dog walkers I had seen on the riverbank and we passed the time of day before going our separate ways.  I passed the cathedral, also getting a good dose of the light now developing.  As I walked I spent much of my time wiping the mist from my camera lens - there was nothing for it after that, I would just have to stop using the viewfinder!

My route took me up the side of the cricket ground and past Hiorne Tower.  By now the whole town seemed alive with dog walkers - not sure I have ever seen so many!  Seeing the bright morning must have made the early walk that much easier though!  Hiorne's Tower was apparently built by Francis Hiorne to impress the 11th Duke of Norfolk sometime around 1800.  The 11th Duke was also the one responsible for the massive building programme at Arundel Castle, turning it into the version we see today.

Hiorne Tower
I dropped down into Swanbourne valley from the tower and the mist that I had first encountered at the river was hanging around here too.  This suggested that I might be lucky and see an inversion from the top of the park.  This made me quicken my step somewhat and the hill on the other side seemed a lot less of a struggle than the last time I climbed it back in the summer.  At the top of the hill the path follows the edge of the trees at the crest and prolongs the anticipation of the view.  For my money the view from the top of Arundel Park is one of the best anywhere in Sussex and it certainly lived up that billing today but for a very different reason.  

Swanbourne Valley
I could see nothing of the valley floor as it was completely enveloped in fog.  All I could see where the hill tops sparkling in the sun.  Most of the frost in the sunny areas had melted by now leaving green areas highlighted by the sun and frosty areas lurking in the shadows.  I lingered for a few minutes taking in the view before descending into the valley.  This path can be treacherous when there is lots of mud but the surface was just about staying solid if icy away from teh glare of the sun.  Areas where the sun had penetrated were dripping with meltwater.  It made for a different sort of beauty as the beads of melting frost glinted in the sun like little jewels.

Arun Valley Mist
I was pleased that the path through the woods at the bottom was still solid - this can be quite horrific during wet weather, hence I don't come this way usually in the winter.  As I wandered through the woods I finally had the countryside to myself - this was too far from the nearest car park for all but the most determined dog walker.  As a result I was pleased to see lots of birds although as a consequence of the cold they didn't stay in one place long enough for me to get any pictures.  My only opportunity proved to be the best sighting of all - a large buzzard that flew over the field I passed by.  It then sat in the tree looking at me, staying slightly too far away for me to get a reasonable shot of it.

Approaching South Stoke
I soon reached the hamlet of South Stoke and surprisingly the fog layer that looked so thick from my lofty viewpoint half an hour earlier was now anything but.  I am not sure the fog had lifted though - just a trick of the eye I think.  Anyhow the trees around the delightful South Stoke Church looked like they had been decorated by a confectioner.

South Stoke Church

 From here it was the long walk along the riverbank to the car about two miles away.  This was enjoyable but I felt that the best of the day was already done by this point and it was still only about 11am!  The path was definitely getting stickier all the time as the frost melted and by the time I reached The Black Rabbit pub I was just looking forward to getting to the end of the route.  Happily there wasn't much further to go and as I neared where I had parked I saw lots of families embarking on their day out.  I felt smug knowing that I had already had the best of the day!

Arun Walk


  1. Wow, that is stunning. What brilliant photos (and conditions).

  2. Thank you Jon - glad you liked them. It was a magical morning that is for sure