I decided to take advantage of the dry, bright and unseasonably warm weather and get out for a walk. I have already said that I want to keep my walks more local and more convenient this year, and today’s walk was an excellent example of this because it was essentially a walk from one bus stop to the next.
It would have taken less than ten minutes on the bus, but because of the rather circuitous route I took it was more like four hours, partly because of the frequent stops I made to take photos and the necessity of having to carefully pick my way along some rather muddy paths.
The route was from Pyecombe in West Sussex to Patcham in East Sussex (actually on the outskirts of the City of Brighton and Hove), by way of Wolstonbury Hill, Clayton, the Clayton Windmills (Jack and Jill), a short section of the South Downs Way, part of the Sussex Border Path and the Chattri Indian War Memorial.
This was only the second time that I have been up Wolstonbury Hill, but like so many of the hills along the South Downs it has held my attention since the first time, and I have been meaning to pay it a visit ever since. Last time I was there it was a hot June day, and whilst today was not exactly cold, visiting on a winter’s day certainly shows the hill in a different light, quite literally.
From Wolstonbury Hill dropped down to the village of Clayton, famous for its railway tunnel on the main London to Brighton railway. There are not a lot of buildings in Clayton, but there is a delightful little church, sitting at the foot of the hill.
My next destination was the top of the hill, home to the two Clayton Windmills Jack and Jill. Jack was looking very much worse for wear, it is in private hands and currently up for sale if you fancy living in a historic windmill. Jill is in safer hands and was looking absolutely stunning in the bright sunshine.
From the windmills I headed south by way of the South Downs Way, then skirting round Pyecombe Golf Course before joining the Sussex Border Path which leads on to Patcham past the Chattri Indian War Memorial. This was the main reason for my walk today, it has been on my list of places to visit for years, but I never quite got around to visiting.
The history of the Chattri is well documented and it is a truly fitting memorial in a superb setting and it good to see it is well looked after and it actually looks like it is quite a popular destination for visitors judging by the number of people I passed on the way. There is an element of pilgrimage involved in visiting as there is no vehicle access to the memorial and the nearest car park is about a mile and a quarter away.
So that lead me down to the village of Patcham, a place I have passed through many times on the bus into Brighton, but never stopped to explore. I didn’t really do much exploring this time, but there were some quite nice cottages and a few shops. The approach to Patcham was not particularly nice having left the tranquility of the Downs one has to cross over the busy A27 Brighton-by-pass (fortunately there is a footbridge) and pass behind the back gardens of several houses, with their accompanying overspill of garden and household waste.
Overall though this was a great start to 2012, a nice gentle walk over the Downs (about seven and a half miles), lots of interest along the way, and only a couple of paths were the mud was a problem, which considering it is early January was quite fortunate.
My original plan for today was to visit the West Sussex Record Office in Chichester, West Sussex but once it became obvious earlier in the week that the weather for today was going to be relatively warm and bright I decided a change of plan was called for. As I had already promised my wife a trip to Chichester I decided to fulfil on of my long-held (well a few years held anyway) ambitions to visit The Trundle.
The Trundle is the name given to the iron-age hill-fort on top of St Roche’s Hill a few miles north of Chichester and just south of the ancestral village of Singleton, the hill-fort itself surrounds a much older neolithic causewayed enclosure and all manner of other ancient and not so ancient sites. As hill-forts go it is quite impressive, with the ditch and bank still being well defined.
There are many approaches to The Trundle, in fact about a quarter of a mile west of the summit of the hill is a spot called Seven Points, where the finger-post below indicates the possible directions (Binderton, Lavant, Goodwood, Trundle, Charlton, Singleton and West Dean). As you can see despite the slightly misty conditions the views were pretty spectacular, and I can’t believe I have never come across any reference to Seven Points before.
My approach to St Roche’s Hill and The Trundle was from West Dean, having got off the bus from Chichester at the Selsey Arms pub in West Dean, I headed south-east across the dried up River Lavant and began the climb up the hill, with the flint boundary wall of West Dean Park on my left as my guide. The path here is actually part of the Monarch’s Way and passes through a couple of stretches of woodland before heading in a more easterly direction to Seven Points. The views on this part of the route were pretty impressive themselves, looking across to the other side of the river valley.
From Seven Points the path heads up the hill to the east, with the radio mast on The Trundle dominating the skyline. I seem to be becoming more tolerant of these artificial intrusions in the landscape, especially when they act as beacons and navigational aids to the walker. There is plenty to see on The Trundle itself, many lumps and bumps, quite apart from the main ditch and bank, however the views from the hilltop were quite breathtaking.
A full 360° panorama and even with the mist it was still possible to see for miles, the spire of Chichester Cathedral was clearly visible and Chichester Harbour, further west I could just about make out Portsmouth and to the south-west the bulky outline of the Isle of Wight. I found myself wishing for a clearer day, but knew that I would be returning again one day, hopefully in better conditions to take in more of this spectacular landscape, which unfortunately my digital camera did not do justice to.
Much closer to the hill, in fact butting up against the hill to east is Goodwood Race Course, another man-made structure which didn’t seem to intrude quite as much as I had expected, although that may not be the case on an actual race day.
To the north the views were not quite as far ranging due to the presence of the South Downs, but still pretty spectacular, especially being able to look down (see below) on the ancestral village of Singleton from such a fantastic vantage point. Singleton was the end point of the walk today and it was pretty much all downhill from The Trundle, heading in a northerly direction, first along the road to Charlton and then branching off to the left on a footpath down the spur of Knight’s Hill. The path leading me down, quite steeply near the end, to the parish church at Singleton with so many family connections.
The walk didn’t take long, around two hours and was probably somewhere between 3½ and 4 miles in length and thus not particularly challenging, but I would have to say that it was probably my favourite walk of the year. I have walked in some of the most beautiful parts of Sussex this year whilst doing the South Downs Way but I don’t think anything came close to today. Perhaps it was the fact that it was new to me, perhaps the beautiful weather for this time of year, perhaps the ancestral connections or maybe just that I needed to get out and let my mind wander as well as my legs. I think I made the correct decision not to go to the record office after all.
After a break of almost a month my wife and I were back walking the South Downs Way last Saturday. This was the last section taking us from the tiny village of Exton to the city of Winchester, both in Hampshire and although the distance was only twelve miles they did seem a world apart.
The highlight of Exton for me (apart from it being an ancestral village) was the River Meon (see below), a beautifully clear chalk stream and I could have stood for hours watching the trout feeding in the shallow waters. Winchester has its own river (the Itchen) which is quite pretty in its own right, but Winchester also has a motorway, crowds, shops, cafes, noise and everything we had been blissfully free of on our walk over the Downs.
The weather wasn’t perfect, visibility was pretty poor on our journey down and we wondered whether we would actually be able to see anything once we reached Exton. Fortunately the sun did come out as the weather forecasters predicted and started to burn of some of the mist and fog. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before the sky clouded over and we were left with slightly better visibility but by no means perfect.
The sun did reappear after lunch, but it was a little too late in the afternoon. I had hoped for a clear view of Winchester as we descended from the hills, but instead we were greeted by a rather dull and grey jumble of buildings, rather disappointing in the end.
We passed through many places with ancestral connections during the day, both whilst walking and whilst getting to the start. It is a beautiful part of the country and one which I have ever intention of visiting again and exploring further. Public transport is not brilliant among the small villages and hamlets, so some careful planning is need.
So that is it, the walk is over, we reached our destination but it did take an incredibly long time. It was actually only ten days, which works out at ten miles a day, but we didn’t have the luxury of lots of free time to complete it, so it was stretched out over many more months than we would have liked. Next year I will try to do it all in one go.
So here is the final set of facts and figures for the walk: