South Downs Way Day 5 – Amberley to Upper Beeding

Published 29 March 2010

“This is Coach number [pause] 1 of [pause] 12”

Anyone who regularly travels with Southern is no doubt well aware of the infuriating announcements made after every stop. And I mean every stop. They tell you which coach you’re in. Not that you generally particularly care as there’s no seat reservations.

South Downs Way sign

It was on my way to Amberley that I finally realised why they’re always telling you. The train I was on was for Bognor Regis and Southampton – dividing at Horsham. I don’t really like trains that divide – I’m always paranoid I’m going to end up sitting in the right half, even though I know full well that I am sat in the right place and have never been on the wrong train yet. Still, I kept listening to the announcements that the train would divide, and kept listening to the voice telling me where I was. I was vaguely reassured the annoying voice had a use – it’s just a shame they feel the need to always tell you, even when the train isn’t dividing, or has already divided!

So you can imagine my surprise at ending up at Southampton Central and spent much of the morning trying to work out how on earth to get back to Amberley.

Oh the hilarity. I should have become a comedian with gags of that quality.

Looking down the valley

Amberley was much as I’d left it two weeks before, although with less water in the fields. I was now on a path I’d used several years before, and was pleasantly pleased to see a bench I’d seen in 2007 still had its delightful view of a giant dung heap.

I was also struggling a little – the climb up hill wasn’t particularly hard however I was getting a little out of breath, which I later attributed to the fact that my asthma preventer inhaler was almost empty and the last dose or two hadn’t been full strength. My asthma may be very mild and very much under control, however without the preventer, there is a noticeable difference in my abilities!

Dew pond non-reflection action

Most of the morning – and indeed most of the two days – was walking along a ridge, looking out towards towns and villages in the distance, interspersed with the odd dew pond. These artificial ponds are a defining feature of the South Downs and were used to water livestock. For many years people believed they were replenished by dew, hence the name. Eventually it was discovered that rain kept them filled.

Many of them have since dried out, resulting in empty craters surrounded by the odd tree. Some however have been restored, whilst others never needed any work in the first place!

The farmer and the gulls

The other defining character of the landscape was undoubtedly farming, looking all rather alien in its springtime state, freshly ploughed. As I approached Washington, farming was indeed in action as a flock of gulls crowded round a tractor spreading seed. It was a useful distraction for the gulls, meaning I could sit nearby and eat my pastrami and gerkin baguette in peace.

Chalky landscape and a bigger view

Lunchtime also saw “South Downs Way Mega Road Of the Day!” as it led me to cross the busy dual carriage of the A24 [photo] before heading back up on to higher ground, passing by distinctive tumuli filled chalky landscape and wide open hillls. The weather was beginning to look good too – the sun had come out and I’d quickly dispensed of my fleece – a first for my trip!

It was not to last. Passing by another dew pond with an imposing viewpoint of the valley, the inevitable happened and I was quickly rushing for my waterproof jacket to fend off the rain.

Now that's Chanctonbury Ring

As if to torment me, no sooner had I got it on, the rain stopped. I pulled down my hood. And rain began. I put my hood back up. The rain stopped. The sun came out for a bit. Then disappeared back behind cloud once more. I sighed and passed by a clump of beech trees which marked out the site of Chanctonbury Ring – home of an old fort.

Brighton in the distance

Civilisation

The ridge became more like a plain, leading to more limited views, however passing by yet another ploughed up field with a tractor fending off yet more gulls, I suddenly was treated to a fantastic view of nearby Brighton and Worthing in the distance. Then it was downhill slightly to the large scooped out valley of Steyning Bowl.

Steyning Bowl

A popular spot with handgliders, it was a popular spot for me thanks to the presence of a handy bench, surrounded with flower pots. Well two flower pots. Not exactly surrounded I guess. Anyway it was good enough for a much deserved rest.

View of the chalk works near Upper Beeding

I was now on the home straight – the chalkworks near Upper Beeding were in sight as I stood on Annington Hill. True, it was in sight as I was using the super zoom function on my camera, but who is being picky?

Annington Hill was another flat hilltop, with a gentle slope down, with such exciting features as a group of trees planted by the Women’s Institute in celebration, although given they were the only trees on the hill, I did wonder if it was a particularly sympathetic treatment of the landscape.

On Annington Hill

Bramber beeches – the WI’s trees – are in the distance, on the left

Still there was little more to do than descend gently in the fantastically named hamlet of Boltolphs and I was done for another day.

Well not quite. I had to actually get to Upper Beeding first, and my guide book didn’t actually cover that part of the area, deciding instead that showing roundabouts and a main road to Shoreham-by-Sea was far more important. I spied a “Downs Link” sign which seemed to be going in roughly the right direction and followed it.

On the Downs Link

The Downs Link is basically a bridleway between the South Downs Way and the North Downs Way. So I guess if you were bored, you could walk half the South Downs Way, pop along the Downs Link then finish off on the North Downs Way instead. Can’t say it’s on my radar I’m afraid, and even worse, it soon transpired that I was being taken off in the wrong direction – veering off too far to the west rather than following the river into Upper Beeding as I’d hoped.

With no paths off, I had to resort to walking down the Downs Link until meeting the main road which thundered down the valley, raised up above the valley, presumably to protect from flooding.

Naturally there was no path next to the road, however there was a path not far away which deposited me next to the River Arun, and which I could follow into Upper Beeding.

Getting to Upper Beeding the long way round.

Which of course was on the other side of the river. And whilst the road passed over the bridge, no one had ever considered that walkers or pedestrians might also want to. Sighing in despair to myself I walked along hoping that there would be a bridge. Which there duly was, but not before I’d walked right to the other side of Upper Beeding.

Walking along Upper Beeding’s main street, I walked back to the other side of the village to my B&B – the rather friendly and inviting Downs View B&B where I was promptly shown to my rather sizeable room and offered what every walker wants at the end of the day. A pot of tea.

The Rising Sun, Upper Beeding, West Sussex

Well actually you really want a pint as well. And I did that later in the evening across the road at the Rising Sun, where I happily consumed two pints of Harvey’s Best and a pint of London Pride whilst scoffing down a very filling home made steak and kidney pudding which looked liked it had collapsed when they were making it, so they’d just chopped up all the suet pudding and mixed it in with the gravy. Naturally I lapped it up.

The pints perhaps didn’t help when I got back to the B&B and couldn’t open my room door… Mind you I couldn’t get it open the next morning either when going back after breakfast and was completely sober…

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