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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

South Downs Way Day 5 - Amberley to Bramber

The day started with thoughtfulness. My B and B host texted me to say that she’d sorted breakfast early for me if I wanted it, so that I could catch the earlier train. People are so kind. And she had made banana and pecan cake that I could take for a snack later too.

As I walked towards the station the skies were blue and the day was calm. A couple of train spotters were getting themselves sorted for their day out, supermarket plastic bags presumably full of their picnic to be enjoyed on a platform somewhere. The journey takes only 4 minutes, but has a great view.

Walking away from Amberley station there were another group of people ready for a fun Sunday, with a vintage car rally setting up. A number of old cars were pulling in as I walked past, their drivers looking excited and proud of their shiny vehicles. Neither train spotting nor vintage cars do it for me, but there was something rather encouraging about these shared endeavours that clearly give great pleasure to those who partake.

There was another of the nauseating steep climbs at the beginning of the day that are a feature of this Way. The path took me up High Titten. I had to suppress my seaside postcard sense of humour that I’d managed to contain very well when staying in Cocking. As I climbed I could see Amberley village below, with the castle very prominent.

My Cicerone guidebook tells me that the castle was built during the Hundred Years’ War to defend the river Arun, the longest in Sussex, which at that time was navigable all the way to Amberley. It didn’t tell me what the French would have been doing with the river that meant it needed defending. There was a footpath leading down to the village, which I considered taking, so that I didn’t miss out on another castle. Fortunately, Google was my friend again, telling me that the castle is converted to a hotel. I didn’t need to do the extra mile of downhill and uphill.

I always check in with David at the beginning of my walk, and once I’d caught my breath from the climb, I sent him a photo of what I could see. The Amberley Wild Brooks and the river Arun were flooded across the plain.

Because he has a remarkably retentive brain, he recognised the shape of the river, and realised that we had flown over it a week or so ago on our way back from Spain. I wish my brain worked like that. I did recognise Arundel castle in the far distance though.

Rackham Hill gave me a 600 foot or so climb in about a mile, and then didn’t give me the satisfaction of touching the trig point, as it was contained in a sheep field.

The higher I climbed, the windier it got. Today has very much been about the wind, and much less about the mud. Storm Kathleen is causing havoc further north of the country, so I presume that these 40 mph winds were connected to her. When I’d seen the blue skies this morning I’d considered wearing a T shirt instead of my technical base layer. I’d have been freezing.

It was a huge relief when the path ran through a small copse, giving temporary respite from the buffeting. There was a large group of people staring intently at a tree, some with binoculars. They were the Guildford RSPB ornithological group, and they could hear a firecrest. Two of the members, Mark and John, kindly pointed out the sound, a very high pitched twitter. It’s the size of a 50p piece, and they described it to me as ‘quite punky looking’. I had to look it up on the RSPB website. It vies with the Goldcrest for the title of the UK’s smallest bird.

They were a very friendly group, helpfully identifying the call of a chiff chaff for me too before I left. They were going to do a 5 mile walk or so, looking for birds as they went. I hope they saw the firecrest in the end.

The wind was initially exhilarating and rather hilarious as it would shove me sideways with its gusts. But it soon just became exhausting. My pack was heavy, my hair band wasn’t effective at stopping my hair whipping into my eyes, so I was partially blinded with pouring tear ducts as I picked my way over the flint and chalk path. As I approached Chantry Post car park I thought I could see a coffee van. It was sadly a mirage. Possibly it was that disappointment that made me feel I really needed a break, but there was no way I could sit down in this wind. But then, no mirage this time, a building hove into my watery view. It was a large cow shed. The relief when I got to the leeward side and I stopped being buffetted was fantastic. I sat on the hay to the side of the shed, put up with the smell of manure and took a breather from the noise and the intense sensory overload. As everything calmed with tea from my thermos and the great piece of cake from my B and B, I tuned in more to the sound of a loose board on the shed clattering against the building. Concerned that I didn’t end up having to stop because of a freak ‘cow shed board blows off and hits walker’ accident, I finished my tea and went out into the fray again.

It was good to see the board that showed that I was now over half way. An 8 day walk feels a good length, long enough to feel like a challenge, short enough to be marching towards the end quite soon after you start!

There were two options when approaching Washington. The longer went into the village and crossed the busy A24 with a footbridge. The shorter stayed on the Downs and meant dodging the traffic across the dual carriage way. I decided to go with shorter even though the guide book would frown at me. It was fine, there was an island in the middle that meant it wasn’t too dangerous, and I was greeted by a bank of cowslips and celandine on the other side.

Although so windy, today has been quite sunny, and there’s been no rain. And it’s a Sunday. So I’m guessing the combination of all of those factors is why the path was very busy today. I must have seen maybe fifty walkers, and many cyclists too. The clarity of the track speaks of how well used it is, but it was great seeing everybody out there. And how excellently the British speak about the weather. As humans were being almost blown over, and dogs’ ears being propelled out sideways, the conditions were variously described to me as ‘breezy’ or ‘fresh’ or more gnomically, ’cobwebs’.

Climbing up from the Washington valley I passed the Washington pressure reducing station. It was barricaded with great intent, and I was being heartily discouraged from going near it. I had no idea what it was. But later research tells me that pressure reduction stations are required to regulate the high incoming pipeline pressure to meet the desired equipment pressure. Pretty important then. This section of the walk was within the Wiston estate, owned and managed by the Goring family since 1743. It includes the Chanctonbury Ring, where a stand of trees marks the site of a Roman temple and an Iron Age fort. That area also marked the first herd of cows that weren’t behind fences.

Beginning the long descent for the end of the walk, I met Peon and Michael. Peon noticed my rucksack, as she’d been weighing up getting a similar one. She’s planning to do the South Downs Way in July, but is worried that she is too old. We established that she’s ten years younger than me, so I gave her some encouragement to stop worrying about that!

Some more cow action, this time safely behind a fence. A whole herd of very handsome horned cattle. That got me googling again. I think that they are White Park cows, listed as an endangered breed. Very gorgeous.

The views continued breathtaking on either side, with rolling hills leading to the sea shimmering in the distance to my right and the big open plain to my left. I was so glad that I’ve had at least one day with the big vistas.

As I started the long descent to the little town of Steyning I realised just how much the wind had taken it out of me. I was really tired, needing to sit and rest whenever there was the opportunity. It was as much as I could do to walk my way into the town, I very nearly bailed and went straight to my pub. But I knew I’d be sorry not to have seen Steyning, and when I found the Cobblestone Tea House and saw that they had cheese scones things perked up. Steyning is an ancient place, in fact Alfred the Great’s father, Aethelwulf of Wessex, is buried here. It has a pretty high street, and felt worth the diversion.

I am staying in Bramber tonight, a village just down the road, with another castle. After a couple of hours feeling utterly exhausted and that I would never be able to stand up again, I pulled myself together and took myself for a walk round Bramber castle before my dinner. Almost entirely ruined, it still has part of the tower, and the shape of the motte and bailey construction is very clear. It was built soon after 1066 to help defend William 1st’s newly won territories, and particularly where the river Adur flowed to the sea. Rather like the castle in Amberley.

Because of the wind, I’ve not been able to listen to any music or books, and the couple of people who’ve rung have really struggled to hear me. So there’s been a lot of thinking and reflecting today. But that’s good. With every onward step it has felt like I am digesting and assimilating, and working my way back to myself.

I heard myself say to someone I met today that I am an ‘experienced long distance walker’. That rather surprised me, and made me laugh, as I still feel I’m learning how to do it. But one of the things that my experience teaches me is that there are days when I finish feeling fresh, and there are days, like today, when I finish feeling exhausted. And that doesn’t always have anything to do with the mileage or the incline. But the other thing I’ve learnt is that the likelihood is that in the morning I’ll feel fine again. I’m going to unusually eat meat tonight, as it’s the only protein option at the only restaurant in the village, and I’ll stock up on protein for breakfast, and hopefully will be able to set off in the morning with a spring in my step.


Distance travelled - 13 miles

Total ascent - 1652 feet

Calories burned - 1860

Local tipple - Cobra from the Maharajah Indian restaurant

Dinner at the above

Chicken tikka masala with pilau rice

Video of the day

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Apr 08

Onward, Jane! Mud + wind = limited fun. At least this morning things have really calmed down, so you should have a GREAT day..

My first ultra run was in 1999 from Petersfield to Eastbourne, along the SDW. Three marathons’ worth in 19 miserable hours. Weather was good for me, but the terrain and underfoot was brutal. The slippery downs were as taxing as the grinding ups. As you’ve discovered… ;)

Jane Smith
Jane Smith
Apr 09
Replying to

How you managed to do that is beyond me. So much respect, bravo!


Apr 07

So glad you had some blue skies Mrs Experienced long distance walker! (How could you even think otherwise?) It's so great to see you went to Steyning - I spent the first 6 years of my life there and had numerous picnics at Bramber castle. There used to be a steam train that stopped in both places. Have a great day tomorrow!!


Apr 07

That wind has been exhausting today! Well done for battling through like the trouper you are! Delighted that you caved in and had a giggle at Cocking and High Titten ( those were the days!)😂

Banana and pecan cake sounds delicious and I will always associate a cheese scone with our JL lunches - It certainly looked up to standard!

Stunning photos - such a different landscape to the Highlands! xxx


Apr 07

Lovely to see all your photos - when I did this part the fog was so bad I didn't see anything except a couple of meters in front of me and occasionally an alarmingly close bike which shot out of the mist. Great write up.


Apr 07

Great horned cow! Second in beauty only to the Jersey. Speaking of beauty (tho obviously not of cows) … your halo was particularly glowing and nimbus-like today. That’s because you are an experienced long-distance walker.

Good words too, to put in my pocket. Clarity. Gnomically.

My daughter played hockey for the Steyning Farmers last year!

Hugs xxxxxxxxxx

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