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Walking the South Downs Way – Part Four

Part Four – Cocking to Amberley

It was fitting that the walk that took us to the half way point of the SDW was a day of two halves.  The first half was cold, threatening rain and began with our departure delayed at a boot sale.  The first thought was one of forced march, heads down, with everyone feeling sleepy.  This was to change as you shall see.

We had with us a guest, who wishes to retain her anonymity (you can hardly blame her, keeping such low company as ours) so Robin has given her the pseudonym ‘Jet Janman’.  Jet proved to be a mine of expertise and information on all things ‘natural’ and between her and Robin’s knowledge, Adam and I had little to do other than place one foot in front of the other and keep both our ears open.

The first farm we went through had both chickens and pigs, [chicken breed] chickens and saddle back and old spot pigs.  While Robin identified the farm breeds Jet was drawing our attention to the various bankside flowers and plants; Arum Lily, Cleavers, Jack by the Hedge and their uses and anatomy.

A gentle climb took us to the top of Heyshott Down and past tumuli and cross dykes.  Here the Downland was being grazed by cattle, Belted Galloways to be precise, as identified by Jet.   Very appealing are these cows with woolly, almost teddy bear like faces.  The path on our left was hedge lined and it appeared that the hedge had been laid down in the traditional manner,  though it was, Robin and Jet observed, being cut back with more modern methods.  To our right was Charlton Forest and on the floor of strewn leaves was a prolific amount of Dog’s Mercury.  This is an indicator that the soil was once part of ancient woodland.  Clearly visible after hundreds of years was the wood bank, or boundary marker, which is very simply a bank of earth running along the edge of the forest.

Despite the improving weather there was still a sense of drag about the day until we crossed the A285 and realised that we were half way to Amberley!  A brisk pace up took us up Glatting Beacon and there we stopped for lunch.  Not only was there an empty bench awaiting us but a fantastic view.  Green and yellow field fell away in front of us to the sliver slithers of glass houses and lakes before the conurbation of Littlehampton, Chichester and Bognor. The sun came out and under the haze we could see the large tankers out in the channel and even a war ship patrolling along the coast.  We spied the spire of Chichester Cathedral, the green gleam of its copper roof and behind it the Isle of Wight. Specs of white and grey on the Solent were revealed, by the binoculars, to be small sailing vessels.  As we struggled to align the view with our internal map of the south coast a strange looking building was spotted near Bognor.

“What’s that ‘Sydney Opera House’ like building?”

“I don’t know, it looks strange though.  It’s all curves and points.”

“It’s brilliant white, is it some naval thing?”

“I know what it is, Butlins!”

So revived by views and vittles’ we carried on with a spring in our step to Stane Street; the Roman road that once linked Chichester with London Bridge.  There is a certain thrill in walking on a roman road I think.  It is true that we drive along them very frequently, often without realising it, and then the emotion is rather different, but when walking them we can allow ourselves the thought of roman soldiers clanking along in the approved of fashion from our school books. Either below or above the current road surface as the ghost stories have it.

Ascending the last hill of the day, Robin spotted a very significant Downland visitor – the wheatear.

When we announced our intention to walk the SDW we said that it was to ‘better understand the flora and fauna of the downs and to tie-in some Sussex produce along the way.’  With the sighting of a wheatear we have, sort of, managed two-in-one.  Further explanation and facts at the end, Readers.

Down Bury Hill through the brooks around Amberley we saw swallows and Adam spotted a reed bunting and we were tormented by the call of a yellow hammer “a little bit of bread and no cheeeese” over and over but without spotting him.  Cuckoo Flower was abundant as we crossed the River Arun, pausing to play a quick round of Pooh Sticks as we passed.  Robin, who had selected his stick wisely, won by some distance.  After a swift but excellent pint of Harveys Best (our first on the SDW) at the Bridge Inn, we boarded the train home. As we pulled out of the station, Adam produced a small bottle of brandy, and some smaller glasses, and we toasted our progress so far.

Robin’s Nature Notes

It’s all a bit Cuckoo, bottoms and poo in this part I’m afraid!

Birds: raptors; four buzzards, a kestrel and possible female peregrine falcon.
The amazing skylarks filled the air with their magical song, a single mistle thrush hopped around a field foraging for food. Whitethroat were heard singing noisily in wayside bushes and green woodpeckers “yaffled” in the distance.  As we walked onto the floodplain of the river Arun at Amberley, reed buntings, goldfinches, shelduck, gulls, mallards and a heron.

Plants in flower feature Ransoms, Herb Robert, Dog Violet (not smelly like the sweet one!), Jack by the Hedge, Bluebells, Primroses, Red and White Deadnettles, Field Woodruff, Cuckoo Flower (Milkmaids) Cuckoo Pint (Aurum Lilly, Jack in the Pulpit). Did the lovely Cowslips really get their name from the cowslops (pats) that they grow near? The bushes were dusted with May (Hawthorn) blossom – also called bread and cheese.

The star of the show, however, was the handsome migrant male wheatear hunting in an acre size patch of rough grass surrounded by arable prairie. This prompted much discussion – Will Robin show us how to make an old shepherd’s wheatear trap (they were once caught and sold in the hundreds for food) and will Edmund really force us to make Potted Wheatear with the catch?

Answers to these questions to follow shortly….

Robin’s Jokes (included at no extra cost)

  • “What do you get if you sit under a cow?”
  • “A pat on the head.”
  • Edmund was particularly amazed by the magic tractor.
  • “Did you hear about the magic tractor?”
  • “It turned into a field!”
  • Thanks again to Jet Janman for her naturist expertise!

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