The South Downs Way – Day 5

May 6, 1980: Beeding to Amberley

Chactonbury Ring

Chactonbury Ring

Almost three weeks passed before I was able to make my way back to the South Downs Way. Weather forecasts had not been good, or there had been some other London commitment on likely days – and I never needed a day of exercise more. My eyes were crossed with the strain of my work, my stomach in a flutter, my head pounding with the pressure of finishing my sabbatical project before our departure in June. Unfortunately the headache persisted during this day’s outing, for I forgot to take any aspirin with me – but I enjoyed myself nevertheless.

My alarm went off at 7:00 on the morning on Tuesday, May 6. I went through my by-now efficient dressing and packing ritual, had a cup of coffee and ate a piece of bread and honey. At 7:35 I left for Victoria and there bought a peanut Yorkie and a Times, reading about the ending of the siege at the Iranian Embassy (which we had been following on TV) as I sat in my compartment waiting for the train to start. The 8:25 got me to Shoreham at 9:33 – the journey by now rather tedious.

I found the spot where the bus had deposited Bunny and me last time and indeed, a bus was waiting now. We departed at 9:41 and I asked to be let off at the first stop beyond the cement factory in Beeding, having decided that this was about as close as I could get to where I wanted to go by public transport. I would walk up the road as far as the SDW bridge over the Adur, then retrace for about two thirds of a mile the route Bunny and I had followed last time. I had no companion today and didn’t really crave one. I knew it would be a strenuous outing and I was just as happy to worry about my own progress without hearing complaints from Tony or Bunny.

It was chilly at the start, with a fair wind whistling through my ears. I put up the blue hood on my sweatshirt and, throughout the day, repeated this process when needed. It was often sunny, though never really warm – good hiking weather. Visibility was five to six miles, good, though not as good as day three.

I went over the Adur Bridge and passed the spot where Bunny had wanted to throw her orange peel into the river because, after all, it was biodegradable. The garden at Peach Tree Cottage was just as lovely as last time. After climbing up through Annington I turned left and began going over new territory, an event I celebrated by my taking a pee in some trees. For many miles there were views of Steyning and Bramber, all quite lovely. Everything was nice and green today. Birds were singing sweetly everywhere and overhead the trilling larks hovered. At the top of the first major climb I reached a road that had to be followed for a brief distance. I left it at “Steyning Bowl” parking lot, where hang-gliding enthusiasts were gathering in spite of the “Beware The Bull” signs. Sean Jennett kept describing all the wildflowers I was supposed to be treading on but I couldn’t see any of them today.

Ahead was Chactonbury Ring, looking quite dramatic on the horizon. When I reached this magnificent circle of trees I had my first rest at the five and a half mile mark. It was quite lovely inside the magic grove – where I ate my Yorkie and drank some water. Then I proceeded west and made a brief detour to see a dewpond. There was a steep chalk track down to the A24 and on the descent I found two old ladies having a picnic. There were views of Washington on the right but I marched passed the detour into this town at this point.

Instead I crossed the dual carriageway at a trot, and walked up Glaseby Lane and the steep hills above, Highden and Barnsfarm. My purpose was to complete the “footpath” portion of the SDW before retracing my steps to follow the “bridleway” alternative through Washington. Having already done both versions of the start from Eastbourne, I would now acting in a compulsively thorough fashion in my conquest of the South Downs Way – by undertaking both of the alternatives here. Too thorough. I passed by the entry of the alternative route (unmarked), confused by Jennett’s suggestion that one goes “on over the summit” before reaching it. By the time I realized that I had gone too far I had added about a third of a mile (times two, of course) to my total.

At this point I turned around and began to retrace my steps, making the steep descent back to the A24. I met two other walkers who also wanted to know the way to Washington and I gave them directions. The bottoms of my feet were really getting hot with the friction of walking on these rough, gravelly tracks. The earth was extremely hard after very little rain (just predictions of it that had kept me in London). I didn’t see a puddle or muddy spot all day long.

When I got back across the A24 I risked life and limb to walk along the edge of this road to Washington, which did not prove to be very interesting. I could find no pub (although the granddad at the Devil’s Dyke Hotel had promised one), but this was just as well because I knew lager would not help my head. After passing the church I paused to change a roll of film. Then after the hamlet of Rowdell it was back up to the junction with the main route on Barnsfarm Hill. Some of this was quite steep.

I continued to the junction of the road to Sullington, quite slowly now, and at the eleven and a half mile mark I stopped to have a brief rest, some water, and some KP peanuts. I enjoyed being up on the top of the Downs here; many years later I remembered some of these feelings in a poem.


The pleasure of a track
this straight is that
discrete passion that only
worshippers of law may know:
measured accomplishment,
the stuff of stern guidebooks
squeezing sweetly down
the throat.

Limitless vapors
on this blue day are
lawless in the skies.
No manual maps the
progress of the white multitude,
shadow’s anarchy
unfocussing squares of
Sussex farmland far below.

A walker with a pulse
unparalyzed by
gravity’s rigid plan knows
where to plant the feet
on Barnsfarm Hill. When
the path falls downward
let these boots seek the shape of ether,
hacking hopeful toeholds in the cloud.


Because of the wind it was not too comfortable lying around so I began to go forward after ten minutes. I had tried to use my binoculars but the visibility made this rather unrewarding.

Coming up from a visit to the beautiful Highden beech forest to the south was an old lady with a walking stick. We ran into each other at a Dutch barn and walked together for about half a mile to Chantry Post. She interviewed me on my work on the Dahl biography and, as she got into her car, asked my name. She gave me hers – “with Cambridge connections,” she added, but I’ve forgotten it.

I walked slowly over Kithurst Hill. I couldn’t make the 16:11 at Amberley and I didn’t want to sit for a long time waiting for the 17:11 so I really dawdled on this stretch – just as well for the soles of my feet were quite warm. The problem was that it was getting pretty dark behind me – and one or two drops fell on my eyeglasses. As I ascended Springhead Hill there was the briefest drizzle, but it stopped before I could take cover in the little beech wood at the top and it never started up again.

I had another paranoid pee (who might be coming up the road behind me?) and began nibbling on an apple from the Cape. To the north there were wonderful views over the Weald, particularly Parham House and park. From Rackham Hill on there were also nice views of the Arun meandering slowly below.

I continued to inch forward, going particularly slowly on the descent from Amberley Mount. At the end, there was almost a mile through chalk pits, and then along tarmac. On the main road there were several hazardous spots for pedestrians and I used the horses’ path in preference once. At Amberley station I had only about fifteen minutes to wait and I used it to finish my peanuts. It was shortly before 5:00. Although I recorded this walk at 16 miles in length I had probably walked closer to 17 – making this one of my very longest walks ever.

The train was on time and I travelled all the way to London on it without change. The first part of the route was new to me, but not very interesting. At Gatwick a press officer for Scotland Yard, a very pretty girl, got on. She was full of Iranian Embassy siege stories. It was drizzling as I walked up the hill at the end of the day.

To continue with the next stage of our walk you need:

Day 6: Amberley to Cocking