A 19.6 mile circular walk to Arundel Park West Sussex, following the River Arun south from Houghton Bridge. It would be a new walking route for me once south of Houghton.
7.47am Monday morning. I remember the exact time because I glanced at the clock as I was gathering up my hiking gear. I thought to myself how lucky I was to be planning a walk in the South Downs National Park whilst the majority of Southern England’s inhabitants were heading to the M25 motorway and several hours of traffic jams.
South Downs Way Again
I had all day to walk and the clocks had just gone forward to British Summer Time the previous day, releasing a very welcome extra hour of daylight. Today’s walk wasn’t going to be about taking the shortest or quickest route.
I headed out of Storrington via Greyfriars Lane and walked the bridlepath up Kithurst Hill. I’m beginning to think I recognise my own boot prints in the mud as I’ve trod this path a few times recently.
The morning was quiet, the schools were on their Easter break making the walk along the streets and lanes a traffic-free pleasure under the spring sunshine. As always I was eager to reach the top of Kithurst Hill and take in the view, the full widescreen experience. As I climbed the bridlepath up Kithurst I was offered tantalising views through the dense trees to the North Downs, far on the horizon.
I headed off into the stiff westerly breeze with the sound of my trekking poles catching brambles to keep me company. You can easily forget what day it is up on the chalk escarpment of the South Downs, only the cars in the car-parks give a clue; weekday or weekend.
The view west revealed the weather forecast for the next few hours, fluffy clouds dashing across the sky carried on by the strong breeze. No weather app needed, just open your eyes and scan the horizon.
Rackham Hill – Shapes and Shadows
Breezy weather brings shadows. A distant hilltop is illuminated briefly by a sunbeam, its 15 minutes of fame. The shadows chase each other across the Wildbrooks and the rolling chalk hills. I took my camera-phone from my pocket and stood on top of Rackham Banks and waited for the shadows to run.
Looking south-west I could see Arundel Castle nestling amongst the hills, that would be my destination in a few hours time but first I had more of the South Downs Way to walk. Onwards and westwards. Without a doubt this section of the South Downs offers a chance to escape the modern world; a location to reset, re-stock one’s thoughts.
The Bridges of Houghton Country
I stopped for a few minutes just beyond Downs Farm to chat with a chap who was hiking the full 100 miles of the South Downs Way over 5 or so days. We shared opinions on the views and the potential for howling gales later in the week.
I walked off the Downs into Houghton where I would meet up with the River Arun; my next footpath was at the western end of Houghton Bridge but I decided to take a detour and turned right immediately after the railway bridge and followed the River Arun until I reached the familiar SDW steel bridge spanning the fast flowing Arun.
Anyone who has read my blog will know that I like taking photos of bridges if the location complements them. Without a doubt the bridge that carries the South Downs Way across the Arun is in a gorgeous location, so it always gets a photo or six.
The water was flowing fast today, recent rain, ebb tide and a strong breeze funnelled the contents of the river towards, eventually, Littlehampton. I was going to follow that water, flowing at an impressive 5.5 knots as far as Arundel Park.
I followed the Arun back to Houghton Bridge, though this time I was at the western edge of the historic structure, having avoided walking across the narrow road bridge which has only occasional passing refuges for pedestrians.
The view from the road is of fleeting glimpses of the Arun, gone in 60 seconds; the view from the river bank is a world apart. Take your time, look around, enjoy the sights. No rush.
I walked south along the right-hand river bank (the western edge); it pays to do your map research as the Arun does not have legal footpaths on both banks for its entire length. It wouldn’t make a very good canal in modern times.
With Houghton Bridge behind me I meandered through a field comparing my OS Map with the worn grass-path. I avoided as best as possible the boggy ground and squinted in the direction of the southern sun to spot a stile and the “field exit” system.
Arundel Park – The Monarch’s Way
Just south of Houghton the River Arun path (Monarch’s Way) enters South Wood via a series of raised wooden walkways over the micro-swamp. As the walkways lead you deeper into the undergrowth, steep chalk cliffs rise up on your right hand side. Remains of disused chalk / flint pits I would guess from the markings on my map.
Several paths lead off towards the chalk face but I didn’t investigate beyond looking upwards at the chalk and making a mental note to explore at some later stage.
After walking for several minutes alongside the Arun I was joined on my right by an imposing boundary wall; this marked the edge of Arundel Park. A grand estate with a mix of farmland and parkland.
Set amongst dense woodland, the entrance to Arundel Park seemed a little disappointing after the beauty of the Arun at Houghton. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the Monarch’s Way trail on this section. I squeezed through the unforgiving kissing-gate and followed the footpath markers. Upwards steeply, as is normally the way of all my walks!
The path zig-zagged this way and that, any views there may have been were hidden by the trees. After several minutes of walking, turning left and right the vista finally opened out. I was now looking across to the chalk escarpment of the South Downs towards Houghton, Rackham and beyond. Sweeping views, that as always caused me to stop and look.
The early morning spring sunshine was slowly eroding away, replaced by a blanket grey. Not ideal for photography but certainly not about to spoil my walk. This part of Arundel Park being some distance away from Arundel Castle and town was very quiet.
The only sounds were those of the resident sheep and new-born lambs, both keeping their distance from the stranger with trekking poles. I headed towards Hiorne Tower, as marked on my OS Map. The sheep watched on, not bothered by much.
Hiorne Tower – His Showpiece
I try to have a “feature” destination in mind when I set off on a hike around the South Downs. Not your typical circular walk to a favourite pub but more often than not a walk to something quirky. On this occasion without a doubt the quirky destination I had in mind was a triangular folly but first I had a hill and more sheep to negotiate.
Fleeting glimpses of the folly encouraged me to walk quicker. I am not ashamed to say it but I thoroughly enjoy hiking in new locations; not knowing quite what to expect around the next corner, over the next summit. Arundel Park didn’t disappoint at all, even with a grey sky overhead. As I reached the location of Hiorne Tower I was very impressed to say the least.
Built in the late 18th century by architect Frances Hiorne, said to be haunted and has featured in a 1988 Dr Who episode, Hiorne Tower is quite simply a work of architectural art. I walked around the three-sides and admired the design. You could easily imagine a ghostly face at any of the high windows, watching you as you try to peer in to their realm.
The grey sky added to the legends, the rumours. I would imagine on a bright sunny day the folly would have a very different feel to it. The sky over our head plays a very important part in our perception of locations. Frances Hiorne died at the age of 45 but his legacy lives on through this folly and other buildings in the UK.
Saying goodbye to Hiorne and his magnificent tower I retraced my steps back down to the valley bottom of Arundel Park and walked towards Swanbourne Lake on the southern edge of the park. The lake was a gorgeous turquoise colour and the water filtered by the chalk of the Downs ran clean and clear.
Arundel upon River Arun
I walked alongside the lake towards Arundel Castle, families and young couples chatted and fed ducks, ate ice creams and looked at me with bemusement; trekking poles, large rucksack, muddy boots, I did look a little over-dressed for a walk by the lake in the town centre.
Crossing over the road at the southern end of Swanbourne Lake I checked my OS Map and took a footpath that ran alongside an Arun tributary, skirting around the rather ugly 7 foot high barbed-wire fencing of the Arundel Wetland Centre. I am sure they do great conservation work but from the Arun side, their fencing is hardly in keeping with a conservation zone. Sign of the times I guess; security all around us, keeping animal predators out as well as unwanted humans up to no good. Perhaps in time the metal fencing will weather a little.
River Arun Meander
For the return journey I decided to walk alongside the River Arun from just outside Arundel Castle to South Stoke and then North Stoke, where I would decide what to do next. All dependant on that grey sky overhead you understand.
Once away from Arundel town, the number of walkers dropped off significantly. Once more I had the meandering river bank to myself for several miles. The occasional farm building and a railway line were the only signs of population.
The River Arun as always flowed swiftly by as I walked, one of the fastest flowing rivers in Great Britain the experts say. I believe them. The main London to Bognor railway line runs alongside the Arun for some distance, making for a very picturesque commute for those that do that.
Offham to South Stoke
Walking along the river bank, I was in my own little world. The occasional train rushed by on the opposite bank and occasionally farmers went about their chores in the adjacent fields. Not a lot was happening between Offham and South Stoke, you can’t say that about many parts of Southern England.
The river crossing at Offham is private, for use by the local farmer only. The next public crossing of the Arun is at the hamlet of South Stoke. You can continue along the western bank of the Arun back to South Wood and Houghton Bridge from South Stoke but I wanted to walk to North Stoke, to hopefully see another quirky location.
The Hamlet of South Stoke
Arrival at South Stoke is marked by an 11th century church and a few desirable dwellings. That’s all there is to South Stoke. A tiny hamlet in every sense of the phrase with a population of approximately 44. More importantly for me, is the bridge that spans the Arun allowing me to take a “detour” away from the Arun via a footpath to North Stoke.
Gurkha Suspension Bridge – North Stoke
I saw one couple walking at South Stoke, so naturally cheerful hellos were said by all, after that I didn’t see anyone for another few hours. Browsing the internet a few weeks earlier had revealed photos of the suspension footbridge and the path I was walking would lead that way.
Once again, like Hiorne Tower I wasn’t sure what to expect in real life, when arriving at my quirky location. I walked north towards North Stoke (place names that make sense!) wondering what the suspension bridge would be like.
Suddenly out of the trees in an isolated spot appeared an impressive footbridge (do bridges jump out like that?) quite obviously of the suspension design. The story goes that the existing bridge over an Arun meander was severely damaged by a falling tree. Local campaigning saw the British Army Gurkhas repair and rebuild the bridge in 2009 to a very high standard and at materials cost only.
North Stoke – Decision Time
There is a small wooden bench adjacent to the suspension bridge, so you can admire the bridge, admire your photos, have a break, browse your map. I did all of that. The grey sky was still with me, any chance of sunbeams breaking through during the late afternoon were now long gone.
Grey sky it was but at least for the time being it was still dry, though the wind wasn’t relenting. After a little map reading (an excuse to rest my legs) I plotted a route back to the main South Downs Way, rejoining it at Rackham Hill.
Arriving in North Stoke, a larger hamlet than its southerly namesake but not by much, I walked towards the east along a tarmac track that climbed up Camp Hill towards The Burgh. The railway line cut across the fields below me on its way to Amberley Station, passing under my feet in a short tunnel.
Lead grey sky and a stiffening breeze meant that rain was probably now on the way. I put my camera-phone away for good and set off up the long climb to Rackham Hill via the tracks.
Remote and Rural
This part of the South Downs between The Burgh and Rackham Hill is far away from the modern world. Walking in a rural valley, the Downs rising either side it is easy to forget that Pulborough, Worthing, Arundel, Houghton are only a few miles away.
Hedgerows are being actively replanted and great wildlife conservation work is being carried out here. An ancient land that deserves careful management to protect the biodiversity.
A Sit Down and a Chat
Just before the track I was walking reached the South Downs Way at Rackham Hill, a bench offered the chance to sit down one last time. Not having seen anyone for a few hours I was a little surprised to see a dog walker appear on the path, especially given that on the horizon rain could be seen falling in several locations and the wind was cold and unfriendly.
We had a chat about the beauty of the Downs for a while, enough time for me to get my breath back for my final push onwards to Storrington and the end of an enjoyable 19.6 miles of walking.
Route: Storrington to Arundel Park and back.
Distance: 19.6 miles (31.5 km)
Map of Walking Route
The map shown is a rough guide to the route that I walked. Please make sure you always follow safe and legal paths, roads and walkways. The actual location of the red-route on the map is an approximation. Never walk in the sea or off a cliff, please just don’t, you’ll get wet and I’ll get worried!