A misty walk from Washington car park on the South Downs Way to St Botolph’s Church by the River Adur. 13 miles of beautiful Sussex South Downs views.
A few weeks prior to this walk I had been chatting to Gary Middleton who lives south of Chichester about walking somewhere together. A plan was made to meet at Washington car park at the foot of Chanctonbury Hill.
Gary hadn’t walked this section of the South Downs Way before so he was pleased to be able to leave the maps behind and have a guide for the day. I was pleased to have some great company and a chance to see how many hills I could remember!
With rucksacks loaded and boots laced firmly we set off from Washington car park towards the east. Within a matter of a few hundred metres the gentle slope of the tarmac car park became a steep uneven chalk track. Good for the heart and leg muscles.
Chanctonbury Hill – Misty Downs
We walked and talked our way up the slope of Chanctonbury Hill, passing a disused chalk pit which we would return to later in the day for photos. The gravel path from the car park soon turned to rutted chalk, bearing the scars of many wet winters. Gullies criss-crossed the path. In winter the descent becomes a battle between boot adhesion and gravity!
Despite the murky heavens above the views were appreciated, as was the Skylark’s cheerful song. I am not an expert at birdsong but I’m getting proficient at spotting a Skylark many metres above my head. We walked to the Dew Pond on Chanctonbury Hill, constructed in 1870 and restored in 1970. The water level was low as a result of a dry spring. The rain pours on my garden as I write these words.
Chanctonbury Ring – Roman Ruined
Walking along the very northern edge of Chanctonbury Hill allows you to fully appreciate the rise of the South Downs escarpment; from Weald to hill in a matter of moments. The protection offered by such a prominent lookout was not lost on our waring ancestors.
At the very centre of the Iron-Age Chanctonbury Ring, remains of red Roman tiles can be seen scattered amongst the modern-day tent pegs and tree stumps. The Roman villa that once stood here has long been ransacked over the generations, now nothing but broken tiles litter the floor of the copse.
The landscape has seen human activity for an almost continuous 2600 years, with adjacent hills seeing clear traces of human existence for perhaps 4-5000 years. The very heart of Chanctonbury Ring is almost silent, an eerie quiet created in part by the trees and in part by your mind. You cannot ignore the connection, the listening, the respect.
After a walk around the circle of trees and some quiet moments pondering the Roman remains we continued along the South Downs Way towards Steyning Round Hill.
Annington Hill to The Adur
Leaving the cold inquisitive wind of Chanctonbury Ring behind we walked east. On the horizon low cloud shrouded Truleigh Hill’s radio masts, like woolen fleece snagged on metalic fence posts. The sun hidden behind low cloud was failing to make much of an appearance so far.
Overlooking Steyning Bowl, on the South Downs Way are two benches, very welcome they are too. We sat and ate a brief lunch and looked into the distant gloom.
Somewhere out there was the Weald; somewhere out there are the South Downs – echoed voices from the Weald.
The walk along the edge of Steyning Bowl put some warmth back into us, as we headed up Annington Hill to see the pigs. Grunting, squealing and wading in mud and muck, the pigs were being pigs. Happy as a pig in ….
The piglets are fascinating to watch, like inquisitive pink puppy dogs. Huddled together for comfort and safety they will turn and flee if you get too close. Seemingly unperturbed by the whistling wind on the exposed Annington Hill side, the pigs went about their life as we walked the South Downs Way through their farm.
St Botolph’s Church at Botolphs
With squealing piglets left behind, we walked off Annington Hill towards the lane that essentially is the hamlet of Annington. At various junctions of footpaths and lanes we saw small groups of students, participating in their Duke of Edinburgh (DoE) tasks. Checkpoints relayed information and the promise that the end was in sight for many.
A short stroll through Annington brings the South Downs walker to the delightful Grade 1 listed Saxon church of St Botolph’s. Now under the protection of The Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), a national charity protecting historic churches at risk.
I am not a religious man in the traditional sense but like many people I appreciate the beauty of the buildings and relish the opportunity to look inside when passing. Gary, my walking companion for the day is a member of the CCT, so the church seemed the ideal destination for our walk.
St Botolph is patron saint of wayfarers, very fitting then to have the South Downs Way and Downs Link, plus the Monarch’s Way trail not too distant. With hushed voices we entered through the doorway into that unmistakable smell of damp stone and wooden pews.
The interior of the church invited reading and observation; scripts and artifacts, words and meaning.
I leafed through the visitor guest book, seeing names and locations from across Europe. The patron saint of wayfarers called people from far and wide to the tiny, almost invisible South Downs destination that is Botolphs. I added my name to the visitor list, on the 10th May 2015 page.
River Adur – South Downs Crossing
A short walk from the peaceful Saxon church is the River Adur and a modern South Downs Way river crossing for horses, cyclists and walkers spans the embankments. We stopped at the bridge over the Adur, hoping to find a grassy bank or thoughtful bench to sit upon but alas, no perfect perch was located. So our second lunch was had standing up.
Young families, navigating students and serial cyclists crossed the river and headed off somewhere. We ate and watched, Gary took photos and I pondered the grey sky.
The 1950s concrete built cement works (use the product – make the product) nestled in the hillside. A now sleeping giant of industry, derelict and dreary, dead but not forgotten. From high up on Annington Hill we had seen the huge scar, the cake-slice of Downland chalk removed, cooked, crushed to build the houses and factories of Great Britain.
With photos taken and energy topped up we headed back to the hamlet of Annington, via the South Downs Way before deviating from our original route. For the return journey we walked the Monarch’s Way trail, from Steyning up the opposite slopes of Steyning Bowl, where we would once more join company with the South Downs Way.
Steyning Bowl – Bottom Upwards
Like a switch being flicked, a gas burner being lit, the sun vapourised the low cloud in seconds. The mercury was rising and before our eyes blue sky was being painted above. Only minutes before we had walked around the church at Botolphs and looked towards cloud-clad hills. Now we looked at far-reaching views and blue sky.
I was almost tempted to say to Gary we should head back to the church for some blue sky thinking photos but with a good 6.5 miles left to walk I decided those sunny photos could wait another day.
From Steyning the Monarch’s Way climbs up the side of Steyning Round Hill, the opposing Annington Hill completing the natural cul-de-sac. As we walked the concrete track upwards, the sun beat down with unexpected warmth. A day of halves.
Tiny figures, silhouettes of mankind could be made out, high up along the lip of the Bowl; these were the South Downs hikers and walkers. We had a worm’s eye view of the world for another good hundred feet or so of altitude.
Steyning Bowl offers stunning views in all directions and in particular upwards, we could see the South Downs Way snaking off into the distant blue and we both knew the next stop would be at the top of the Bowl, only a few more feet of the Monarch’s Way to climb.
Upon reaching the South Downs Way once more, at the top of Steyning Bowl we retraced our footsteps back along the SDW, stopping to chat and talk to the myriad of passing hikers, cyclists and art-deco photo shoot models.
The South Downs make the perfect backdrop to life. A hollywood style green-screen but only this one is real.
Walking Back to Chanctonbury Ring
Mr Blue Sky was here to stay, the English Channel, Isle of Wight, North Downs all came out to pay their respects to the sun god. No longer was it just the view ahead that invited questions from Gary and myself.
Sporting a pair of travel binoculars we set about landmark spotting; Leith Hill Tower, Horsham, Henfield, Shipley Windmill, Ditchling Beacon. Want to know what is beyond the grey?
Chanctonbury Ring, now bathed in warm sunshine beckoned us closer, sit and spend some time, weary walkers welcome. Stay as long as you need. We stopped once more and ate the final food of the day. It would be all downhill from now on. The breeze naturally was ever-present, all around us.
Lunar Landscape – The Chalk Pits
As we headed down from Chanctonbury Hill, the sun now heading northwest, the land was saturated in early evening light of the type that accentuates the features. Not quite the magic-hour of photography but certainly the magic hour of medium distance walking.
As you walk the South Downs towards the Washington car park you pass a disused chalk pit, which upon investigation is a whole series of disused chalk pits. The pockmarked land is a delight to photograph and judging from the smoothing of the ground in places, a delight to mountain bike over.
Like an eager child Gary was off up the slopes in seconds to see what’s up there. I hadn’t walked around the pits before yet had walked by them many times. As I always say, the landscape changes every time you walk the same path.
I am always telling people they should walk away from the South Downs Way trail at times and this little gem of a location is prime example why, being just feet from the SDW trail yet miles away in aesthetics from the gravel track.
We walked a total of 13 miles and saw the landscape change from cloud covered hill tops, to sunbathed lunar landscape. Wildlife was plentiful, a kestrel hovered, shadows were chased across the fields by the wind. A rewarding walk, both in the company and the location.
Route: Washington car park to Botolphs and back.
Distance: 13.03 miles (20.96 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!