I had never walked the Wildbrooks of Amberley or indeed Pulborough as there had always been other South Downs Sussex walks to explore; when winter arrives you cannot traverse the Wildbrooks without a boat for the area is the winter floodplain of the mighty River Arun.
So the promise of a bright spring day and receding winter flood-water meant the end of March was the perfect time to discover on foot this local wildlife haven.
Parham Park to Amberley Village
Starting out from Storrington West Sussex, I for once walked the low route to Amberley village. As you might have guessed by my photos in the blog gallery I normally walk along the high ridge, up on the South Downs Way, the reason always being I enjoy the exercise in getting up there and the views are gorgeous from on top of the chalk escarpment.
Today I decided to walk the low route to Amberley, through the fields and greenery, via Parham Park and Rackham Mill.
The South Downs are equally stunning when forming the horizon backdrop or providing the elevated viewing platform.
With blue sky and a hint of warmth from the sun I followed the West Sussex Literary Trail which would lead me to the entrance of Parham Park and the magnificent Douglas Lodge, untouched almost since construction in the 1700s.
Parham Revisited Again!
Douglas Lodge is used as a residence by a member of the Parham staff, so I try not to take photos that would cause any intrusion but I am sure you will agree the location is enviable.
Parham Park is locally known for the stunning Parham House but for me the real beauty are the sentinel like trees in the deer park. A sensitive conservation policy sees wildlife thrive amongst the dead and decaying old wood whilst at the same time the living trees stand grand and proud.
The lake at Parham was reflecting the blue sky and adjacent trees, an excuse for a few more photos before heading towards Rackham. I’ll not get tired of water reflecting the sky above; it gives us a different perspective for a few moments on life, seeing things from the opposite side.
Leaving Parham House behind I exited the estate deer park, not before admiring a stunning vintage car, via the picturesque gate-lodges and turned left towards Rackham, walking south along Rackham Street for a few hundred yards before taking a footpath on my right through the woods of Rackham Plantation.
A cheerful good morning called out to me from the garden of an adjacent property, praising the spring sunshine and wishing me a pleasant walk; it was certainly going to be that.
The walk through the woods was short and soon I was once more out in the open walking up a gentle slope on the West Sussex Literary Trail, having admired as always the decaying but delightful Rackham Mill as I walked by. The view to the west is across the Wildbrooks, the River Arun floodplain and looking south the Downs compliment the setting.
I followed the WSLT into the heart of Amberley village and sought out Hog Lane, where my Wildbrooks experience would begin.
From the chocolate box village of Amberley the Wildbrooks extend northwards towards Greatham. The grassland which was once natural floodplain is dissected by numerous drainage ditches, dug throughout the 1800s to assist in draining the land.
From the village take Hog Lane and follow the Wey South Path north, be very wary as this area being a floodplain will in a wet winter be flooded and very boggy underfoot. There are sluice gates and deep water so be careful and sensible.
The River Arun is one of the fastest flowing rivers in Great Britain and is tidal for over 25 miles inland from the coast at Littlehampton. The mighty River Arun indeed.
This was a new South Downs walk for me, I had seen the flooded Wildbrooks from up high on the South Downs Way, I had looked down from the A29 at Bury Hill and seen the massive winter lake that forms across acres of land; I had never walked it, until today at ground water level.
The Wild Brooks are a haven for nature. You can see winter wildfowl during floods, including Bewick’s swans. Spectacular and rare wetland plants and insects, especially dragonflies will fill the area in summer. The sound of the breeze blowing through the reeds is soothing. I need to walk here again when I don’t have to be anywhere else for a long time.
As a location to watch changing weather and ambient light, this would be high up on the list.
In all directions water reflected the spring-time mood of the day, the RSPB are working alongside other wildlife trusts to restore the drained land to a natural floodplain once more. Water levels in the ditches are kept high to allow nature the chance to recover from severe draining in the 1960s and ’70s. Did people care as much about their locality then?
A Changing Landscape
As the Wey South Path heads north, so the Wildbrooks change from open grassland to boggy woodland. The path is strewn with wooden planks to aid the meandering hiker across boggy sections. Green, brown and black water fills the ditches, wildlife thrives here.
I didn’t want this section of my walk to end, every step brought something new to look at. A different colour, a different sound, a sluice gate, a fallen tree, the sound of crows caw-cawing; because this is nature the same walk next week, next year will be different again. A fluid canvas. Nothing remains the same.
Wildbrooks to Wild Arun
As any local will tell you, the River Arun is a mighty river when it comes to flow and flood. Said to be one of, if not the, fastest flowing river in the country with a typical flow rate of 4-6 knots. The historic bridge at Greatham, my next destination pays tribute to that flow rate.
Said to be completed around the very beginning of the 14th century, Greatham Bridge is a scheduled Historic Monument. It is also very picturesque and alongside the Wildbrooks was the reason for my walk in this direction.
The bridge was rebuilt in the 1790s and the cast iron blue painted section was added in the 1800s after the existing stone section was badly damaged during River Arun floods. The mighty River Arun strikes back. The bridge is in daily use, so take care when taking photos or walking across as it is narrow.
As you can see from the images the river level was low when I visited, I hadn’t checked the tide-tables but if you wanted more water for your own photos, then a little lunar / maritime homework would help out for certain.
Greatham Village to Parham Park
After taking several photos of the bridge I headed towards the east and Greatham village centre, the road is not too narrow here though there are no pavements; this being rural Sussex after all. Single file walking and a torch would be essential at night or in bad visibility.
The village centre of Greatham is marked by some typically British icons; the red telephone box, wall mounted post box and not forgetting the important parish noticeboard.
I didn’t stop to check but I doubt this phone box has a working phone in it. I’m amazed at how technology has advanced in just a few years. All the photos on this particular blog article were taken with my mobile phone, the same device that tracks my route via GPS, outputs a GPX file of map coordinates and also has 1:50000 scale OS Map of the South Downs at the press of 2 keys.
I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands so sadly I didn’t walk up the footpath to the church, perhaps next time I will. Am sure Greatham would welcome me back, not that I actually saw anyone about. As I left the village centre, the phone box and post box, I spotted a road sign of a design that I like, checking for curious motorists I stepped into the middle of the road and snapped a few shots.
I like these old style of road sign but what does disappoint me is the lack of 1/2, 1/4 and 3/4 fractions on the distances. When I’m out walking, an extra 1/2 mile makes all the difference if I’ve told someone at home to put the kettle on at a certain time! I must write to WSCC (I won’t, just thinking out loud).
I took a path on my right near Washingham, through Greatham Common. The walk through the woods at Greatham was nice for once, it was a bridlepath that hadn’t been reduced to a swamp during winter use, unlike a bridlepath I walk close to Kithurst Hill, no ones fault but the wet rain.
The path eventually took me back to Rackham Street, where I walked south along the tarmac until I reached the gate-lodges of Parham Park once more. I negotiated the kissing gate at the entrance to the deer park and finished my walk with another stroll through Parham Park back east towards Storrington, following the West Sussex Literary Trail.
This walk proved my hunch correct and my doubts very wrong, walking the low-route in the shadow of the South Downs chalk escarpment was certainly not a disappointment in the least. The views may not have been far-reaching out to sea, or to the North Downs but the views up close mattered. I saw wildlife, nature and countryside that I might otherwise have missed. I encourage you to walk in the South Downs National Park, not just along the South Downs Way.
Sometimes we do miss the things in front of our very noses, taking a different route shouldn’t mean disappointment, it should mean adventure and enlightenment. Where are you going to walk next?
Route: Storrington to Greatham Bridge.
Distance: 11.22 miles (18.05 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!