A 6.5 mile walk, escaping the busy South Downs Way, towards Wepham Down in West Sussex. Warm sunshine, wildlife aplenty and a clear mind. Sounds bliss doesn’t it.
The month of May was proving yet again to be a mix of warm sunny days and April-esque heavy rain showers. I picked a warm sunny day for this walk, it would be rude not to.
I had pleasant walking company for a change, which was great as normally my mid-week hikes are a solitary event. Various time constraints on the day meant that we would only have a few hours walking but the feel-good factor from those few hours of concentrated solitude would last for many days.
Kithurst Hill Car Park
Blink and you would miss it; that’s the nature of the potholed bumpy road that takes you up the chalk escarpment to the Kithurst Hill car park. The area was once a training ground for WW2 troops, no doubt the tarmac was in a better condition 75 years ago.
Once parked we set off towards the famous (well locally perhaps) Kithurst Hill Tank. As you walk out of the car park onto the South Downs Way trail a gated entrance to a field awaits. We walked south through a waist-high field of rapeseed, the yellow of early spring now faded to early summer green.
I think the route was impressing my walking guest. This part of the South Downs National Park is my favourite, if I must have one. In less than 20 seconds of walking from the car park you are immersed, waist-high in this case, into nature.
A distant light-aircraft towed a glider high into the sky, we looked at the tiny specs above us, the only humans around for some distance. I’ve previously written about the WW2 Churchill Tank that can be found in this part of the South Downs, so I’ll not mention that again; suffice to say it always invokes thought and inner reflection.
South Downs Solitude
Walking in a south-west direction we left the rusting tank behind us and looked towards the English Channel, green fields awaited. Footpaths criss-crossed the land, running as straight as a die through the crops.
No animal fences corralling us down an unnatural corridor; no prohibitive signs telling us to keep out, don’t touch, electrified!
A lone horse-rider with canine company walked slowly from behind, we stood to one side and said our polite hellos. Watching as the dogs bounded through the juvenile emerging crops, you couldn’t help but feel that “this was the life” for a while anyway.
On several occasions I stopped walking and listened, here we were in the busy, bustling, hectic South East of England and I couldn’t see another person other than my walking partner for miles. With the aid of reflecting sunlight we could only just make out the ant-sized cars driving along the A29 towards Bury Hill.
Even the weekday walkers of the South Downs Way were a mile distant and unfortunately for them, unlikely to deviate from their “set in stone” route.
I think we had just found pure South Downs solitude; turn off your pocket technology and empty your mind. There is South Downs Way walking and there is walking in the South Downs.
Perry Hill – Wepham Down
We followed a footpath towards Perry Hill, a beautiful location a few minutes walk from the villages of Wepham and Burpham. We saw and heard skylarks as well as an impressive buzzard spiraling overhead. The sun warmed the land and the local gliders continued to spiral, silently above us on rising thermals. Shhhh can you hear that; the sound of being alive.
The peace and quiet continued unabated as we stopped and looked across the Arun valley towards Bognor, Littlehampton and of course, the impressive Arundel Castle. Glatting Beacon’s radio masts marked the South Downs Way’s westward adventure.
Our chosen path took us to the very edge of Burpham village, with its heady population of a 162 people; 164 today for an all too short moment. A village I certainly need to visit with time on my hands.
Peppering High Barn – Walkers Rest
The wonderfully named Peppering High Barn is an area now rich in wildlife conservation. Information signs inform of ground nesting birds as well as the efforts being made to protect and encourage wildlife to flourish in the South Downs.
Looking across the Arun valley the white chalk cliffs of the old Houghton pits can be clearly seen against the lush green of the surroundings. This area is littered with history, from Neolithic to Iron-Age.
A bench is thoughtfully provided so that people can stop and enjoy; simple pleasures.
The Burgh – Springhead Hill
Reluctantly leaving the bench, I could watch a landscape view all day, we headed north-east, a direction that would eventually deliver us back on the South Downs Way trail at Springhead Hill, high above Parham Park.
Before reaching the popular 101 mile SDW trail, we had a few more miles of undisturbed, uninterrupted landscape to traverse. A great deal of hedgerow replanting has been undertaken, so in part the views are restricted at times. I am sure we can all live with that manmade hardship.
Walking upwards from The Burgh to Springhead Hill we saw wildflowers growing profusely, finger-posts guiding us gently in the right direction.
Take your time, don’t clutter your mind.
The modern South Downs landscape is man-made, only a small fraction of the original grass downland remains, less than 5% of the total. It is heartening to know that landowners, farmers and leisure users can, on the whole, exploit for mutual benefit and enjoy this land in harmony.
If we shut gates, leave only footprints and keep pets under control, there is every reason to believe we can walk these trails for years and years to come. The hedgerows will mature, the sun, wind and rain will continue to contour the land as will the farmer’s plough. As it has done for hundreds of years before me.
Route: Kithurst Hill car park to Burpham and back.
Distance: 6.5 miles (10.4 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!