First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A cock crowed from a farmyard and wood pigeons cooed in The Rookery as we walked out of Eartham. The distant calls bestowed a sense of peace on this breezy midday after weeks of summer heat.
This corner of West Sussex countryside dips and rolls from cornfields to woods. The clouds in a grey and silver sky pressed down, sealing in pockets of heat among the recently harvested fields. I followed the outer row of stubbles for the pleasure of hearing the dry stems swish and crackle against my boots.
A path in the cool shade of Nore Wood led north in a subaqueous green light to Stane Street, one flinty holloway among many converging under the beeches. Out across the open landscape of the downs we followed this 2,000-year-old way, built by the Romans soon after their invasion as a thoroughfare between their coast port of Noviomagus (Chichester) and Londinium. The raised ridge of the agger or road embankment, metalled with flints and mounded between ditches, still stood man-height, a seam of rabbit-burrowed earth and stones running northeast in a ruler-straight line.
We walked in the shelter of a clump of whitebeam, their green fruits swelling among the crinkly leaves. Some of these old trees were huge; I stepped out round the skirt of one enormous low-growing veteran and reckoned a circumference of at least 200 feet.
From Gumber Corner, another meeting place of ancient tracks, we went south over Great Down on a ridged, grassy path between fields of dark Zwartble lambs sporting white tail tufts. The Sussex coast spread out ahead, from the snout of the Isle of Wight on a blue-grey sea to the white miniature alps of the sunshades at Bognor’s Butlins.
Shady green Butt Lane was floating with thistledown parachutes. We passed derelict Downe’s Barn, a handsome old brick and flint building for which the National Trust have great plans after repair – bat and owl boxes, wildlife ponds and outdoor adventures.
Past Courthill Farm, where writer Hilaire Belloc found escape from his high-pressure London life in the early 1900s, and past a large triumphal arch perched on Nore Hill, a folly conceived as a picnic shelter by Anne, Countess of Newburgh, to give employment to local men out of work after the Peninsular Wars.
We came down to Eartham towards evening, the declining sun polishing the harvest patterns in the stubble fields and turning the empty flower cups of knapweed into a sprinkle of reciprocal suns among the grasses.
Start: George Inn, Eartham, West Sussex PO18 0LT (OS ref SU 939094) – please ask permission to park, and give The George your custom.
Getting there: Bus 99 (Petworth-Chichester)
Road – Eartham is signed off A285 (Petworth-Chichester)
Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer 121): From inn, right along road; round left bend (‘Slindon’); on next right bend, fork left down lane (fingerpost/FP; yellow arrow/YA; pink arrow/PA). In 700m, ahead across field (947094); inside wood, left (949095, FP ‘bridleway’/BW). North through Nore Wood, following PA and blue arrows/BA. In ⅔ mile, at post with YA and BA (952102), sharp left (BA) downhill. At bottom of slope, The Plain, go across track (951105; ignore BAs pointing left and right). Ahead up forest ride for ⅔ mile to 6-way meeting of tracks at bench (952114, 6-finger post).
Follow Stane Street/Monarch’s Way/MW (3rd right, ‘Bignor’) NE for 1¼ miles. At bench and 4-finger post, go through gate (967126); right (MW, PA, BW); in 150m, right at Gumber Corner (BW) to follow BW south across Great Down. In 1⅔ miles, just before gate, right (967101, FP, BA); in 40m, through gate; left (FP) along track. In 700m pass BW turning on right (965095); in another 250m fork right (965092, FP); in 30m, FP points left, but fork right to pass Downe’s Barn in 100m (965091).
In ½ mile, right at road (960086); in 100m, right (‘Bignor Hill’); just before Courthill Farm buildings, left up stony lane (960088). In ½ mile pass Row’s Barn (953091); in 200m, round right bend; in 30m, left along edge of trees (951092). At top of slope, enter trees (949092); right up green lane (BA); in 200m, left (FP) across field and back to Eartham.
Lunch: George Inn, Eartham (01249-814340, thegeorgeeartham.com)
Accommodation: Blackmill Spinney, Blackmill Lane, Norton, Nr Chichester PO18 0JU (01243-543603, blackmillspinney.co.uk).