First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
After days of wild weather and whitened seas along the Sussex coast, a quieter morning dawned over the South Downs. In the hamlet of Walderton, master thatcher Chris Tomkins had his straw bundles and pegs laid out along the gutters of a flint and brick cottage, all handy for the day’s work.
Small clouds went jostling like sheep along the wooded skyline. Our path led east beside stubble fields, sheltered in that characteristic Sussex Downs landscape of dip and rise, every curve of the chalky land pleasing to the eye and heart.
We scanned the furrows as we walked, looking for the bevelled edges and teardrop shapes of Neolithic flint tools lost or left behind by our distant ancestors.
Down behind the neat cottages and carefully tended gardens of Stoughton stood St Mary’s Church, already here when the Normans landed, a blocky building with narrow windows high up. Inside under a simple beam roof a tapestry round the walls depicted the thousand-year story of the downland village in its cradle of woods and slopes.
Beside the flinty lane that led away from Stoughton stood a plain granite pillar. In the adjacent field 23-year-old Pilot Officer Boleslaw Własnowolski – ‘Vodka’ to the other chaps in the mess of 213 Squadron at Tangmere – died in November 1940 when his Hurricane fighter was shot down by a Messerschmitt Me-109. The Polish flag that swathes the pillar, and the poppy wreaths at its foot, show how this young foreign flyer is still remembered here.
The lane ran up to the crest of the downs, where the little grassy domes of the Devil’s Humps lay in line astern. From these Bronze Age burial mounds we had a stunning view south over the glinting inlets of Chichester Harbour, where the spire of Chichester Cathedral lanced into the cloudy sky against a backdrop of trees, creeks and the dull silver plain of the sea.
Flint-cobbled tracks led us south, skirting the scrubby slopes of Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve, a marjoram-scented heaven of wild flowers and butterflies.
We turned for home along a downland highway past the brooding wreck of a great flint barn, and on through woods of oak and beech where the wind whistled and loose leaves pattered earthwards like multi-coloured rain.
Start: Barley Mow Inn, Walderton, Chichester PO18 9ED (OS ref SU 790106). Open again. Please ask permission to park, and give pub your custom!
Getting there: Bus 54 (Chichester-Petersfield)
Road – Walderton is on B2146 (signed from Westbourne, off A27 Portsmouth-Chichester)
Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer OL8): Right along road. In 50m, right across bridges; grass path to road. Right; in 50m, left (788107, fingerpost); right along field edges. Cross road (792110); on (occasional ‘Monarch’s Way’/MW signs). In 400m, path forks (796113); keep ahead across field to trees (796116). Inside trees, right (MW, ‘bridleway’/BW); immediately keep ahead downhill to road in Stoughton (801114).
Sharp left to church; return to road; right for 150m. By Tythe Barn House, left (801113, BW) up lane. In 350m pass war memorial (804111); on up to top of rise. Forward to 3-finger post (812106, BW); left along track. In ½ mile pass Devil’s Humps (819110); in another ½ mile, right (824115, white arrow in blue circle/WABC) up path; in 150m, right (blue arrow/BA) up stony bridleway.
In 250m cross bridleway (825113, 4-finger post); on downhill. In 550m pass Kingley Vale signs (827108, KV); on down for 500m, right at 4-finger post (828103). In 550m pass KV gate (824100) and on (BW). In 150m, fork right uphill at edge of trees. In 650m, at KV gate on right, fork left (819102, WABC). In ¼ mile, entering yew grow, fork left at 3-finger BW post (815104).
In 650m, at edge of trees, don’t fork left downhill, but keep ahead (809104) into open. In ½ mile, right at ruined barn (800104); inside trees, left along track. In 650m, fork right (794105) downhill past Walderton Down notice to road (792107); left to pub.
Lunch: Barley Mow, Walderton (02393-631321, thebarleymow.pub) – booking advised. Take-away service also available.
Accommodation: Coach & Horses, Compton PO18 9HA (02392-631228, coachandhorsescompton.co.uk) – open and Covid-compliant.