First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Writers love Burpham. Hawk-faced poet and novelist John Cowper Powys lived here early in the 20th century; Mervyn Peake, author of bizarre fantasy Gormenghast, between the wars. Their Gothic imaginings ran free over the green ramparts of the Saxon burh or fortified settlement beside the River Arun, the leper’s squint in the ancient church of St Mary, and the place high on The Knell beyond where a highwayman’s corpse was gibbeted in 1771.
The reedy sound of the church organ followed us away from St Mary’s on this cloudy Sunday morning. We found the old track that led over a rise towards The Knoll with a fine view westward towards Arundel Castle, huge and solid against its trees.
Handsome beechwoods have grown on the downs since Jack Upperton met his comeuppance. This wretched man, a landless labourer well into his sixties, robbed the local postman, but made two stupid mistakes – he was recognised through his disguise, and he spent the proceeds conspicuously. The total take? One pound. For this paltry sum Upperton was hanged, his body tarred and displayed in chains on the down till it rotted away.
Among the beeches of Upper Wepham Wood two youngsters were playing chase round an Eeyore house of sticks. A brace of well-seasoned riders went trotting by with ramrod backs and leathery weather-beaten faces. Conifers scented the cold air with a bracing pinch of resin as we turned along the track to Upper Barpham farm with its large old thatched barn.
In the neighbouring pasture donkeys cropped the grass over the furrows and bumps of the medieval manor and church that once stood here. From the track beyond there was a beautiful view into a deep downland cleft where the farmstead of Lower Barpham lay beside its own field of lumps and hollows. Dispossessed by the change from arable to sheep farming in Plantagenet times, most of the villagers of Barpham had already quit the settlement when the Black Death arrived in 1348 and wiped out those that remained.
A high ridge track, creamy white with chalk, brought us back towards Burpham with superb views towards Arundel Castle and the sea. A pair of red kites scoured the downs, and goldfinches flitted before us through the hedge along the way.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy; woodland, downland tracks.
Start: Burpham car park, near Arundel BN18 9RR (OS ref TQ 040088)
Getting there: Rail to Arundel (2 miles)
Road – Burpham is signed off A27 at Arundel railway station. Car park behind George Inn.
Walk (OS Explorer 121): Left past village hall; along fenced path; in 200m left across field, steps to road (040086); right. Right at road (044085); in 40m left (blue arrow/BA) up track. In 500m ahead at junction (048082, gates). In dip, left (049077, fingerpost); in 25m right (BA, Monarch’s Way/MW) uphill. At top over track crossing; on to road (051077); left (BA, MW) through woodland. In ¾ mile, left in dip (062081, BA); in ⅔ mile pass Upper Barpham (067088) to cattle grid (view over Lower Barpham to right). Left at cattle grid(BA); fork right through gate on broad stony track across downs. In ¾ mile at crossroads, right pass metal post (062012) on track which bends left. In ⅔ mile beside Norfolk Clump, ahead (055093, yellow arrow) for 1 mile down to road (044085). Right; in 100m, left (‘Wepham Green’). At West Barn, right to stile; left to gate, steps and road (041088). Right to car park.
Lunch: George Inn, Burpham BN18 9RR (01903-883131, georgeatburpham.co.uk)
Accommodation: The Town House, High Street, Arundel BN18 9AJ (01903-883847, thetownhouse.co.uk)