A perfect summer’s morning over West Sussex – blue heavens with huge white cumulonimbus clouds reaching up from the South Downs skyline, warm sunshine spreading across the countryside like butter, and wood pigeons sleepily cooing in the beech trees around Burpham.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
‘Good morning!’ quoth a man in a pink and white striped shirt, with that very British crispness that means, ‘Glad to see you in our beautiful village, but don’t drop any sweet papers, will you? Thank you so much!’
The old valley track of Coombe Lane brought us up from the village to the downs, its elder bushes and guelder rose and spindle all beginning to come into fruit. The sun released warm, spicy wafts from tuffets of wild marjoram where meadow brown butterflies staggered, half drunk on the smell. A clump of thistles seethed with hungry goldfinches. Glimmering chalkhill blue butterflies clung to the nettles that grew along the chalky banks of pale grey soil, burrowed into a powdery tissue by rabbits. Two marsh harriers had come up from the marshy banks of the River Arun, and we watched them making long slow passes through the valley on their long dark wings.
The downland slopes were a maze of pale gold stubble fields where big straw bales lay doubled over like blankets in a giant’s linen cupboard. The view widened back south from Wepham Down to a flat gleam of the distant sea, the Isle of Wight lying long in a grey haze on the south-west horizon. Up on the roof of the downs the ramparts of Rackham Banks – a Bronze Age cross dyke, probably a boundary marker, and a hill settlement in a hollow – were spattered with scabious, knapweed and poppies. We sat idling there, the chalk-white South Downs Way ribboning east and west, the ground plunging away north to the Arun snaking through the Sussex lowlands among woods and pastures.
The ancient ridge track dipped to Downs Farm, a pretty old farmhouse marooned in a monstrous muddle of harsh modern barns and silos. Here we turn off south, dropping into a steep, silent and nameless valley where sheep nibbled the turf and red kites turned on the thermals with crooked wings and subtly balancing tails. Then a last stretch beside the Arun, past an old tree-grown moated site that might well be part of the burh or fortified village established here by Alfred the Great eleven hundred years ago. A timeless walk, where now and then join hands seamlessly.
Start & finish: Burpham village car park, West Sussex, BN18 9RR approx. (OS ref TQ 039089)
Getting there: Train (thetrainline.com; railcard.co.uk) to Arundel (2½ miles). Road: Burpham is signed off A27 just east of Arundel station
Walk (7 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 121): From car park pass George & Dragon Inn; right along village street. Follow it out of Burpham for ⅓ mile, round right bend; left up Coombe Lane (044090; fingerpost, blue arrow/BA). Keep to bridleway along valley bottom, climbing gently for 1½ miles to T-junction of tracks (061106). Two tracks diverge to left; take right-hand one of these, at right-angles to direction you’ve been walking, heading north. In just over 1 mile, at T-junction of tracks (056122, ‘Restricted Bridleway’), right for 20m, then left (‘bridleway’ fingerpost in right-hand hedge) on chalk track between hedges. In 300m, at 3-finger post (053123) fork right (BA) to South Downs Way at Rackham Banks (051125).
Left for ¾ mile. Just before Downs Farm, left (038125, ‘Restricted Byway’). In 100m fork right (‘bridleway’ fingerpost, BA). Keep fence on right. In ⅓ mile, through gate (041119, BA) and on, with fence on right, into valley. At bottom, right through gate (BA); bear left up path, climbing slope; through gate at top and on over track crossing (044114, yellow arrow/YA). Ahead through corner of wood (044110, YA), then right (BA) down track with wood on right, and on for ½ mile. Look out for gateway with BAs on right (040102), and take footpath just to right of it (YA) between fences, then steeply down to bottom of steps (039103). Left (BA). In ⅓ mile pass old quarry on left; in another 50m, right over stile (035099, YA); turn left, and follow fence on your left (stiles, YAs). In ¼ mile skirt right of old moat with trees (033094, YA). Ahead along river; in ⅓ mile climb left up bank (038089) into Burpham.
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Lunch: George Inn, Burpham (01903-883131; gdinn.co.uk)
Info: Arundel TIC (01903-737838)