Sunday, 17 May 2009
South Downs Way - Days Two & Three
Tuesday dawned, dull and overcast, but thankfully still dry. After a hearty breakfast we left the pleasant town of Steyning and began the long climb back onto the trail. Our destination was the village of Amberley, situated just off the River Arun. With the strong easterly wind behind us we headed towards the well-known downland landmark of Chanctonbury Ring. This Iron Age hill-fort was formerly crowned with an attractive ring of beech trees, but many of these were blown down in the Great Storm of 1987, giving the structure today a somewhat ragged, and dis-jointed appearance.
Roughly halfway into our journey, the trail descends to cross the busy A24 trunk road, so we took full advantage of this loss of height to make a pub stop. The Frankland Arms in the village of Washington was a welcome break, even if the beer range of Flowers IPA and Fullers London Pride wasn't all that inspiring.
After a couple of pints of Pride and a baguette each, we left the pub and began the long ascent back up to the top of the downs. I must admit I found this particular stretch of the trail rather hard going, as did my companion. We kept going though, generally following the line of the escarpment, and eventually were rewarded by the sight of the Arun Valley spreading out before us. We could see Amberley in the distance, and began the long, slow descent. Walking downhill uses a different set of muscles, and is especially hard going on the feet. Eric was finding the going particularly tough, and as we made our way into Amberley he was relieved to find the Black Horse pub open. We had booked accommodation in the village's other pub, the Sportsman, but decided that a drink first in the Black Horse would be a good idea. Apart from the landlady, there was only one other customer in at the time. The four of us had an interesting chat, and the Harveys was particularly welcome.
We obtained directions to the Sportsman, and set off along the final half-mile or so of our journey. We received a warm-welcome from the Sportman's landlord and were shown to our comfortable en-suite accommodation. The current licensee has turned round the fortunes of this unspoilt country pub, having rescued it following its closure by the previous landlord. It offers three well-kept cask-ales, which at the time of our visit included Dark Star Mild and Langham Halfway to Heaven, alongside Harveys. There are two bars, plus a separate restaurant and conservatory. The pub was packed that evening, playing host to the local Mini-Cooper owners' club, as well as a poetry reading event which took place in the conservatory. The kitchen was kept very busy that night fulfilling orders, but despite this there was only a short wait for our tasty and well-cooked food.
A good night's sleep, followed by another hearty full-English breakfast saw us setting off for what proved to be the longest section of the walk. There had been rain overnight, and it was still a bit damp when we left the pub. After stopping to buy sandwiches at the village stop we headed off to rejoin the South Downs Way. I have to say I was really impressed with Amberley; most of the buildings were made out of local stone, with several half-timbered and thatched examples. We crossed both the railway and the River Adur, and then began the familiar long climb back onto the trail. This climb seemed particularly arduous, but eventually we reached the summit. There was a long hard walk ahead of us, with no prospect of a pub stop to break the journey. The only pub remotely close to this section of the trail is the Foresters Arms at Graffham, but that would involve a lengthy, and time-consuming detour. Unfortunately there would be no welcoming pint awaiting us at the end of our journey either, as the village of Cocking, our destination that day, has recently joined the growing band of dry villages with the closure of its only pub - the Blue Bell.
The trail was very undulating, with long stretches through woodland. Low cloud marred much of the first part of the walk, spoiling any prospect of enjoying the views. It did help to add an eerie silence, which was only punctuated by the noise from the occasional aircraft overhead. We stopped and ate our sandwiches, roughly half-way, but it was getting on for six in the evening when we arrived footsore and weary at the charmingly named Moonlight Cottage Tearooms and B & B.
With no pub in the village the tearooms offers evening meals to its guests, and we had wisely pre-booked ours. The B & B was packed with two other couples who were also on foot, plus a party of five intrepid cyclists. The packed restaurant that night lent itself to some lively conversation, and after an excellent meal of fillet of salmon, followed by homemade apple pie and custard, it was time to prepare for the following day's walk, followed by an early night. We were now three-quarters of the way through our walk, and so far had been lucky with the weather. Would our luck hold out for the final section the following morning?