South Downs Way: Amberley to Graffham
Posted on 2018/12/23 08:50:27 (December 2018).
[Saturday 22nd December 2018]
I wasn't entirely expecting to have the opportunity for a walk today, but I discovered over breakfast that Chie and Erika had plans to meet friends from Japan in the daytime, and as the weather was surprisingly nice for the time of year I thought I should make hay while the iron's hot so to speak. So it was perhaps a later start than was ideal, which matters particularly this time of year in terms of daylight hours, today being the day after the shortest day. Anyway it still seemed worthwhile making a go of it, and I was on the 10:36 train from Victoria down to Amberley to pick up where I left off last time.
Given that I only had at best 4 hours of daylight from arrival, I decided there was no time to squander on such fripperies as lunch, so I had eaten a pasty on the train prior to arrival, and once I got to Amberley at midday I purposefully set off on my walk. Thankfully the South Downs Way passes by the station here, so in a matter of minutes I was on it, and in open countryside.
The first section was actually familiar, given that I'd walked a little bit of the South Downs Way with friends two years ago when we came down to Amberley for a festive lunch at the Bridge Inn. That day there had been thick fog though, so we
didn't really have much sense at the time of being amidst the South Downs. Compared to today's glorious blue skies and surprisingly mild temperature for the time of year the surroundings were barely recognisable.
That familiar section only lasted the first 15 minutes or so though, and after that I was venturing into pastures new. Not long after that first fairly flat section I started to head up a hill, with corresponding wonderful views of the surrounding landscape.
Today's walk was a less "wild" section than some previous parts of the South Downs Way - the path was flanked on one side or the other (often both) by farmed fields pretty much the whole way, although apart from one farm where I crossed a road I didn't pass through any human habitation for the whole route in between Amberley and Graffham. The views were pretty much uninterrupted throughout, enhanced by clear winter skies.
It was also the most mud I had encountered to date on my journey along the South Downs over the course of the past few months. In the summer the ground had been baked hard by the heatwave in July and early August. It must not have been a particularly wet Autumn as this distinctive grey downland mud, born of the chalky soils, was something of a novelty today.
I was a little unsure where to end today's walk. I'd originally considered trying to get as far as Cocking, from where I might hopefully be able to get a bus into Midhurst, and from there to Pulborough, but getting to Cocking was apparently going to take in excess of four hours of walking, and having only started at midday it would be dark before I got there. The original compromise I'd come up with had been to walk as far as Upwaltham, where there appeared to be some kind of bus service (the 99 between Petworth and Chichester) - but it sounded a bit of an odd system, you had to prebook at most stops, so when I got to the bus stop where the South Downs Way crossed the A285 I decided to just press on, and try my luck at Graffham instead.
So I continued for a while longer after crossing the A285, for a distinctly muddy section up Littleton Down which offered nice views back towards some of the rolling hills I'd been walking over earlier on. It was just after 2pm by this point, but already the winter sun seemed to be hanging a little low in the sky.
Just after 2:30 I got to the point where I'd be leaving the South Downs Way for today, to follow a footpath down the hill into Graffham. This turned out to be quite a steep descent, through a wooded hillside, and made for an interesting bit of variety from the hilltops I'd mostly been walking on this afternoon.
The entry into Graffham reminded me of arriving in Kingston near Lewes - a track eventually turned into a street, and one of the first buildings I saw was the rather picturesque church. Part of the reason I wanted to come to Graffham today is that I'd found on the web that there's a holiday cottage next to the church, which looked rather nice, so I thought it would be good to come and take a look with a view to possibly staying there a couple of nights in the New Year for the next section of the walk. Graffham was a pretty little village, particularly the older parts near the church.
With my mind still on how I was actually going to get home, I decided the best strategy might be to aim for the village pub in Graffham - the White Horse - and see if they had any recommendations for local taxi firms etc.
On arrival at the White Horse I was surprised by a couple of things - first there were electric car charging points outside - not what I expected from a country pub in a tiny village filled with quaint old cottages - and secondly inside the pub were lots of other people wearing tweed! Normally I expect to be the only one, but I think they'd all been on a pheasant shoot or something.
Anyway, my instinct proved correct, and I was indeed able to call a taxi from here to get me back to Pulborough station, with enough time for a pint first.
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