An eye on the little things

A small thing, perhaps…

Laurie R, King, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

After accidentally deleting yesterday’s blog as I was about to publish it, I was not in the best of spirits when I left this morning. I had arranged to stay in this lovely B&B for two nights, walking to it yesterday and away from it today, training back here at the day’s end and then training out again tomorrow morning to pick up where I leave off today. So in this despondent mood I dived back into the Littlewood, the link between the settlement and the canal path. I called half-heartedly for the lost cat, without success. There was a thin drizzle. The sky was crying salty tears for my lost blog.

And the path took me determinedly towards the wrong side of the wood! I turned off at every opportunity but every path simply curved back in the direction I did not want to go. Later in the year it is going to be absolutely stunning here in the wood, but for now it was dark and dreary. In the end, like with my deleted blog, I got to where I wanted to go in the end; it just took me a little longer. And when I exited the wood, the drizzle had stopped, and there was clear weather ahead.

I had not had time to stretch this morning, and so, when I was sure that the only onlookers were larks, which were out in force this morning, I did a Ministry of Silly Walks routine in lieu of stretching.

When I reached it, the first section of the Wey South Path was one of those stretches where it wasn’t possible to walk alongside either the canal or the river because of rights of way issues. I was funnelled down a farm track with thick hedges on either side, which only served to make me focus more on the larksong. They sounded as though they were thinking about attracting mates; I wonder whether they know about the cocktail of rain, hail, sleet and snow that is heading our way in the next four days? I think it might have rained last night, because the ground was definitely damp and sticky. It was gaiters on, in case I met any serious mud.

When I did reach it, the path simply crossed over the canal and the Arun, and carried on out across the fields. I was really quite keen on getting back onto the waterside path. It is my last day along a waterway until I reach the Itchen, and I wanted to make the most of it.


I hadn’t noticed the switch in the direction of flow before, but it occurred to me now, that when the route swapped from the Wey to the Arun, I had started to follow a river meandering south to the sea, growing as it went, instead of tracking south on a dwindling one, which was flowing to North to the Thames. Mulling over this I could see evidence of these grand natural landscape engineering projects starting to happen on a very small scale, in a feels with a dried-up nascent mini-meander.

The drought and dry winter of 2022

The track passed several cottages in the local vernacular, vertical clay wall tiles on the upper part of the building. This practice started in these southern counties in the 17th century s both a response to a brick tax, and also as a solution for weatherproofing wattle and daub walls in timber-framed buildings where brick infill was too heavy for the upper storey to sustain. Furnacepool Cottages had what are my father would have called an ‘attractive combination’ brick and local yellow sandstone walls as well as the old clay roof and vertical wall tiles. There were also the historic remains, marked on the map in Gothic script, of the furnace pond next to the cottages.

It was to be ages until I was to reach the canal or river again. Instead, the Wey South Path offered me a perfectly pleasant country walk. There were dormant oak and chestnut copses, marked out by chestnut railings.

‘You know as well as I do that half the fences in the county are made of that stuff. […] Whoever hit Mrs. Pink on the head believed in using local produce—more’s the pity.” — That Yew Tree’s Shade

There was the rough grass bridleway, looking down onto the thick ribbon of bramble, elder, wild rose and hawthorn brake hiding a trickling stream and filled with birds.

There was a track lined with oaks, decaying, falling,

So much more interesting to my mind than the trees on this severely pollarded drive:

Although in other places the natural world seemed to chime beautifully with the built environment, as with this powerfully scented winter honeysuckle against the dark boards of a new-build timber-framed house:

There was a professional dog walker who I met exercising two keen-nosed English pointers, next to a showjumper schooling her horse through its paces over jumps.

I sweated up a steep road section only to discover I had missed the turning. But it did enable me to encounter this extraordinary name for a house which seems to suggest the history of its long-lost inhabitants, but is perhaps a link to a Hampshire village away to the west:

The track intersected again, very briefly, with the river

And the canal.

Pallingham Bridge had clearly once been an important staging post, with the local farm, Pallingham Quay, carrying the trace of its history. There remain only the vaguest remains of the original lock and bridge.

Climbing up out of the valley which had given me this all-too-brief encounter with the river and canal, the route again took me on a long road section, on a back road, very quiet, with a mercifully thick mulch of oak leaves, small twigs, acorns, and fragments of decaying oak wood, so soft it would make good tinder to feed the tiniest of sparks, or the thinnest curl of flames. It was a sunken lane in parts, and to add to the mulch was soft soil from the eroded sides of the lane, exposing holes of bank voles.

More erosion of the sandy banks over decades had exposed the roots of a row of huge oaks and turned the root systems into a lattice of treetrunks.

It is rather unfortunate that this walk has been so far so flat, because now my hill-climbing ability has really deteriorated. It was not much of a climb up to Pulborough Plantation, but I certainly felt it. Pathetic! I must toughen up as for the next few days I need to be hauling myself up and down the South Downs Way.

The slopes up which I had been climbing and the hill on which I was standing were part of the Wealden Greensand Ridge, which makes these soils older than the chalk of the South Down which was subsequently laid down on top of them and then gradually weathered away over the millennia. The sandy soil is perfect for growing conifers, larches, and pines.

There were chestnuts too, in the plantation, its bark food for the local deer,

and the nuts winter stores for the little creatures.

Suddenly, views of the South Downs opened up. I could see all the way to Chanctonbury Ring away to the east on the top of the Downs, which is pretty much where I got to in my four-day walk from Eastbourne before Christmas. The Downs are so close now! A reminder that by the end of the day, this section of the walk will be over.

I stopped in Stopham at the White Hart Pub. This time I had stumbled upon a pub with the magic combination of being both open, and also serving food. However, there was no customer Wi-Fi, and so I was foiled in my plan to rework the blog from yesterday. I would have to leave that now until I got back at the end of the day. Still, it was wonderful to take the weight off my feet, and I set off after a sandwich and a half a pint with a renewed vigour.

The White Hart stands next to the Grade 1-listed scheduled monument that is Stopham Bridge – which this year marks its 600th birthday. The bridge has had a bad time of it in various wars: one of the bays was destroyed in the Civil War and replaced by a drawbridge, and the whole structure was damaged in WW2 by army lorries driving over it. All repaired now and looking very fine.

I was staggered to see how wide the Arun river was by this point. I know I hadn’t seen much of it so far today apart from two glimpses as I crossed, but it has really swelled impressively quickly.

Here I crossed and recrossed it and its tributaries, a few times on a selection of close-placed bridges, but again the route took me away from it, and I skittered down a clay bank, covered in scented violets. I picked a single one, the perfume reminding me suddenly and vividly of the little bunches of Parma violets that the children used to be given in church when I was young, to give to the women on Mothering Sunday.

The bank led down to a drowned, flat land of crack willows, black water, and moss. Through the branches I could see out to the open water on the grazing marsh where Canada geese towered over a huge congregation of lapwings that I watched through my binoculars for a while, listening to them squeak, until I remembered the train I needed to catch back up to Billingshurst. I felt completely rested after my lunch break, and the gleams of sun suggested to me that I might be able to avoid the 2 to 3 pm droop too.

It is a sad fact that on an almost totally litter-free day so far (good! But also not good that it should be so unusual that I noticed), almost the only litter I saw (a beer can, an orange crate, and an entire car bumper) was heaved over the fence into the Waltham Brooks nature reserve to dismay the geese and lapwings. Quite beyond my comprehension. But just beyond that was Greatham Bridge, another medieval construction (1294), and another reminder of how important the river crossings were… there was Civil war battle here for control over this one.

Now it is just peaceful, with beautiful views out over the river and to the South Downs. It was the last sight of the river for the day, and my time away from it on this section of the walk has made me feel these waterways as more significant a feature, meandering and threading across the land, only trickles at times and sometimes lost to decay, yet at other times powerful enough to erode gaps in the barrier of an entire line of hills.

It is not quite my final meeting with this complex of waterways that I have been following for the last four days, as I will have to cross the water somehow tomorrow to get up onto the Downs.

A blackbird was singing its heart out in a hedge next to this disgusting sight:

Perhaps it was warning me about the weather. Coming out of the mess of farm building and semi-abandoned yards I could see the rain sweeping in over the western part of the South Downs. It would have been lovely to have finished in the dry, and I was so close to the end of today’s walk. Only a couple of kilometres left to go.

Never mind! I am prepared. The final bit of the walk was across boggy marsh so the rain fit right in. The path was very wet and I had to leap athletically a couple of times over sections that were too muddy and churned up.

Channels of water sliced through tussocks. This place must be thick with otters.

To get to Amberley I squelched down a clay track, where the brief sharp shower had almost immediately softened the clay to sticky, clingy mud, making me think of potters’ wheels.

The clay surface was so impermeable that extraordinary lime-green puddles had formed.

Amberley, when I reached it, turned out to be ridiculously, absurdly charming. It had a castle which I will have to save for another day, for I was bound for the village shop to procure myself supper for tonight, and breakfast and lunch tomorrow.

Stuffing my purchases in a plastic bag I hurried off to the train (once an hour so I didn’t want to miss it). The station was about 2 km outside the village, but by walking flat out I managed to make the 3.17 train with a minute to spare.

And that is the end of the Wey Navigation and Wey South Path for me. Tomorrow I turn westwards into the teeth of whatever the Arctic weather system will fling at us.

2 thoughts on “An eye on the little things”

  1. At the house I had before this one our neighbouring house was called Mockbeggar House too – or rather Mockbeggar Farm House I think. Reuben and I hired a small boat from the Riverside Tea rooms at Amberley last year and ‘cruised’ towards Arundel!

    Liked by 1 person

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