Allegro non molto appiccicoso

Hence, she wanders the downs without a chaperone and remains away until all hours.

Laurie R. King, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Outside Amberley station is a South Downs Way signpost and a chalk cutting, which both pointed me forward towards the character of today’s walk, but firstly I had to walk the short distance across the valley floor, and cross the river for one final time.

I was grateful it wasn’t (yet) raining because it meant I could take my time and watch the river. I felt quite nostalgic for the past four days already. This little stretch was almost more of the riverbank than I had walked in the entirety of yesterday.

Hail and farewell to the Arun

The final bridge came into view

and I crossed it, appreciating the severe patterns made by the clumps of bare reeds in the water below and watching the water flow away towards the sea around a bend in the river.

Then I turned my back on it, and started to climb.

The changes were immediate. There were lumps of flint amongst the winter wheat, and two larks dancing around each other low to the ground, then rising again, singing.

From a distance the rolling sweeps of fields prepared for spring planting had the characteristic striations which I associate with the South Downs.

Underfoot the chalk was bright, white, studded with lumps and nodules of flint – the kind of chert which forms in chalk,

and I thought of Tiffany Aching in Pratchett’s The Shepherd’s Crown sinking down into her chalk downland in her mind’s eye:

Now she could hear the roar of the ancient sea beneath her, its voice trapped in the millions of tiny shells that made up the Chalk.

Chalk is a kind of limestone formed from the compressed skeletal remains of countless billions of planktonic sea creatures building up on the sea floor over the millennia. Looked at in cross-section, the Weald can be seen to be made up of a number of striations — sand, clay, sand and finally chalk on the top — all of which got pushed up in a fold to form a dome across what is now the counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Over the aeons the top of the dome was weathered away, exposing the different once-vertical layers as horizontal bands across the landscape. This can be seen quite clearly in the diagrams in the geology section of the Wikipedia entry for ‘Weald’.

Yesterday I had walked across the clay onto the greensand ridge, and back down into the clay (and alluvium from the river), essentially moving up through the geological ages. Today, I climbed out of the clay up onto the chalk deposits, the youngest of the Wealden soils, laid down in the late Cretaceous period (the word derives from the Latin creta, ‘chalk’), between 100 and 62 million years ago, and which form the long, long ridge, stretching from Eastbourne all the way to Winchester.

Looking south over the downs, this high up, I had a view of the Channel as a grey line on the horizon. I felt quite proud of myself that I have walked from within the M25 so far south that I can see the sea.

‘The glow of secret satisfaction it gave me lasted with a curious tenacity.’ — The Beekeeper’s Apprentice

Within a couple of kilometres, the forecast precipitation manifested itself. It wasn’t particularly heavy — or cold, for that matter —but I thought that if I did let myself get damp, chances of me getting cold if I were to stop were very high, and that it would be impossible to dry out as I walked. So I put on my full waterproofs and pretty much kept them on all day.

I think I timed it just about right to start walking this morning: I met a chap who had started from Cocking and was doing my route in reverse. He said he had set out at 6:30 this morning and that the first two hours were in snow. I was very grateful that I hadn’t been assaulted by snow yet (that is to come tomorrow) although there were some short showers of a sort of sleety mix.

There was also a strange kind of fume, like smoke, rising from the fields. I’m not sure what caused this phenomenon; it must be something to do with heat and moisture, but it was chilly today so I couldn’t quite believe that there would be enough heat in the soil to steam off some of the rain.

I met just six people all day. The next were two very young guys who had also walked from Cocking today, also heading for Amberley. They had wild camped — which annoyed me, although I didn’t say anything. They were terribly messy packers, with a plastic bag hanging off the bottom of one rucksack and sleeping bags not quite covered by more plastic bags.

Apart from the few people on the path, there was the occasional field of livestock. The colouring of the sheep was very reminiscent of Hattie, Peta’s Birman cat. I didn’t get anywhere near enough to see whether their eyes were as beautiful as hers, although I did note that they were sitting in their lunch.

The top of the Downs was a mixture of livestock farming and arable (although I dread to think what a field so flinty would do to ploughshares)

and also plenty of forestry operations. Despite the many warnings not to climb on the stacks, I did sit on the end of one very solid-looking long, low old stack to eat my sandwiches.

Some of the cut trunks had interesting patterns,

echoing the map sign for ‘tumulus’ — of which there were several, as the history of human habitation on this defensive ridge stretches back at least five thousand years.

Two in the Graffham Nature Reserve were Bronze Age barrows.

Walking through the reserve was a good idea as the South Downs track which runs alongside it was particularly hard underfoot nearing the end of the walking day, and the moss and grass provided the perfect walking surface.

The reserve is made up of a patchwork of fields which are home to dormice, purple emperor butterflies and tree pipets — although at this time of year it seems empty of wildlife. The conservation work has allowed species to recolonise from the buried seedbank, and the blocking of drainage ditches has kept the soil naturally wet.

Outside the reserve again it was a fairly easy walk down to Cocking. The light rain had stopped

and seemed very appropriate to see late snowdrops on this cold day.

As I came into the village, through a farm with strong flint walls,

I was completely surprised and thrilled and very excited to see an actual chalk stream — instantly recognisable by its wide patches of bright green waterweeds and water so crystal-clear that you almost couldn’t tell it was flowing over the gravel.

It was like a promise for the future: what’s waiting for me at the other end of the Downs on the Itchen Way.

7 thoughts on “Allegro non molto appiccicoso”

  1. My dictionary says ‘appiccicoso’ means ‘sticky’.
    Maybe I missed an explanation above, but I well remember how sticky chalk paths can be and awkward walking. Markx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just managed to read this entry but can’t help wondering how snowy it was on your walk today. Waiting for some pretty photos. Hope you weren’t too cold. X

    Liked by 1 person

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