14 miles, 1 or 2 days
This stage is bookended by two magnificent Cathedrals; the impressive spire of Chichester, built after the medieval one collapsed in the 19th century, and Arundel’s relatively modern flèche (small narrow spire) which was returned after works in 2011. Both honour their own local saints, being St Richard and St. Philip Howard respectively.
Sir Simon Jenkins says of Boxgrove: “It is a magical church full of echoes of French influence along the Sussex coast. Its crossing is a mystery of light and dark and the great chancel is alive with Tudor roses and heraldry. The De La Warr chantry contains beautiful early French motifs from a Book of Hours. These must be some of the best renaissance carvings in any English church. They make Boxgrove very special.”
There are nearly 1,000 years of history at Arundel Castle, situated in magnificent grounds. Unlike many castles of its age it has retained most of its earlier forms and expanded, giving it a unique character. Admission to the castle is the only way to access the Fitzalan Chapel, part of St Nicholas church.
As you leave the Cathedral, the statue of St Richard by Philip Jackson will loom over you. Under Roman rule, Chichester was called Noviomagus Reginorum. The Romans built walls around the city with four gateways to control access. The Council House on North Street is built on top of a temple to Neptune and Minerva, see if you can find the original inscription stone. Circumnavigate the city on the Walls Walk and enjoy the various views. Explore the Guildhall in Priory Park, Pallant House Gallery, St Johns’ Chapel, The Novium Museum and the Market Cross.
On leaving Chichester, follow the road east to Westhampnett, where Rolls Royces are made and medieval pilgrim carvings adorn the church of St Peter’s on Stane Street, the modern name given to an important 56 mile-long Roman Road joining Noviomagus Reginorum to London.
From Westhampnett, you journey along the edge of the Goodwood Estate and onto Boxgrove, where you will find the ruins of a 12th century Benedictine Priory Guesthouse. As Benedictines were required by their Rule to give hospitality to any passing travellers, Boxgrove would have certainly been a stopping point on the Old Way. The site was once home to a much larger church: divided between the monk’s house of worship and the parish church. Now, only the priory side remains, with much of the priory destroyed during the Reformation. But there is still mass performed every day in the parish church to which pilgrims are welcome. Walking around the building, you can see hints of the larger building that once stood here.
Once inside the Church of St Mary and St Blaise, you might wind your way through the beautiful contemporary labyrinth on the floor, finishing by looking directly towards the altar of the church. This may be an opportunity to revisit your intention for making this pilgrimage, and an opportunity to consider your journey so far. In some ways, the labyrinth-journey is a micro-pilgrimage in itself. Enjoy your journey through it.
As the path becomes scrub and woodland, you are on Boxgrove Common, where the oldest homo heidelbergensis remains were discovered (500,000 years old), the ‘Boxgrove Man’. Then climb through hazel coppice. With these long straight stems it is easy to see why they were the common choice of staff for pilgrims. Strong, light and flexible, they not only helped to stave off fatigue, they also provided safety from slippery mud, steep hills and thieves. Left to grow as trees they may live less than 80 years, but if cut, coppiced or naturally damaged in some way, the regrowth can see them thrive for centuries. They serve as a reminder that sometimes difficulties and challenges can ultimately help us flourish.
Approach Long Down Hill, an ancient flint mine, and a place to consider your journey so far: to look back to a landscape you will now leave behind. At this point, you will have now walked the first quarter of the Old Way. Perhaps add a flint to the cairn at the top of the hill, then walk onwards to Eartham, an idyllic village below the hill. Be sure to visit the church and pub. You might spot Nore Folly, a gateway to nowhere!
Head downhill to Slindon through the fields. Slindon offers two churches – St Mary’s and St Richard’s – and an amazing community shop & cafe at the old forge. Stephen Langton, the Archbishop behind Magna Carta, died in Slindon and is buried in Canterbury. He probably walked this way. Look out for the incredible cork tree in St Mary’s church.
Leaving Slindon, cross the A29 into wild woods, which soon become more modern forestry. If walking in the spring, look out for bluebells here, which form a beautiful carpet during April and May. They are such a deeply beautiful flower, they capture our imagination to the point where many people find themselves making pilgrimage to the woods to see them every year. We should tread carefully however, as the deep almost glowing blue, intoxicating scent and slippery leaves conjure ancient stories and warn of danger. As with many toxic plants, they have a strong association with fairies. They would ring the bells to summon each other, but if a human heard this it may put them to sleep, perhaps forever. Whilst harming the plant may anger the fairies, it was said wearing a ring of the flowers would compel the wearer to tell the truth so truth-seeking pilgrims may choose to linger – although hurry on if you hear bells ringing!
Taking the slightly less direct route into Arundel, through Rewell Wood, over the A27 (at a crossing, but be wary of fast cars). Then, to St Mary’s Church, Binsted, with its 12th Century wall paintings of a female saint. From there, follow a Roman road for a little while before turning to the River Arun and a splendid entrance into the city.
Your final holy place in this section of the Old Way is St Nicholas’ Church. This church is steeped in the religious history of England. Once inside, you will see a great iron gate behind the alter, which divides this parish church from the Catholic Fitzalan Chapel, still under the care of the Norfolk family, who reside in Arundel Castle. The Chapel still holds private services, and the gate between the two churches is still seldom opened. If you’d like to visit the Fitzalan Chapel, you can do so by visiting the Castle.
The Old Way Online Guide is now free for everyone. You can help fund this and other projects by becoming a Friend of the BPT or by making a donation.