25.5 miles, 3 days
This stage gives you the first taste of walking the South Downs ancient track, parts of which are 8,000 years old. Before you ascend the ridge, the historic parkland of Arundel and the winding River Arun provide counterpoints to the wild hills.
Train: Arundel, Amberley, Lancing or Shoreham-by-Sea for connections to London. Bus: Public transport away from Storrington is a bit tricky (see this webpage for details). The No 2 connects Steyning to the train stations, the No. 100 connects Bramber, Storrington and Steyning. Taxi: MJ Cars, Storrington taxis, Taxi Lancing.
Arundel has plenty of options, St Nicholas’s, Arundel offers Sanctuary. Houghton: South Downs Bunkhouse. Amberley Foxleigh Barn for camping Storrington: Chemin Neuf’ Priory. Washington: WashCamp (a campsite) Wiston: Fairoaks Farm Campsite. Steyning: The Chequer Inn, Uppingham B&B. Bramber: The Old Tollgate Hotel, The Castle Inn.
Arundel: lots of local and independent options in the Town Centre. Our favourites are: Houghton The George and Dragon pub. Amberley: Riverside Tea Rooms. Storrington: Lots of options. Our favourites are 13 Church Street, a local Thai restaurant, Joanna’s Tea Rooms, The Moon Pub, and The Anchor Inn. Sullington: The Cafe in The Old Workshop. Washington The Frankland Arms. Steyning The Sussex Produce Company, The Cobblestone Tea House, The Steyning Tea Rooms, The White Horse pub
The River Arun loops around the broad valley and must be crossed several times on this route. It is possible that its name comes from the Brythonic ‘Arno’ meaning run, go, or flow, so enjoy these winding paths before the long straight tracks of the Downs.
Chanctonbury Ring has a long history of strange occurrences, but its beauty and peacefullness is undeniable. It’s a great spot for a rest or a nap, even if the stories put you off spending the night amongst the trees.
St Andrew and St Cuthmans Church is the burial place of kings, and was once a centre of pilgrimage for those visiting Cuthman’s shrine, whose remains were later transferred to Winchester.
From Arundel follow the Monarchs Way waymarks until the river, to divert for North and South Stoke churches. From Amberley follow the South Downs Way, except to dip down into Storrington and Steyning.
Whether travelling along the main route or the alternative route, there is much to see and experience in Arundel, so take time here. The war memorial, Blackfriars Ruin, the incredible castle, and the River Arun are all worthy of attention. There is even a lido if you fancy a swim.
Walk north from Arundel past the castle, being sure to visit St Nicholas’ Church as you go. Within this church, you will discover the partition of the Holy Door between the Nave section of the church, which serves as the Church of England parish church, and the Roman Catholic Fitzalan Chapel, which serves as the burial place for the Duchy of Norfolk. The Fitzalan Chapel is accessible to the public looking round the Castle, but cannot be accessed from the other side. Requiem Masses are still held within the chapel for the chapel’s founder and all those buried in its vaults.
Make your way down to the River Arun again, and weave alongside her through the ash trees. In British folklore the ash was credited with a range of protective and healing properties. It was once common practice to give newborn babies a teaspoon of ash sap to ensure good health. A practice of sympathetic medicine saw the ill or injured pass through a cleft in an ash tree to cure them. The cleft would be bound together again after the ceremony, and as the tree healed so would the patient. Some folklore suggests a permanent bond between the tree and person. If any harm befell the tree this could also affect the person, leading people to become protective of ‘their’ ash tree.
South Stoke and North Stoke
Head on to St Leonard’s Church, South Stoke, and St Mary’s Church, North Stoke, now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. Up until recently, St Mary’s was simply referred to as North Stoke Church, the memory of its dedication having been lost over the years. In 2007, archaeologists rediscovered the dedication, made in 1217.
Consider Houghton if you are staying at the bunk house or fancy the fantastic little pub, The George and Dragon. St Nicholas’ Church is small, simple and 13th century, but not open very often. We recommend making arrangements in advance if you wish to see inside.
From the 13th century church of St Nicholas, make your way out of Houghton, avoiding the roads via the River Arun. From here, cross the river to Amberley, with its option of a riverside cafe, groceries and accommodation. Then ascend the Twittens (a local name for lanes climbing the Downs) and rise up the South Downs, the iconic rolling chalk hills of South England. Enjoy views from here as you float above the landscape.
The four-petalled, almost square yellow flowers of Tormentil are a cheery sight along the chalk and heathland parts of the Old Way. Rich with tannins, it has been used for many medicines and practical uses through the centuries, but foot sore pilgrims may be more interested in its application to relieve the “torment” of tired, aching feet. Instead of picking it and lining your socks as was once traditional, why not leave the flowers for the bees and butterflies, take off your boots and walk barefoot, or at least sit down amongst it and rest your feet for a little while.
Alternatively, take rest among the Neolithic Earthworks of Rackham Banks. Just a few miles away from Chanctonbury Ring, not much is known about these banks, though it is thought to be an Iron Age boundary marker.
N.B: Some pilgrims have found the trail out of Storrington a little tricky. The route can be picked up across the road from the sign for Storrington with the two stocks on it, which is at the end of Old Mill Drive. You need to pass through some buildings bearing left to find the footpath tucked away.
Leave Storrington village and tread carefully along the watershed of the Downs. Climb toward the ancient manor and yew grove of Sullington (a yew tree in each of the four corners of the churchyard), with its quiet stone church of St Mary’s. Then climb up the Downs, to float above England. You can follow the foot of the Downs instead if the ascent is too much – see Section 14a’s description below.
Walk through Cross Dykes and Tumps of 3000 years ago to reach the famed Chanctonbury Ring, evidence of an Iron Age hill fort that once stood here. The trees, which stand tall on top, were planted much later – in the 18th century. More than many other places along the Downs, the Chanctonbury Ring has a long history of strange occurrences, and many who visit have felt uneasy, or unusual, whilst among or within them. An extract from Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways tells of this author’s experience at Chanctonbury Ring. Circumambulate and ponder – taking in the panoramic views. On a clear day, it is possible to see all the way to the Isle of Wight from the top of the ring.
Then descend the Downs via the Wiston ‘bostal’ (wooded hillside path) to meet an astonishing beech tree. How far inside will you go?
Pass by an ancient barn before meeting another St Mary Church at the manor house of Wiston. This is a minor detour, and you have to buzz an intercom to be allowed in (being a Foreign Office station), but the church is definitely worth it for the peace. Expect bats.
Then follow Mouse Lane into Steyning, a small ancient town/village with great local food – and also the incredible church of St Andrew’s and St Cuthman. The legend of Cuthman tells of the shepherd boy who, in about 680, wheeled his ailing mother in a wheelbarrow with a rope round his shoulders attached to the handles of the barrow to help take the weight. The legend relates that, when the rope on the barrow broke, Cuthman took that as a sign from God that he had arrived at the place where he should build his church. It is believed that this Norman-dating church was built on the same site. St Cuthman’s remains were said to have attracted pilgrims to Steyning, although Cuthman’s relics were reportedly transferred to Fécamp. This is also where Alfred the Great’s father Aethelwulf is buried. His remains were eventually moved to Winchester. King Aethelwulf’s supposed tomb stone covering can still be seen in St Andrew’s & St Cuthman’s church itself.
There are lots of different wildflowers in the churchyard at Steyning, but one that is often overlooked as a weed is the tiny blue flowering Speedwell. You’ll find it creeping at the east end of the church, but also dotted about. Known to some as Birdseye, stories tell of lightning or blindings from picking it. However, a much older tradition gave the plant its name; a blessing, to speed-you-well on your journey. The plant thrives on being picked, so don’t be shy about carefully selecting a flower or two to pass to a companion, or hold for yourself on this stage of your journey.
Steyning lies “on a low spur between two streams” which once provided water and power for two mills in the village. The old village pump can be seen in the south end of the High Street, past Sheep Pen Lane. From St Andrew’s and St Cuthman’s Church, proceed through the conurbation of houses to a thousand-year old Norman earthworks with a vast moat: the remains of Bramber Castle, found beside St Nicholas’ Church, built in the 11th century.