Happily finding ourselves with a rare free Sunday, we decided to extend ourselves further from home and visit an area we have wanted to explore for some time: Sussex. After some on-line searching we came across an interesting circular trail around the area of Pulborough, a large village and parish in the Horsham district of West Sussex, 50 miles south west of London. Situated on the northern boundary of the South Downs National Park it has easy access to a plethora of hiking trails in the vicinity.
Historically, it was a fording place over the River Arun used by the Romans who had a "mansio" which is a stopping off point maintained by the central government for the use of officials and those on official business whilst travelling. This was situated at Hardham, one day's march from Chichester on the London Road. The Saxons bridged the Arun here and at nearby Stopham, north of its confluence with the River Rother making it an important watering hole and overnight halt for cattle drovers. Nearby in woodland, are the earthwork remains of an 11th century motte and baileycastle known as Park Mound.
The start point for this trail is in a convenient lay-by next to the busy and fast A283 opposite a Wyvale Garden Centre complete with miniature railway. We crossed the busy thoroughfare in great haste and passed up the sign-posted trail to the left of the garden centre entrance. Climbing the hill with the sound of the whistle on the miniature train ringing in our ears we encountered wide, stunning views of the South Downs. We weaved our way between fields on the south side and woods on the north still taking in the stunning views of the downs in the distance. Crossing a road into a field we encountered a World War Two pillbox, one of many situated on high ground in Kent, Surrey and Sussex ready to take on the might of Nazi Germany in the event of an invasion early in the war. Continuing on now towards Pulborough village but turning off the road as it turned sharply right on to a drive which took us up between some interesting old farm buildings. Passing a pond with a waterside house on our right we eventually came out into open grass fields, which, with an array of warning signs eventually took us across "gallops" used by the long established Coombelands Racing stables. During stable hours one would need to take extreme care to ensure there are no horses bearing down on you while you cross.
The trail now took us between hedges until we came out in an equine training area with cavalletti, jumps and what looked like an indoor riding school. Passing through farm buildings and past a farmhouse we arrived at a road next to Hill Farm bungalow. Again, the views from this high point are stunning and it was worth a minute or two to sit and take this in before moving on. After a swift hydration stop we turned left on this road for a few hundred yards until we came upon a footpath turning down a steep hill into a valley which we then followed for a couple of miles. Though there had been no rain, the trail was very overgrown and the grass and shrubbery very wet leading eventually to an intrusion of damp in our boots. After emerging from the lower part of the valley and after a short passage up a quiet road we again turned through attractive farmlands. Crossing some fields through Sheepwash Farm we came upon our first challenging incline of the day, which was mildly punishing at about a one in three up a muddy and crumbling slope. Passing a remote cottage on the way aptly named Lane End Cottage. After reaching the highest point of the walk we viewed downwards all the way from whence we came. There was no time for dillydallying as we still had some work to do and we started our descent on the last third of the route. This took us down through beautiful unspoiled woods where the path was flanked by Stopham estate land, clearly well looked after and protected as such.
Encountering our last challenge of the day we descended a very steep ravine, navigating a very eroded, tricky path. However, there was a further sting in the tail in a similar scenario at the other side of the dip but this time on the up. This opened our lungs nicely and after another hydration stop we continued our journey out on to further tracks leading to Stopham Village. The first sight of the village was of the green with its memorial standing in front of the village's impressive church. The earliest parts of the parish church of St Mary the Virgin are 11th century Saxon or SaxoNorman and the remainder 12th century Norman. New windows were inserted in the chancel and nave in the 13th and 14th centuries. The west tower was rebuilt in about 1600. Containing a series of monumental brasses to members of the Barttelot family. The church is a Grade I listed building.
Leaving the stunning church and memorial behind we sauntered on down the road through the village until we arrived back once more at the busy A283. Crossing rapidly we continued on down the southern footway until this forked off leaving us facing the crossing over the River Arun, Stopham Bridge. This bridge is a Grade I listed building and Scheduled Monument. Though there is speculation over the construction date of this ironstone bridge, the correct date is believed to be c. 1422-3. One span of the bridge was destroyed during the Civil War and replaced by a drawbridge. The bridge's central arch was modified in 1822 and is dated such. Traffic from the A283 was carried through the village with traffic controls being introduced in 1936. The bridge was badly damaged by army lorries during the Second World War but this has been repaired since.
We now crossed over the River Arun with the tempting view of the White Hart pub at the end of the bridge, a fine venue to finish our journey over a glass or two of fine Sussex ales before repairing to the car to change our boots and make our way home. However, this was punctuated by a quick stop at Wyvale for coffee and a visit to the miniature railway to watch children and adults alike enjoy the loop around the garden to the sounds of the owllike locomotive's Whoo! Whoo!
Difficulty: Moderate. Distance: 7.25 miles. Time: 3 hours 20 minutes with breaks