The South Downs Pilgrims’ Way. Part 2 of 3.

Day Two – first post to second post, Arundel to Storrington.

I had watched the sun rise through the East window of the Fitzalan Chapel. It was a glorious and peaceful half an hour or so, time to welcome the day. Every day should begin like that! Just as welcoming was the smell of coffee and bacon as we walked back into the Castle restaurant for a full English. Every day should begin like that also! People were really cheerful and there was a palpable sense of excitement about the day to come.

Replete once more, we gathered in the ornate in-house (in-castle?) Chapel for another beautiful piece of choral song from Will and Guy, and some basic instruction, including the ‘buddy’ system so that we could be sure we were always together. Then to the gardens where we were treated to a concise and humorous short history of the gardens by Georgie who had been directly responsible for restoring the gardens to their former glory after they had been turned into a car park! Here’s a little glimpse  …. that’s the Cathedral Church in the background.

Italianate splendour once more. Arundel Castle Gardens.

Now we had some fun choosing our hazel stick (they choose you actually!) and gathered on the lawns for an ‘ice breaker’. Maxine is a choreographer and she, brightly and energetically and with enormous charisma, led us a ‘merry dance’, spiralling the entire length of 36 linked up people round and round the maze.  We ended up making arches and laughing and singing together.

Our final experience of the grandeur that is Arundel was a visit to the Anglican side of the RC Chapel we had slept in. It is truly one building, but one that has a Catholic side that somehow survived the Reformation and the Civil War, and a C of E side that is active and relevant to modern-day believers. Indeed, one of our fellow pilgrims had been married there just 3 years earlier.  The division was once a brick wall but is now a grille and there is a door. Fascinating.  We had a little talk from a senior member of the congregation who couldn’t quite keep his sense of superiority out of his words when he was explaining the acoustics in the Anglican side.  He had a clear view about this and, to his enormous credit, remained extremely gracious when both Will and Guy offered a terrifically tactful riposte to his theory.

And then we were truly on our way!!  We travelled north, through the parklands of the Duchy (again with permission) to a funny little folly of sorts. It really was like a tiny castle and had indeed been commissioned by the 11th Earl, Charles Howard, sometime in the late 18th /early 19th century as an experiment, possibly as a  little practice for more major castle restoration, which he did a lot of in his time there.  Unfortunately,  he died in 1815 before he could put what he had learned into practice and it was left to the Victorian Howards to restore (some might say ruin) the castle as they saw fit.

Off again through the parkland (no public bridle ways for us just yet!) we walked happily and in sunshine on the soft springy grass towards our lunch stop at South Stoke.  I fell into step with Antje, with whom I had enjoyed coffee that morning.  We talked easily and happily and made an immediate connection when she suddenly announced that she was going to call her stick (staff!) ‘Stephen’! Emphatically a Stephen. With a p-h.  This made me laugh out loud and I decided on the spot to call my staff ‘Matilda’ in return. The connection being historical and relevant to Arundel Castle, it being between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, that she never got to reign despite having a better claim, that ultimately Stephen named her son, Henry, his heir and that this Henry became Henry II, the first Plantagenet King. It was hilarious, though I admit in the retelling it seems you had to be there!! The weather was with us and we were indeed a happy band of wanderers.

Lunch was taken inside a beautiful old Church in the village of South Stoke (if I recall correctly). I must admit that, although  I had a notion of where we were headed and what direction we were travelling, I had happily given up all responsibility for navigation to Will and Guy. It was such a pleasure not to have to map read! Sitting in pews beside an ancient font, we were joined by Alastair, a lovely man from Warwickshire. He and I discovered a mutual love of/addiction to coffee and we craved it from then (about 1pm) until we reached our destination much later that day!!

Then we were off ‘up’ the Downs!

people walking the South Downs

The South Downs Way. Sweeping fields and ancient woodland

As you can see, the weather was still with us. We seemed to flow as a group up the hills. Living as I do in Wales I didn’t find this too arduous at all in terms of an incline. The Downs do undulate, for every long and gradual incline, there is a lovely long and gradual decline, but they are not huge. They also do seem to ‘roll’ and offer far-reaching views but are just short of 900 ft at their highest.  We were still walking on soft, springy grass, the kind that hasn’t seen much human foot fall.

We joined the South Downs Way and even picked up the Monarch’s Way at one point I think.  The Monarch in question is Charles II and it is said he travelled this way (600 odd miles in all) escaping to France after defeat at Worcester.  More food for history nerds!! The weather started to close in on us now – the summer storm clouds that had been following us since lunch time – and it was wetwear on/wetwear off pretty much for the rest of the day.  We started our descent into Storrington in the rain …. single file on well-defined but narrow chalk tracks.  Wet chalk is like ice! I had already made my acquaintance with my purple poncho and now I got to know it really well. The perfect piece of apparel for wet weather walking in my view! There is something really comforting in hearing the rain splashing onto your enveloping piece of plastic! A bit like the sound of rain on tent canvas.

Summer storm clouds

Storm clouds over the South Downs Way

There’s no doubt walking in the wind and rain puts a damper on conversation (see what I did there?!). Peoples’ heads went down and we all started to concentrate on our steps to try to avoid slipping. Some of us sat out a little detour to see an old WW2 Churchill tank abandoned in a field of stubble.  It was very companionable.  Silence with others can be very comforting.   People were getting tired though and we were a quiet bunch of quite wet travellers when we arrived at Storrington Priory just after 7pm.

Oh the pleasure of dropping your ruck sack, taking off your boots and sitting down with a cup of coffee!! Made even more delicious by the thought of a visit to the local Indian and then a bed for the night.  We’d only been one night without a bed and it already felt like a luxury!!

A quick freshen up and we wandered the 10 minute walk through peaceful, tidy Storrington to the local ‘Injun’.  The food had been pre-ordered banquet style which was absolutely spot on, not just in terms of simplicity (36 of us and we weren’t the only diners!) but also speed, quantity, and ease of settling the bill.  It was hacking down with rain when we left and I certainly got much more wet getting back to the Priory through the back lanes and the pitch black churchyard than I had been all day. Should have taken my trusty poncho with me!!!

We all went straight to our beds. I slept like a log and did that thing you only really do when very pissed which is wake up pretty much in the same position you went to sleep in! And this was the view I woke up to the next morning ……….

Storrington Priory

Storrington Priory. Sunday 23rd July, 7 am.



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