20 members of the Group went on a five day walking break to Abingworth Hall, the HF Holidays country house in West Sussex. Having driven down from the West Midlands on the morning of Monday 22 May, we all checked in and were ready to go walking at 2.30 that sunny afternoon.
Phil had organised a choice of two walks from the Hall, and most of us went on the 7 mile walk to Nutbourne and West Chiltington and back to Abingworth. The walk went first along a low ridge giving good views of the Downs, and passing West Chiltington Common, an extensive estate which was at the time totally hidden by trees, but turned out to be composed of very salubrious detached houses (an example of a West Sussex house is shown right).
Next was the Golf Course, with equally salubrious cars! And after that part of the Nyetimber Vineyards at Nutbourne - and finally the attractive church at West Chiltington, one of many in West Sussex.
The remaining five of us took the easier option of a four mile stroll around Thakeham and Warminghurst, where the highlight was the 11th century church at Thakeham and its half-timbered old vicarage.
The following day, Tuesday, 11 of us went on a circular walk from Amberley to Rackham Hill and Arundel, and 9 of us did the circular walk from Amberley to South Stoke and Arundel. The group actually did the first part of the walks together, walking through Arundel Park with its majestic trees - making sure we were on the right “root” – and verdant woodland. After a steep climb, we all had our coffee break enjoying the marvellous view to the north-east.
Further along the way, we passed by the Hiorne Tower, built in the late 18th century for the 11th Duke of Norfolk by architect Francis Hiorne. When we reached Arundel, with its famous castle and its lesser known cathedral we took a break for lunch amongst some historic ruins by the banks of the river Arun near to the bridge.
The 20 of us then set off together but after a mile or so, the River Arun came between the 11 long walkers led by Phil, seen on their way to Rackham Hill on awalk which was cut short due to the excessive heat, and the 9 shorter walkers led by Tony, who returned along the banks of the river via the excellent Black Rabbit riverside pub – where some refreshment was taken to mitigate that heat - then the somewhat austere church at South Stoke and the so-called Gurkha Bridge. A highlight of both walks was seeing a WW11 Spitfire doing a barrel roll overhead.
On the Wednesday, Phil had organised a walk for us all, starting from Washington car park and heading over the Wiston Estate to the Iron Age hill forts at Chanctonbury Ring and Cissbury Ring. On the way, we passed by the rather depleted but newt-containing Chanctonbury Dewpond, one of many built on the South Downs to preserve water which would otherwise drain away in the chalky soil. After the climb to Chanctonbury Ring, we took our coffee break admiring the beautiful all-round view (pic 006).
We then walked due south along the shallow slope of the downs, being met by a flock of sheep on the way. One lamb was having an easier journey! We took the easy way up to Cissbury Ring, where we had lunch after walking around the ramparts of the Ring itself.
It had been a very hot day, with temperatures in the mid-20’s, so we took plenty of stops for water and rested in the shade when possible. However, when we got back to the Hall, a few of us were glad of a dip in the heated pool. Opinions varied about the extent to which the pool was heated, but it was appreciated by all, to different degrees! In the evening several of us took part in the HF Big Quiz, to round off a great day.
The Thursday was even warmer and sunnier but fortunately Phil had organised a walk for 16 of us from Beachy Head along the Seven Sisters, where the sea breezes helped cool everyone down. We took the bus from the Seven Sisters Visitor Centre to Eastbourne and walked back. Below are Beachy Head and its lighthouse, and some of the party enjoying refreshment there. Lunch was taken at Birling Gap, which has a nice National Trust Visitor Centre, but is otherwise a bit grim. Eventually the sea will wipe it out - the third photo shows a building which used to be twice as long before the waves claimed it.
This was the point where a decision had to be made whether to shorten the walk. In the event everybody opted to continue to the end - even June who romped up and down the slopes. This was just as well because Phil had forgotten how arduous the second half is - the cliche of a roller coaster is very apt here, as shown below. Unfortunately no photo of June is available, she was so far ahead! The final photo shows the end of the walk at the Cuckmere Meanders.
Four of us were interested to see the Jack and Jill Windmills near Clayton, as well as climbing up to Ditchling Beacon, the third highest point of the South Downs. The picture shows the Jill windmill, near to which a large flock of sheep was being rapidly shorn in a mobile shearing station. The walk, via Standean flint works on the way back, was just under six miles.
Friday was our last day; some of drove directly back to the Midlands, but a dozen or so of us visited the National Trust-owned Petworth House and took the five mile walk around the lake in Petworth Park with its copy of the second-century Roman statue of the Dog of Alcibiades. The Capability Brown-landscaped gardens were absolutely spectacular with the picture showing the shrubs near the Ionic Rotunda. After touring the house, with its iconic collection of paintings and sculptures, including a remarkable portrait of Henry VIII, we all made our weary way home after a wonderful week away.