After a sleepless night in a soggy tent near Cocking in West Sussex, I thought day 4 of our South Downs Way route and adventure might be a challenge.
But in fact, we woke to a beautiful sunrise (who am I kidding, we never actually slept), were both on top form and the day got better and better. We grabbed a pot of porridge and a coffee from the farmer, tied as many of our wet belongings as we could to the back of our backpacks to dry as we walked and headed off. It was a sunny day!
Day 4. Cocking to Houghton / Amberely
The first part of this section is delightful. It starts with a steady climb up Heyshott Down from the Cocking Manor Farm campsite and then you arrive at the most beautiful and unexpected meadow.
There are more Bronze Age burial mounds here too with ten round barrows and a beautiful beech tree. It really is quite a magical spot.
The South Downs Way then takes you through the Graffham Down Trust reservations. I made myself a promise to return here when the autumn colours are in full swing because it’s a lovely arboreal stretch dotted with little meadows and a long stretch of path that provides welcome shade on a hot day. There are more Bronze Age burial mounds here too including a rare 15-metre bell barrow burial mound.
Eventually, the path opens out above Duncton. You’re above Seaford College here although you can’t see it. But you do catch the first of many fabulous views of the day! By this stage of the walk, our daily focus was pretty much on food, drink, views and identifying landscapes on the vast map below, ahead or behind us. We could see Petworth in the distance and before long, as the path starts to descend towards the A285, we could see Bignor in the distance. Although it looked a long way away, it was a strangely exciting and inspiring moment. On the day we walked this way, apart from the bright sunflowers, the patchy sky and intermittent sunshine across the fields below us made the landscape look like a huge piece of textured art waiting for us to conquer. We felt so intrepid.
Where the South Downs Way crosses the A285 at Upwaltham, there’s another Cadence Café. The same lad who had served us at the Cocking Cadence the day before was serving here (we met his twin later – honest) and we sat in the sunshine enjoying an early lunch and the good company of Ollie and other walkers. We knew we had a long climb after lunch and we were in no rush to leave!
From Upwaltham, it is another long steady climb up towards Bignor but we were in high spirits. Once back on the top of the Downs, there are views across to the coast and sea beyond. On a sunny day, it’s euphoric and we pointed out Bognor, Littlehampton and eventually Worthing to ourselves. A lot of this day’s walk is along the ridge of the Downs and so it’s just one view after another, with very few people around and just fabulous wide spaces to enjoy.
Bignor to Houghton
I’d done this section before, and there’s something immaturely exciting about recognizing where you are and knowing where you are going. Look out for the sign to Londinium at Bignor and you know you’re truly in Roman territory, and the waymarkers to Eastbourne are always uplifting. Only 55 miles to go!
With a patchwork of colours ahead, we stopped for a photo shoot at Toby’s memorial stone. From here you can see Amberley Castle and tomorrow’s climb but it just feels like you’re on top world.
After a few more ascents and descents, you cross the busy A29 and start the long walk down to Houghton. So far, I’d actually managed to book every accommodation on the right day (I’m date blind, so frequently mis-book things for the wrong day). We were heading to the Bunkhouse at Houghton but true to form I’d booked the wrong month. Luckily, there was only one other occupant that night (a fellow walker called Steve) so there was room for two more. Sofas, hot showers, and a kettle felt like an unbelievable treat and we hung some of our still wet clothing from the night before on the line. Bliss indeed.
There happens to be an excellent pub in Houghton (The George and Dragon – reportedly one of the oldest pubs in Sussex) with fabulous views from the balcony at the back. It’s less than 5-minutes’ walk from the Bunkhouse and a burger and chips went down in about 30 seconds.
- The views from Duncton to Bignor Hill
- Views from Bignor across to the sea
- You’re halfway
- Route distance 17.5 km
- Elevation 356 m
- Cadence Café and water station at about 8m
- Car park at Bignor Hill
If you like this post about day 4 of the South Downs Way walk, you may find the following helpful:
Walking the South Downs Way. Day 5. – coming soon