Just shows you how much wealth of beauty there is in West Sussex. I’ve never walked this route, yet it’s one of the best ever.
Stupendous scenery, the lovely Arun, TS Eliot poem on a gravestone, wild birds galore, and almost every step on the flat 3.1 miles (5kms) of circular tour making it easy for most, though there are several stiles. Parking by the river just next to the Black Rabbit pub and restaurant on byroad almost a mile northeast of Arundel, past the Wetlands and Wildfowl Centre, itself worth every penny on a visit. Track through the Black Rabbit car park to the Arun bank and so onwards around its serpentine curves to South Stoke.
There is a ribbon of reeds along the river which in spring will be the home for reed warblers, while sedge warblers will nest in the rushes.
Always a surprise on this vast waterway for the birder. We saw a spring of 36 teal which hurtled like rockets over our heads and then settled on the river. Then a team of mallard made their indelible print of long necks and wings as they rose into the famous sky over Arundel castle in the distance, then settled right next to us under the old willow trees. Absolute magic.
In autumn this is a well-known place for common sandpipers as they flit up and down the river. Eventually we reached South Stoke, the loveliest hamlet in the world, perched up on a hill surrounded by its old horse chestnuts, poplars, scots pines and holm oak.
At the farm bridge turn left to the churchyard where a seat allows rest and a look at this mainly Norman exterior. Newish gravestone southeast corner has quote from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets – ‘...there the dance is’. Inside church, the red brain marble tablet to Sir Hugh Cairns, who attended Lawrence of Arabia on his deathbed.
Road out through hamlet to find blue arrow left downhill back to watermeadows between field maple hedges and wine-red stems of dewberry beneath. The meadow path continues south back to Offham.
The high bare downs to left with their coronet clumps of trees, the hanging woods to right with masses of hart’s tongue ferns hanging like green tongues especially around the chalk quarry. This wood was christened Foxes Oven in Georgian days – I imagine a hunt joke.
Ravens, buzzards, peregrines, kestrels, woodcock, siskins and nuthatches abound here among dozens of other species.
The path winds uphill into Offham and turn left onto the road, follow this through another magnificent display of green tongued ferns down to the old Alvis which on my visit was chatting – would you believe it – to a Morris Traveller as the Arun wound its way back again to the sea.