UK Staycation: Southdowns National Park

On a sunny May bank holiday I ventured to the Southdowns National Park, with two agendas. Firstly, to get some hill training ahead of my long distance Lake District walk in June, but also to explore some of the special places this area has to offer. This is what I got up to over a three day extended weekend.

Day One

Setting off early in the day I headed to my base for the weekend, Arundel. This quaint market town with medieval castle and cathedral was selected due to the proximity to the South Downs Way (perfect for training) and the culture and charm of the town itself.

After checking in at The White Swan, just outside the town, I made my way to Arundel Castle with my pre booked tickets. Set high on the hill, and an impressive site whilst driving in, this former home of the Dukes of Norfolk offers magnificent views across the South Downs and the River Arun.

Here you could easily spend half a day exploring the 1,000 year history of the castle. Arundel Castle was one of the first English country houses to be fitted with electric light, service lifts and central heating.

The castle gardens are a site to behold themselves. At the time of visiting these award winning gardens were in full bloom, with an abundance of colour on every corner, tricking water fountains and water features, all standing proud in the shadows of the cathedral located outside the garden walls.

After the afternoon visit to the castle and gardens, I spent a few hours wandering the town centre. With its cobbled streets, antique stores and tea rooms, Arundel was an idyllic place to while away the time.

As the weather was so glorious, in the early evening I headed to Little Hampton for a gentle beach stroll. Located just a short drive away from Arundel, where the river Arun meets the south coast, this quiet seaside town was the perfect place to end the first day.

Day Two

The second day of my trip was all business! I had come here to train after all. So, after an early night, I was up bright an early to start my 14 mile training walk across the Southdowns National Park! Starting in Arundel town with a quick breakfast I headed up past the castle into the park.

Within minutes I had Hiorne Tower right ahead of me. This great example of folly was built by Francis Hiorne to demonstrate his capabilities to the 11th Duke of Norfolk.

From this impressive site, I picked up the footpath following Swanbourne Lake to discover the views and hills that I had been searching for in training. My route took me on an easy down path to begin with followed by numerous upward climbs until I picked up the River Arun northwards to Houghton and Amberley.

This picturesque village was the perfect pit stop five miles into the walk. Here I stopped at the village tea room for a slice of homemade cake and took time to wander the beautiful village. Amberley has its own castle, which is now being used as a hotel rather than a historic monument, and a working museum, home to old agricultural and industrial machinery.

If you are partial to a sweet village, then it is definitely worth exploring when in the area. During my visit, it was wisteria season too (my favourite), so you can imagine how glorious the cottages looked whilst in full bloom.

After the pit stop the only way was up! And it was an epic climb to pick up the South Downs Way for a short while, before working back in a loop to Arundel. In the morning I had just Sheep as company, here I quickly started meeting other avid hikers on this section of my route. The South Downs way is a well know and challenging route that runs along the south coast, from Eastbourne to Winchester. Today was not the day for me to attempt the 100 mile route.

Therefore I worked my way back following the various footpaths, with my trusted map in hand. By the time I reached Burpham, another lovely village in the area, it was time for a spot of lunch. Low and behold, I stumbled on the country pub, The George, in Burpham! The joys of country walking is that you always find a nice pub to rest your weary legs.

Having recently opened to indoor dining, I managed to get a table for a cheeky veggie burger, to re-hydrate and to check on my progress.

Burpham provided the perfect, tranquil route back to Arundel. Following quiet footpaths, back along the river and copious number of stiles (why are they always at the end of the walk when you are fatigued?), I had just a few miles before I ended back at the starting point.

It was a lovely loop that provided the training I need, but it was a tough one. Safe to say, after a few cheeky wines and a hot bath I was in bed early ready for the next day of adventures.

Day Three

Having no set plans in place for day three, not knowing I would feel after the long hike, it became pretty ad hoc. As such I scouted out the area, what was in easy driving distance and what was on the bucket list of things to see.

First I headed to Brighton. Although I have visited on numerous occasions, I had never been to The Royal Pavilion. Luck had it, tickets were available, so I spent a good few hours here.

Whilst impressive from the outside, this Grade I listed former royal palace, the interior is somewhat spectacular. This historic house boasts such grandeur in the stye of Indian and China.

Take time to explore the theatrical banqueting room, which housed great feasts for George IV and his guests, and the splendour of The Saloon, which re-opened to the public in 2018 after restoration. On every turn you are bound to be left speechless and in awe of the beauty of this building.

After the majestic visit at the pavilion, I headed over to the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery within the Royal Pavilion Garden. Offering diverse collections of art and history for those who are interested, however my aim was to take in the David Bowie “Rock n Roll we Me” exhibition.

Here you can spend a short time taking in the unique photographs taken by David Bowie’s close friend and travelling companion – Geoff MacCormack. An interesting insight to his travelling life and a must for any avid David Bowie fans.

My final stop of the day, before beating the bank holiday traffic home, was Cuckmere Haven. This valley and coastal path offers fantastic views of the Seven Sisters Cliffs – which form part of the South Downs Way. This area is one of my favourite parts of the UK coast line, offering a challenging yet rewarding route.

If you are up to a challenge it is worth taking on the Seven Sisters, passing Birling Gap en-route. No matter what season or time of day, you will not be disappointed by the view. Be sure to check out the Coastguard Cottages and Hope Gap too.

After an adventure filled three days it was time to face the traffic and notorious M25 home. During a period of months staying home the weekend did wonders for both my physical and mental health.

One day I will attempt The South Downs Way end to end, but thats an adventure for another time.

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