Amberley to Devil’s Dyke

I booked a Thursday off to do some hiking, waking up ridiculously early to travel to Amberley before rush hour. I’m not actually sure whether rush hour is a thing that still happens, but decided not to find out. My colleagues had warned me that there would be thunderstorms all day, and when I left home at 5am it was raining after days of hot weather. The weather turned out to be pretty mild, with some cooling winds.

I’d walked this route recently, and I remembered the way pretty well, knowing the paths before I saw the signposts – including the first devious turn where the signpost is hidden by a fresh growth of bushes. It took a little time to get my muscles moving. After my last trip, I’d actually packed enough water, so my rucksack was heavier than usual.

I ate breakfast on a hill barrow. The path around Amberley is a good one, bouncing over hilltops where you can’t see too far ahead, and there are always new views unrolling. All along the way were bushes thick with blackberries and I plucked a couple of them, loving the sweet taste and crunching the pips.

The walk is a familiar one – along the hilltops towards the Adur valley, passing through a pig farm on one side, then Truleigh Hill on the other, before following the edge of the Downs to the Dyke. I think the bullet-riddled roadsign on the A24 has been replaced, but still has the ‘bullet holes’. I also passed three signs within a short distance of the road which gave different distances to the Adur.

I reached Chanctonbury Ring about 10am, where I stopped and read for a while. I am writing about that stretch of the walk for someone else, so I won’t not talk about it here. It was a good, calm walk, relaxed and enjoyable, more so than the frantic ones in the first days after lockdown was lifted.

A while back, I went to a talk by writer Tristan Gooley. He’s an excellent public speaker, and in an hour gave the audience the feeling that, just by paying more attention, we could understand the landscape. And, a few days ago, I read a piece in the Guardian about Nick Hayes’ Book of Trespass. Walking along, I thought about how, in the English landscape, there is more that needs to be understood about fences than birds.

The South Downs Way ran between two fences much of the way. Most of the time, the ownership is hidden. I can’t read the landscape in terms of ownership, and how I’m not supposed to. And then I found a little sign on a fencepost, showing the local farmer. It told me that the land I walked through was owned by ‘The Norfolk Estate’. This is actually owned by a hereditary line dates back to the 13th Century and King Edward I.

Another thing I’d been reading recently was James Meek’s How to Grow a Weetabix an excellent article about farming, which looked at the economics – how much the subsidies paid to some of the richest landowners are. There has been so much in the press about the difficult financial problems farmers have. The solutions always involve subsidies of one sort or another – rather than, say, removing the rent on the land they pay for. And why are the richest people in the country receiving subsidies in the first place?

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