The Monthly Newsletter of Chelmsford YHA Local Group
Sun, Sea, Forts and Castles
The club weekend in Littlehampton was greatly enjoyed by all, helped by the excellent weather and the gentle pace of the shore and surrounding countryside. This summer is becoming one blessed with bright sunshine and Saharan skies, with just faint wisps of cloud hanging still high above. With just a brief but mild bout of rain on the Saturday afternoon we remained hot all weekend, into late evening. I sadly missed the sunset over the town on Friday but all who witnessed it said how clear and picturesque it was to see the sun sinking over the red roofs of the town as the light slowly slipped away.
The hostel was very comfortable in an unusual location, occupying the upper floor above a cafe and souvenir shop. It gave good views of the new RNLI station, which provided a gentle reminder that the coastal seas and weather are not always placid or benevolent. The walks provided a good mixture of sights, beginning with a bus ride to Arundel (after first discussing routes with a bus driver unsure of his next destination). I vaguely remembered the sloping high street to the Castle from a visit in my childhood, and enjoyed the experience of a high street not overwhelmed by takeaways (am I getting old and incisive?). Time did not permit a venture into the Castle but we enjoyed a detour to visit the Catholic Cathedral, constructed in the late 19thC by the Dukes of Norfolk as a statement of their faith after over 300 years of ducking the religious controversies since the accession of Elizabeth I. The Cathedral is very Gothic (as the fashion of its age) but lean and simple inside. I was struck by the Stations of the Cross along the walls of the nave and the quiet sounds of a morning mass coming peacefully from the side chapel.
Pressing on we strode through the estate, pass the odd Hiorne's Tower, a folly-type building constructed in the 18thC by a commission-seeking architect to prove his skills to the contemporary Duke. From here we paced down into Arundel and split up, some opting to spend time in the town and others choosing to follow the wavy line of the River Arun back into Littlehampton. A renovated barn gaily decorated for a wedding reception with hanging bridal sashes, and the wedding itself under way in the church across the lane, created an image of a typically English afternoon: one could almost hear the crack of the bat hitting the ball and the scamper of a youth running to disturb play with news of Inkerman.
Sunday saw us wishing the folk of the hostel good day and driving to Findon for a day’s walk along the Sussex Way. In that glorious sunshine we climbed up to the ramparts of Cissbury Ring and across the immensity of the fort to the trig point. This is the second largest hill fort in the British Isles with a circumference of a mile. The ghosts of the past still seem to litter the ground. The extant hollows of earlier Neolithic flint mines grace a southerly section of the fort, and the barrows of long vanished patriarchs and matriarchs squat silent outside the berm. It seemed a sleepy place, somnolent in the drowsy sunlight. None of the violence that was burst on Maiden Castle by Vespasian happened here – the fort was already abandoned and slipping into slumber when the first legionaries marched past to bestow the pax Romana and the authority of the Emperor and Senate on the people of the West.
The experience of viewing the Downs from the ramparts reminded me of a scene from Langland’s Piers Plowman, where Piers lies on a hill in the West Country looking down at the glories of nature and musing on the enormous treasure of sight and sounds this gives to his life. True, some of the field systems are very new but underneath you could still that ancient England that is in the souls of us all.
A varied and thoroughly enjoyable weekend. I look forward to our next trip to the Downs.
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