Described as “possibly the most beautiful short walk in the South Downs National Park”, the Joadian Way Ramblette took place the weekend before Easter – Saturday April 8 – to mark the 64th Anniversary of South Downs philosopher and writer C.E.M. Joad (1891-1953), who became famous in the wartime Brains Trust.
Starting from Amberley Station at 11am, the short walk passes through North Stoke near the South Downs Way (with its unique red Telephone Box/Information Point), and then on to South Stoke where Joad wrote many of his 100+ books in the 1940’s.
Distance : 5.3m (8.5k) – 2 hour walk (round-trip).
Terrain : Grass footpath and track (muddy and slippery in parts). Good walking boots strongly advised. A few hills.
Where to park : Amberley Station (off the B 2139)
1. Start from the Heritage Trail sign on the wall at Amberley Station, with the Amberley Working Museum opposite. This small village, called Houghton Bridge, is located on the banks of the river Arun and is home to, rather confusingly, both Amberley museum and train station.
2. Head out of the Amberley Station and immediately cross the busy road – with care. Walk left towards Houghton Bridge [a walk right would go Amberley Village – a good walk from the station].
Don’t miss the small signpost of the Chichester-Horsham Literary Trail to the right [Ref: “West Sussex Literary Trail” by Peter Anderson & Keith McKenna – Per-Rambulations 2007].
Here it is best to do a little ‘imagineering’ and go back in time to 1814 – over 200 years ago. Imagine no trains, no cars and no restaurants – just boats and a bridge over the river. The only means of crossing the river was the bridge – thus the Toll House to charge for crossing it.
Houghton Bridge was built in 1813, with John Davis being the first Toll “Keeper”. He started work on April 1 1814 and received eight shillings per week.
Turnpike tolls raised £70 to £80 per year. The charge of two shillings was made “for every 4-wheeled Wagon, Wain, Cart drawn by 8 horses”; two shillings for “Coach, Chariot, Landau, Berlin chaise, Curricule, Calah, Hearse or other such carriage drawn by six horses or other beasts”; and “for every drove of calves, swine, sheep or lambs sum of 10d [pence] per score”.
“For any use on a Sunday – Double Toll”.
The bridge itself was rebuilt in 1875 by landowners which included the Duke of Norfolk (Arundel Castle) and Lord Leconfield (Petworth House).
4. Carefully go half-way across the bridge, and cross the road at the footpath signpost on the other side. Then follow the path to the river.
5. Follow the grass path along the river – “The Riverbank Walk”. Keep a look out for the different varieties of wildlife which frequent the River Arun throughout the year – as well as the occasional fisherman
After going over a stile, immediately turn left over another stile (by the small lock). Walk to the end of this narrow, hedged footpath which is often very muddy and slippery. Take extra care here. The road will finally be reached
Then come back the same way, and just after the red telephone box take the signposted footpath to the right.
9. The narrow footpath brings you out on to the grand vista of the South Downs.
Go straight across the field to the wooded area (any cows, sheep or horses therein are likely to be very curious).
10. Follow the footpath through the woods and cross over the Gurkha Bridge
11. Keep along the path, noticing the Knobbled Tree on the left (easily missed!)
Continue walking until the river is reached. Turn left after the turnstile, and walk along the river towards the the white bridge
South Stoke Farm and St Leonard’s Church can be seen on the other side of the Arun.
12. Cross over the Bridge
And follow the track into South Stoke Village.
13. Pass the Old Rectory and St Leonard’s Church
In the cemetery, look out for “The Still Point” inscription by TS Eliot on the gravestone of John and Joanna Haggarty.
This author came to understand a little more about “The Still Point” at the Knobbled Tree (see Point 11.).
Walk on to the Chapel Barn and South Stoke Farm [from where CEM Joad wrote many of his 100+ books, and is the farm in his posthumous work of fiction “Folly Farm”].
14. Return to Amberley Station/Houghton Bridge by walking back to North Stoke. At its Telephone Box/Information Point turn right, then keep walking along the road running parallel with the railway line towards the station.
15. Pass the Chalkpit tunnel (from where scenes of the James Bond film “A View to a Kill” were shot – starring Roger Moore and Grace Jones)
Pass the Old School House to the right
and the Old Cannon to the left (down by the river)
“The arrangement with the Daily Express was to set up a touring Brains Trust visiting cities and towns in Britain…one offshoot of the [BBC] Brains Trust programme (officially called ‘Any Questions’ – Ed) had been the proliferation of Forces Brains Trust and community Brains Trusts all over the country, because the formula had originated a new form of public discussion. It was on this pattern that I planned the Daily Express Brains Trust, with celebrities (including some of the original members) sharing the platform with men in the street, answering questions sent in by readers, plus a participating audience. For the first Express session I had Michael Foot as a (somewhat opinionated) Question Master and the answerers included Mrs Mavis Tate MP, Commander Campbell, a business man, a housewife and a medical student. One of our finds was a business executive, Stephen McAdden, who rose rapidly to prominence, and became an outstanding Conservative Member of Parliament.
“One ‘circus’ moved on to Croydon, with C.E.M. Joad as the star, and we experimented with the dramatic critic James Agate as Question Master, because he was an Express writer. Agate was as unsuccessful as chairman as he had been on the Brains Trust; he returned to the written word and we brought back Michael Foot. As might have been expected Joad was an immense success. A few days later we were at Guildford and Julian Huxley was on the platform receiving a remarkable ovation…”
[Source: “With An Independent Air” by Howard Thomas – Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1977 – Page 127 & 128]