South Downs Pub Crawl: Part 2
PUBLISHED: 12:49 20 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:13 20 February 2013
Aaron Millar is on a mission to do a pub crawl along the whole of the South Downs Way - a 100-mile trek. Here in the second of three instalments, he travels from Clayton to Amberley
It's the third day of my 100-mile pub-crawl along the length of the South Downs Way the national trail that spans the breadth of the South Downs National Park from Eastbourne to Winchester. Never one to shy away from a party, Id decided to embark upon this adventure in celebration of the parks foundation on April 1st this year staying in the best pubs on the trail each night and raising a glass in a few on route too. Two days in and I was glad I was doing just that because the Sussex of the South Downs is overflowing with gentle landscapes and welcoming people. And its not a bad place for a drink either.
The sun was out over the village of Clayton as I left the Jack & Jill pub and headed steeply up towards the two 19th century corn windmills of the same name and back onto the Way. From here, I followed the path steadily towards Devils Dyke, a steep valley allegedly forged by Lucifer himself although evidently on one of his nicer days as the effect is rather stunning.
Food, I have always thought, tastes better with a view, so stopping for lunch at the The Devils Dyke pub, I snuck my plate and glass of ale across the car park to picnic in the long grass and admire what the painter John Constable described as the grandest view in the world. Although only a few hundred feet up the contrast with the valley below is striking the long arched summits of the Downs fall suddenly to the low plain of the Weald, stretching the view endlessly to the north and west. It is perhaps here more then any other spot in Sussex that one really feels the openness of the Downs and I tilted my glass to them, hooting out loud with delight.
This merriment stayed with me the long afternoon stroll towards Steyning and my stop for the night at the Chequer Inn a 15th century coaching inn nestled in the centre of the historic market town and lovingly restored by owner Aaron Comber over the last five years. Ive always lived in the town, he tells me as we settle down for a pint, So Ive essentially bought my local. But to me its far more then that its an incredibly historic building. A real labour of love. Aaron is also rightly proud of his breakfasts, with one in particular named Armageddon (essentially half a pig on toast), and boasting its own Hollywood-style action movie catchphrase If it was your last day on earth, this is what you would order for breakfast.
The next morning, staring out a rain-streaked window, procrastinating over my last dregs of warm coffee and avoiding any temptations of Armageddon, I told myself that to enjoy walking in this country one has to be philosophical about the weather. It was all part of the adventure, it was going to be fun I was even looking forward to it. Such optimism failed me precisely two seconds out the door. It was preposterously wet. The kind of monsoon-like rain in which perhaps only a submarine would have kept me dry. People with umbrellas scurrying indoors openly laughed at me as I passed them on my way out of town.
But then as I grunted back up Steyning Bowl something miraculous happened. My optimism kicked back in. Raindrops flooded down my hood and into my shirt, my shoes squelched soaking wet with every step, my (so-called) waterproof trousers stuck to my legs like a wet sheet, but it didnt matter. I sang silly songs into the storm and let my mind relax into the simple rhythm of walking until, much sooner then I expected, I arrived at Chanctonbury Ring. Or rather it arrived at me its band of trees looming suddenly from the mist like skeletal fingers rising from the earth and genuinely making me jump.
This famous ring of trees was originally planted by Charles Goring in 1760, and then replanted again after the damage of the great storm of 1987, but the site itself has been used for thousands of years as an Iron Age hill-fort, Roman temple and more recently a place of pagan worship, ghostly investigations and UFO sightings.
Legend has it that if you walk around the ring clockwise seven times the Devil will come and offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul. Not wanting to tempt fate and despite the offer of a hot broth sounding quite appealing I decided to opt for the spiritually cheaper soup on offer at The Frankland Arms in Washington instead, before making my way to Amberley and my bed for the night at The Sportsman.
Just as I arrived, the sun peeked its head out of the dark clouds, so I took my warming cream tea (a Sportsman special) out to the terrace. This pub must have the best view of any bar stool in the world the vast flat plain and meandering streams of the Amberley wild brooks opened out in panoramic in front of me.
Barmaid Thea explained to me its also a haven for local wildlife we had a white-tailed eagle here a month ago which is one of the rarest birds in England and if you have a clear day, in the morning youll see deer graze across. Its really beautiful. The Sportsman also boasted one the finest selection of locally brewed real ales Id come across.
Basking in the smugness that one can only really get after a successful battle with the elements I dutifully researched what was on offer, laughing easily with owners Rob and Terry as the night rolled on.
They even tumble-dried my clothes for me. Pub crawls, I told myself stumbling to bed that night, simply dont get better then this.