Climb high up to the breezy South Downs before heading for a magnificent Elizabethan house set in beautiful parkland.
Distance 6 miles (9.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs 45min
Ascent/gradient 640ft (195m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Bridleways, parkland paths and drives and stretches of road
Landscape Elegant parkland and steep escarpment
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 121 Arundel & Pulborough
Start/finish TQ 048144
Dog friendliness On lead in Parham Park, in vicinity of B2139 and below Kithurst Hill car park
Parking Rackham Old School free car park
Public toilets Parham Park
1 On leaving the car park turn right and head towards the dramatic scarp of the South Downs. Pass Rackham Road and follow the lane into the village of Rackham. Keep on the road as it cuts between fields to reach a junction. Bear left here and follow the B2139 for about 75yds (68m). Turn right to join a bridleway and climb steeply, passing through a gate.
2 Continue the steep ascent, glancing back at intervals will reveal memorable views of Parham Park in the distance and, away to the west, the meandering River Arun. The path curves to the right and from this high ground much of the route of the walk can be seen. The village of Amberley, with its imposing castle remains, is also visible from this lofty vantage point. Make for a gate and join the South Downs Way.
3 Turn left, avoid the bridleway running off to the south, and head east. Pass a trig point on the right and continue ahead over this high ground. On a clear day you can spot the sea glinting in the sunshine. Pass through a belt of trees and continue to Kithurst Hill car park on the left. Branch off here by some double galvanised gates.
4 With the car park sign on the right, go foward to join a bridleway which initially runs parallel to the road. Follow the path to a gate, cross a pasture to a second gate and follow the path as it descends quite steeply between trees and undergrowth. Pass rows of conifers, join a track, avoiding a galvanised gate on the right, and go straight on. Pass alongside a line of trees and keep fields and downland on the right. Follow the track to a wooden gate leading out to the road by a house called Paygate. Cross over and take Clay Lane, passing Cootham Farm and Lower Barn. To visit Cootham and the Crown, turn right.
5 Walk back along the main road, avoiding Clay Lane. Make for the entrance to Parham Park, pass a stone-built lodge and go through a gate leading into the deer park. Follow the drive and when it curves gently to the left, join a parallel path on the right. Cross a pasture and look away to the south for a striking view of Parham House with the scarp of the Downs rising steeply behind it.
6 On reaching a junction of drives, head straight on towards Rackham. Pass alongside a stone wall and, beyond it, a lake looms into view. Continue through the gently undulating parkland and turn left when you get to the road by West Lodges. Pass a picturesque stone house and avoid a turning to Greatham and Coldwaltham. Follow the lane down through the trees, back to the car park.
This magnificent Elizabethan mansion is one of the great treasures of Sussex, recalling the days of weekend house parties, servants below stairs and gracious living - a way of life that has all but disappeared. The wonderful setting, deer park and views of the South Downs enhance Parham's beauty and little has changed here since Tudor times. It was in 1540, at the Dissolution of the Abbey of Westminster, that Henry VIII granted the manor of Parham to Robert Palmer, a London mercer.
Years later, in 1577, his great grandson, aged just two and a half, laid the foundation stone of the present larger house, which was built to incorporate the old one. The little boy's mother was a god-daughter of Queen Elizabeth I and it is believed the monarch dined here in 1593, on her way to Cowdray from Sutton Park in Surrey. The 875-acre (354ha) estate was sold in 1601 and then again in 1922 when it was purchased by the younger son of Viscount Cowdray. The new owners opened Parham to the public for the first time in 1948 - an unusual step in the lean, post-war years. The house has been open to the public ever since and is now owned by a charitable trust.
Tour the richly decorated and Tudor splendour of Parham House, built during the reign of Henry VIII. The exhibition in the Ship Room shows the roles Parham played from 1922 onwards, and highlighting the restoration of the house: from fashionable country club to its role in World War II and later as a home for 'mentally frail old ladies'.
The Crown at Cootham offers a good selection of snacks and main meals. Bacon and brie or cheese and ham toasted sandwiches feature on the menu, and there are cask ales and a beer garden. Parham Park includes refreshments such as light lunches and cream teas. There is also a picnic area.
Deer can often be seen moving gracefully in the distance as you walk through the park. The fallow deer here are descendants of the original herd first mentioned in 1628. The little church in the park, dedicated to St Peter, was built in 1545 and almost totally rebuilt between 1800 and 1820. Up until this time, Parham was very isolated and inaccessible, with no proper roads to enable visitors to reach the estate. The small village around the church virtually disappeared at the end of the 18th century, helping to maintain the privacy of Parham House.