Blackdown Hill, Lurgashall & Vodka
Circular Walk 11.5km (7.2 miles)
17th December 2017
The trek today is a little further afield and takes in Blackdown Hill the highest point in West Sussex along with some Christmas ‘Spirits’ at the end. Visible for some distance Blackdown in the Low Weald is geologically part of the greensand ridge and sits on the Sussex/Surrey border. The Greensand Ridge is a distinctive escarpment in south east England and is made up of mixed greensand/sandstone which is often wooded. It runs from the East Sussex coast, around the Weald, which was formerly a dense forest stretching across Sussex, Surrey and Kent. Then back to the far eastern end of the ridge which forms the northern boundary of Romney Marsh.
We parked up in the National Trust Car Park in Fernden Road, a small car parking space that will only take a few cars and started our trek by walking West through the woods along the road.
Shortly after starting out we pass Upper Blackdown Farm which was partly damaged on 4th November 1967 when a caravelle airliner plane owned by Iberian Airways crashed into the side of Blackdown Hill. The plane was on it’s way to Heathrow from Malaga in Spain and was bringing 30 tourists back from their holidays. It is thought that the crash was due to an error in reading the altimeter as the plane was on the correct flight path for Heathrow and the black box did not show up any technical faults. A memorial stone to the lives lost can be found in the Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey.
We continued along the road to the bend at Blackdown park and then headed north west, keeping the park wall to our left, after approximately 200m where the wall stops we took the footpath heading north east up the hill, this part of the trek was to be the steepest and with all the huffing and puffing i sounded like Darth Vadar going up the hill. A short stop half way to catch the breath and also get some sneaky peeks between the trees of the views to come. The ground under foot was very soft as it was a carpet of brown leaves that had fallen from the trees in the Autumn, this provided a cushion between us and the soggy mud underneath. After ascending 100 metres we reach the top and started to see the fabulous views ahead of us. We headed for the Temple of the Winds’ and sat on the stone curved bench that was put there to honour WE Hunter, who donated the land in 1948 as a memorial to his wife. The Hunters are remembered by an engraving into the stone seat. Apparently the ‘Temple of the Winds’ is named after a bronze age circular bank.
The views from here are absolutely awesome, the viewpoint is looking south and so many points could be picked out, the rolling south downs were very distinct . The day was so clear that through a valley in the downs you could see the blue hue of sea with the newly constructed Rampion Wind farm in the distance. To the East Gatwick airport was visible and on talking to a couple it is really good up there at night as you can see all the lights of the runway.
From here we headed north following the Serpents Trail along the plateau at the top of Blackdown Hill, the path through here is surrounded by heather, gorse and silver birch. We also saw the bog ponds albeit they were frozen over and in the warmer weather they are a haven for many dragonflies. We headed slightly off the path to find the triangulation point, so that we could officially say we had reached the highest point in Sussex. Then carried on through the beech Hangers; named such for the amount of beech trees in the area. Flint artefacts have been found at the top of Blackdown and show that there has been some sort of settlement on Black Down since the mesolithic period (c.6000BC), perhaps the name ‘Temple of the Winds’ was taken from one of these settlements.
Following the path along the top of this hill we were following in the footsteps of Tennyson who lived at Aldworth house and would walk these paths daily. Our route takes us right past his house but unfortunately only a few glimpses through the trees could be made as the property is not very visible or open to the public. This house was designed by Sir James Knowles for Lord Tennyson and built in 1869. It was occupied by Tennyson until his death. Tennyson died in the house on the 6 October 1892
Continue to follow the serpents trail along the top and look out for the path that heads downhill on the right (the one that we missed and walked straight past), i am all for the traditional map and compass, whereas PK likes his technology with the map on his phone and especially taking pride in proving me wrong when i have take the incorrect path, like we did at the top here and ended up in the wrong car park. We start to descend down a narrow path by the side of Tennyson’s house which is quite a steep descent so watching your footing is a good thing.
The descending path brings you out on to a road on which we followed for a couple of kilometres, i try to avoid roads as much as i can however don’t be alarmed that we are walking on the road; as only one car passed in the whole time we were walking along it. On meeting the T junction cross over and take the path to the right of Shopp Hill Farm.
This path takes you over many styles and through a few fields and woodland. Most styles had easy access for dogs to pass through, except Cookie decided that she was going to try and squeeze through the fence rather than take the easy route, whereby getting her head stuck. After a quick rescue she was free and we continued through to Lurgashall.
We enterend Lurgashall via the church grounds of St Laurence Church and although we didn’t see it, it has a stained glass window celebrating the millennium showing the working lives through history, our boots were too muddy to go in. In Lurgashall we stopped at the Noah’s Ark pub for some lunch, a bowl of soup for myself, a Burger for PK and a dog treat for cookie with some water that she decided to tread in and spill all over the pub floor. The food was very good here and certainly refuelled our energy, so after lunch and we headed out of the village on Dial Green Lane and took the first footpath heading northwards. We followed the edge of a few more fields and pass by the side of Windfallwood Common which is made up of many Silver Birch Trees.
Opposite Windfallwood common we stop at the Blackdown Distillery and Winery. The door was closed so we rang the bell and waited. A really friendly lady answered and invited us in to taste some of the drinks that they produce here. Vodka and Gin are both produced here and are filtered through charcoal to create a much smoother taste and then very uniquely are infused with the sap of the silver birch trees from Windfallwood Common. The Elderberry Liquer is also very good and made using local elderberries too, very good with cheese! They also do a christmas pudding flavoured vodka which unfortunately had sold out. So after trying many spirits and liqueurs and with a bottle of elderberry liqueur for Susan it was time to head back up the hill.
Taking the path next to the distillery we gently started to ascend the base of Blackdown Hill. On this path you can see the many vines growing from Blackdown Ridge Estate, a local winemaker that would be good to revisit in the summer when in full operation. It was an uphill climb of approximately 100 metres before we got back to where we had parked but not as steep as the first section of the day.
December’s Recipe is inspired from the Gin from Blackdown Distillery and is used to cure some salmon that can be enjoyed over the festive period.
Gin & Beetroot Cured Salmon/Trout
- 1 side of Salmon
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 2 oranges and zest
- 2 medium raw beetroot
- 150g sea salt flakes
- 1 bunch dill, chopped
- 50ml Blackdown Gin
- Lay the salmon side out and pin bone them out with your fingers or tweezers.
- Grate the beetroot and drain most of the liquid from it.
- Mix all the remaining ingredients together with the beetroot to make the cure, can be done in a food processor to make a paste.
- Stretch two large sheets of cling film on a baking tray and lay the salmon side skin side down.
- Pack all the cure mix over the salmon including the sides until it is fully covered. and wrap up tightly in the cling film.
- Lay another baking tray on top and with down with some tins and put in the fridge for 24hrs.
- The day after remove salmon from fridge and scrape off cure mix, rinsing under the tap removing any remaining cure and pat dry.
- Serve thinly sliced with pickled cucumber.