West Sussex Vineyards Trek

Chichester to West Stoke

A 14 km (8.5 miles) linear walk from Chichester to West Stoke taking in Ashling Park Vineyard.

In the past i have walked many of the LDPs around west sussex, created a route from London to Portsmouth that follows the line of the canal’s which we called ‘London’s Lost Route to the Sea’ and now it’s time to create a new trek. West Sussex has more vineyards than any other county in the UK and what better a trek to do than to try and link them all up, hopefully visiting each vineyard to see how operate and taste their wines, which i can then feature as part of my blog. It will cover over 290km (180 miles) and include over 20 vineyards and many great features of West Sussex.

The first section is a hike of 14km (8.5 miles) with many contrasts, after starting in the city centre, it passes through water meadows and finishes in aromatic bluebell woods. It’s a long, mainly flat linear walk, however much smaller walks can be enjoyed exploring the water meadows and Stoke woods as both have many footpaths and access routes.

We parked up in West Stoke and after a short walk to the bus stop we caught the bus to chichester, timing was crucial here as as buses are every two and a half hours, not one to miss. The trek i have decided officially starts and finishes in the centre of Chichester at ‘The Cross’, just thought it was a good point in the county town of Sussex. The elaborate 15th century Market Cross in the centre of Chichester is built of Caen stone, this structure replaced the previous wooden cross that had been erected on the same site, it was used as a market place giving the poor people of Chichester somewhere to sell their wares. PK wanted a chocolate bar and ended up traipsing around Chichester trying to find one, a slight delay at the start which i will remind him of later.

From the cross head out via West Street, a busy street that passes the 11th century cathedral. The 84m tall spire has been a landmark for sailors for many years as it can be seen for miles across the flat marshlands and is in fact the only medieval cathedral that can be seen from the sea.  It is well worth spending some time looking around the building, the bell tower and its grounds. 

West street finishes by a roundabout, cross over and keep going straight which now takes you through a suburban residential area with some fine houses. Cross the railway via the bridge and pass under the main A27, which leads into Fishbourne, a small village that in AD43 was invaded by the romans.

Cross the old A27 and down a footpath past a house with two sculptures in the garden and the landscape changes immediately from urban to meadows. Now silted over the water meadows was once the old roman harbour and is now an AONB and part of the Chichester Harbour. An exceptionally clear stream ‘The Fishbourne’ meanders through the flat surroundings of the meadows along with many other water courses, springs and Mill Leats. This is an area abundant with wildlife, from flora and fauna to a large swan guarding a newly laid egg on it’s nest amongst other wildfowl that can be seen as the route follows the top end of Chichester harbour through reeds higher than many a person before emerging at the waters edge of the Fishbourne Channel with views across to Dell Quay. (Spring tides at this point may mean route is not accessible). The wind here was quite a strong southwesterly.

After a short walk along the waters edge the route heads inland, at this point we have been heading away from any vineyards, but a route that is really good and varied nonetheless. A mixture of quiet roads and paths takes us through some very fertile arable fields situated on the rural outskirts of Bosham where many different salad crops and vegetables are grown. We headed north towards Broadbridge at the old A27, crossed the railway and then the new A27 via a bridge and it’s quite something watching the traffic hurtle past underneath on their daily business whereas we are enjoying the peace of a coast and countryside trek.

North of the main roads we headed a short way along the road before leaving on a path that leads past a house and into a meadow which borders some private copses, the path is well signposted and soon enters the woods, you can’t leave the trail here as taping through the trees prevents you from wandering into the woods, these woods are very sparse on the ground with little growing in them, it looks like they are currently being managed.

The path exits the woods and cross dairy cow farmland to East Ashling, near to where we caught the bus. After about 100m turn down Sandy Lane which heads towards West Ashling. The road soon comes to an end and through a small alleyway we are led into another arable field which the farmer has kindly left the path marked very distinctively and easy to follow. At the far end of the field you might think you are at an ancient ceremonial site with some large stones arranged in a circle in the grounds of a horse trainers, not sure if they are just a modern piece of sculpture or of more historical interest.

We meet Southbrook Road and head north past ‘Ashling Park’ the first vineyard on this mammoth trek, as we walk along the road we catch glimpses of the vines through the trees, there is no public right of way through this beautiful estate, so i had to return for a visit after contacting the Managing Director Gail. The gates automatically opened and on driving up to West Ashling House the vines could be clearly seen in their regimented rows. What an incredible setting for a vineyard in a lovely sheltered position that is only 3 miles from the sea, with some of the best weather in Sussex and soil perfect for growing grapes, you can certainly understand why their wines are award winning. We met Gail at the house that was once owned by Lord Portal who was second in command to Lord Churchill, unspoilt this place would have certainly seen some history. Gail really welcomed us to the estate and offered us a glass of their award winning cuvee, this sparkling white has stood out from 16,000 other wines to finish in the top 10 with a Gold medal in the Decanter World Wine Awards and i have got to say that i can see why, it was a lovely wine, fruity with a clean finish and i could certainly imagine enjoying this in the countryside with a great picnic. Gail showed us the plans for the visitor centre and lodges (designed by William Hardie from TV’s Amazing Spaces) which are set to be opened in October this year. The plans that have undergone much scrutiny by the national park and have been designed with the environment at the forefront, they will most definately be an asset to the park. The luxury lodges will all have a view of the vines or lake and the visitor centre will allow Ashling Park to showcase their wines, vines, carry out tastings & tours of the vineyard and have special events such as pop up restaurants. Gail was very excited of these future plans and i got to admit it is an idealyc setting among the 50 acres of Ashling Park. The sun was shining, so we couldn’t leave without a tour of the vines. Firstly we saw their latest Baccus vines that have only just been planted, standing at only a few inches tall it is incredible to think that in a few years these will be producing grapes for a still white wine. Walking through the vines that have been planted in the converted hay meadows, Gail explained who worked there and how looking after the vines is a family affair, her children also getting involved with the weeding and bottle labelling. The care and attention that they all give to the vines means that they could know each plant almost by name and are always to be sure to get the most from each plant. As we headed back to the house we got caught in a short sharp shower, however it did not dampen a great afternoon that we had had with Gail, she is a lovely person that will be a great host to all the future plans and i certainly look forward to revisiting once they have all been completed. For more information and to be able to purchase their wines please visit www.ashlingpark.co.uk or you can follow their progress on facebook.

The last part of the walk takes us into the ancient woodland of Ashling and Stoke Wood and we are soon met with the sweet aroma of bluebells as they carpet the forest floor, what a great time to walk through these woods and see the beauty of these delicate flowers. The soil of this woodland has been under tree cover and leaf litter for hundreds of years and in the spring a mist of blue can be seen on the forest floor with vast broadleaf and conifer trees emerging upwards from the hue. A lot of these woods are private but a good network of paths means the best of the area can be explored. Detours around these woods can be made, but only by keeping to public footpaths to see the flowers in all their glory. After taking many pictures it was time to head back to the car and find a pub for some well deserved refreshment. A quick check on the map with the compass ensures we take the right path, much to PK’s annoyance as he likes to use his phone app and find where we are quicker; at which point i did remind him that we could have been in the pub now if he hadn’t taken so long trying to find that Bounty chocolate bar in the centre of Chichester………..