Octagon Parish Walk – Part 2

Following on from last month, this trek is a 18km (11 miles) walk around the remaining four churches of the Octagon Parish 

The trek starts at Stansted House, which started out as a hunting lodge in the 11th century. The original house was burnt down in 1900, and was rebuilt in 1903. The House and Estate are now owned by Stansted Park Foundation. The history of Stansted Park since the 12th century is told in Lord Bessborough’s book ‘The Enchanted Forest’ and is open to the public from Easter to September. 

Follow the southern edge of Stansted Deer Park onto Park Lane towards Racton and the ruined folly that is Racton Monument. Built between 1766 and 1775 it is situated on the hill with views over Chichester Harbour and to the Isle of Wight, it was commissioned by the 2nd Earl of Halifax as a summerhouse to the nearby Stansted House, though it was more likely to be built so he could watch his merchants ships dock at the port at Emsworth. The triangular four storey tower has been abandoned for over a century and fallen into a state of ruin with many haunted stories to tell.

Just along the lane at Racton is the small 12th century aisle less downland church of St Peter. It contains significant monuments to the Gounter family who owned Racton Manor opposite (now demolished) and music is played on a fantastic example of a French Alexandre Harmonium.

Head away from the Church Northeastwards on B2147 and pick up the footpath which passes Lordington House, built around 1500 this house has seen much history with owners such as Sir Geoffrey Pole, Sir Geoffrey Hornby and in more recent times politician Sir Micheal Hamilton whose family now run it as a guest house.

If the season allows a short detour is a must to Lordington Lavender when on open days you can sit amongst the rows of Mailette lavender and immerse yourself in the calming aromas, a French Provencal lavender is farmed for its high quality oil and is harvested once a year.

Continue on the path by the River Ems, a seasonal chalk stream that used to power mills and feed watercress beds. At Walderton pick up the Monarchs Way and follow to St Mary’s at Stoughton, the largest church of the Octagon Parish which has not changed much since the 11th century when it was built. St Mary’s has a fine ring of six bells.

Back track a little from Stoughton and cross open downland to Watergate Hangar, where a Roman Villa had been excavated, pottery found at the site indicates that it was occupied between the 2nd and the 4th centuries. On the northern perimeter of Stansted Forest can be found Christchurch at Forestside, which was built in 1852 by Charles Dixon, a wealthy Victorian philanthropist and the owner of nearby Stansted House, to serve his estate workers and the village of Forestside. The East window contains an unusual dragon in the bottom right hand corner and the heads on the chancel arch are a young Queen Victoria and a Bishop of Chichester. A school once adjoined the church but has but is now a private house.

From here there are many routes through Stansted Forest back to the start and this final stretch culminates with fantastic views of Stansted House itself.

The last church in the parish is the Chapel of St Paul which was built between 1812-16 by Rev. Lewis Way to reunite the Jewish and christian faiths, this is depicted in the unique East window and is believed to be the only window in a christian church with Jewish symbolism. The chapel was also an inspiration to the poet John Keats when he was writing The Eve of St. Agnes and the Eve of St Mark. The windows were all refurbished after being blown out when a german aircraft crashed nearby in the battle of Britain. This chapel is only open once a month for prayer and on special services. 

A visit to the garden centre, farm shop, tea rooms and miniature railway is also a must whilst in the area.

Further information and walks can be found at http://theoctagonparish.org.uk

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