This particular area has long been on my list to explore and I recently discovered a lovely 8km (5 mile) trail showcasing Sussex at it’s best. Established by Boxgrove Parish Council the ‘Windmill Trail’ meanders through tree lined vineyards up to the iconic Halnaker Windmill with breathtaking views across the coast of West Sussex. The trail then returns to the historical priory and village.
Start at Boxgrove village car park and head north on The Street, the entire route is signed so should be easy to follow. Cross the road at the end of the path and into the field. The first sightings of the Halnaker Windmill can be seen northwards across the field, standing at 128m above sea level atop Halnaker Hill it can be seen from miles around.
The trail follows the field around all three sides and leaves on the far side through an avenue of trees that border the edge of a vineyard, at this point you could easily think you were in France.
At Tinwood Lane the footpath is offset and continues across a meadow before going through beautifully golden cornfields.
At the far side carefully cross the busy A283 and turn into Mill Lane. This track was once the ancient roman road from London to Chichester known as Stane Street. The archway of trees here are locally known as the ‘Halnaker Tunnel of Trees’ and are very different in every season, it is a very popular spot for photographers too.
After the magical tunnel the trail heads to the top of Halnaker Hill, where the windmill is sited. The original mill was first recorded in 1540 and built for the Duke of Richmond as the feudal mill of the Goodwood Estate. The exact age of the surviving mill is not known but thought to date from the 1740s, however the Listed Buildings Register dates it as 1850. The windmill was a working mill until it was struck by lightning in 1905 damaging the sails and windshaft. For many years there was also a small millers cottage on the hilltop, but was demolished in 1902 with no trace left nowadays.
Halnaker Mill also appears in a poem by Hilaire Belloc in which the collapse of the Mill is used as a metaphor for the blight of the moral and social system.
Also located around the hilltop are the brick built base remains of four old WW2 timber ‘Radio Direction Finders’. During the war RAF personal stationed in these towers monitored and reported radio messages they picked up from aircraft flying nearby.
Retrace your steps down the hill and back to Tinwood Lane. Head south down the lane passing Tinwood Vineyard, a 65 acre estate that has been producing quality sparkling wine since 2009, vineyard tours, wine tasting and luxury glamping can all be done here.
To the left of the lane is Boxgrove quarry where in 1993 the shinbone of a man was found that dates back 500,000 years, known as the Boxgrove man this is the earliest hominoid remains to be found in the British Isles. A few years later teeth, animal remains and flint tools were also found. The route back to Boxgrove wanders through the vineyards, along tree lined avenues and enters the village via Church Lane.
The Church of St Marys and St Blaise is worth exploring as this was the priory church before the suppression of monasteries. The small Benedictine priory was founded in about 1107, originally for just three monks, however only the lodging house and part of the church remain.
The west part of the church was demolished in the 18th century but the chancel, central tower, transepts and easternmost bay of the nave survive as the present-day parish church.
After visiting the church head through an arch to the site of the ruined 14th century lodging house. it is now roofless, but the north and south gable ends still stand to their full height.
Inside the church is a model of how the buildings were set out giving an understanding of the layout of the monastery.
A short walk back past Priory Hall Farm to the car park completes this circular trek.
Further details of the Windmill Trail can be found on the leaflet provided by ‘Visit Chichester’ at https://www.visitchichester.org/sites/default/files/Boxgrove_Trail_Final.pdf
Map of route can be found by filling this link https://osmaps.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/route/5831042/Windmill-Trail