During January and February Some of you may have seen that Julia Bradbury featured in a television series which took her back to her ancestral roots in the Greek islands where she has been discovering places ‘Off the beaten track’. In one of the episodes she visited Santorini and sought out the best alternative places to see the world famous sunset. It is great to see such a programme on these cold dark winters nights and it took my mind back to an amazing hike we did last year whilst visiting Santorini. If any keen walkers should be visiting the island in the future then this trek is a must.
Santorini is part of the Cyclades islands in the southern Aegean Sea. It was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, creating its shape, the underwater caldera (crater) and the small islands around it’s rugged landscape. Whitewashed towns and villages cling to the cliffs, which from a distant gives the image of snow.
The trail we followed is one of the islands top walks and a well trodden route between the two principal towns of Fira and Oia, where some of the most magnificent views of the island and it’s caldera can be had. It will take you through the small whitewashed villages of Firostefani and Imerovigli as well as across the rugged landscape that forms the rim of the caldera high above the sea below.
The path is made up of a mix of pavement, cobbled streets and dirt tracks so good shoes are a must. We visited the island in April when it wasn’t so busy but this walk should be started early in the morning so that the midday sun is avoided, take plenty of water with you as it will take about 4 hours.
We stayed in Fira and our hotel was ideally situated directly on the route of this trail about 100m in from the start. The route starts at the Atlantic Hotel opposite the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral and first takes you through the narrow walkways of Fira with its many jewellery and gift shops, although well signposted it’s easy to get a little lost here but any detour is well worth exploring. A walk descending the 587 steps to the Old Port for trips over to the volcano park on Nea Kameni Island is also a worthwhile detour. There is also a cable car that carries you up and down should the steps prove to much.
Continue through the narrow streets to Firostefani, although a different village it tends to blend in to Fira, so you probably won’t realise that you have walked in to the second village. Stop at the much photographed Virgin Mary Orthodox Church with its whitewashed walls, iconic blue domed roof and unique three bells, with great views across the caldera.
The route heads uphill winding through the narrow streets to Imerovigli, a village at the highest point of the trek at 370m. Imerovigli has panaramic views of both towns, Fira and Oia.
A detour to Skaros Rock will add approximately an hour to the trek but is definitely worth visiting the ruins of the settlement that incredibly once consisted of 200 homes, many eruptions of the volcano and earthquakes was the demise of this town, but a monastery known as the Chapel of Panagia Theoskepasti survived and remains in use today.
Heading out of Imerovigli the hotels become more exclusive and sparse and many more iconic churches will be passed. From here the route changes from pavements to stoney tracks that pass over the rugged landscape that reaches a peak with more terrific views of Oia on the descent.
As you enter Oia the stoney track turns into pavements and tiled walk ways. The pinnacle of Oia has a ruined castle which is the end of the trek. Oia has many restored churches, handicraft and jewellery shops and the recognisable windmills that sit amongst the roof lines.
However Oia is most famous for the uninterrupted sunsets over the sea. Watching the sunset can be very busy and is the most popular point on the island to watch it go down. For the more adventurous other quiet locations can be sought.
The bus back to Fira can be very busy with long queues, particularly after the sunset, so careful planning is key or take advantage of one of the many restaurants before returning.
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.
There is an 18 mile walking route called the ‘Octagon Way’ that takes in all eight churches, however this month’s trek splits this route in two for a much shorter circular walk visiting the four most northerly of the churches
Park up in the ancient village of Compton which is situated on the B2146, south of Petersfield. Apparently, Compton was mentioned in the will of Alfred the Great and was left to his nephew. St Mary’s Church can be found on a wooded slope at the eastern edge of the village. The church which is the first to visit of the parish which was mostly rebuilt in 1849-51 but still retains the 12th century north arcade and chancel arch. Take the footpath between the church and school up towards Telegraph Hill, standing at 160m the hill was used between 1822 & 1847 by the Admiralty as the site for a semaphore station that formed part of a chain of many such stations linking the Navy in Portsmouth to Whitehall in London, in good conditions messages could be sent in eight minutes, far quicker than any other means of the time.
The path from here gently undulates with views towards Apple Down (site of a 5th century burial ground) before rising up to the remote St Michael’s Church in the hamlet of Up Marden. This beautiful church was built in the 12th century and has been virtually untouched, it has no electricity or water and was voted one of Britain’s most favourite churches in 2013. On the walls inside the church some 13th century paintings have been discovered and preserved, one clearly seen as a male saint with a staff, most likely to be St Christopher.
Head out of the hamlet eastwards on the footpath that descends a steep wooded slope and across fields to St Peters Church that overlooks a small green and well at the crossroads in East Marden. Parts of the church are 13th Century but the building has had a few additions over the years. On the north wall of the nave can be found a millennium tapestry depicting the rural life of East and North Marden. The organ is unique in that it is said to have belonged to Prince Albert and was brought to the church from St James Palace in the 19th Century. Also at the crossroads is the well head, a wooden structure with a conical thatched roof that stands over the well and 18th century pump, the well was the sole source of drinking water until 1924.
Head out past the pond, across more rural farmland and on to St Marys Church in North Marden. This is the most northerly and remotest church in the Octagon Parish, it is 12th century and features a Caen stone doorway, that was probably shipped across the Channel to Chichester Harbour. After admiring the view head on the path downhill that passes Edgar Plantation to Bevis’s Thumb, a 60m neolithic long barrow that is approx 1.8m deep and was named after a fabled local giant. According to legend, Bevis threw his sword from the parapet of Arundel Castle to mark the spot where he should be buried and the sword landed here at Bevis’s Thumb.
A short walk on the path that follows the contours of Compton Down takes the route back to Compton, where some well deserved tea and cake can be enjoyed in the village shop and tea room.
This months trek follows on from the success of the Bersted Park Art Trail and continues the theme by exploring the wooden sculptures situated within the new Blakes Mead housing estate in Felpham. These works of art have been commissioned by ADC and funded by the developers of the estate to bring some magnificent features.
This local trail is accessible to all, starting at the Felpham Community Centre it takes in eight sculptures that have been created by local chainsaw carver Simon Groves and are designed to reflect Felpham’s connection with the sea, agriculture, nature and William Blake.
The first sculpture situated by the community centre is a ‘Trail Guide*’ that gives details where the other seven sculptures can be found. This route differs from the Bersted Park trail as it is more developed, however this article details the best way to navigate around the trail taking in as many green spaces as possible.
From the community centre follow the public footpath towards Felpham. The first sculpture sited at the end of a grassed area and centred between a triangle of three newly planted Oak trees is a ‘Giant Acorn*’ that represents the wood used for the sculptures and will change in perspective as the oak trees surrounding it grow taller.
Continue on the footpath and over a small bridge that is crossing one of the many flood relief tributaries to another small open grassed area where a giant ‘Sycamore Seed’ has been carved out as a bench and shaped as a giant replica of the seed.
Join the cycle track that leads away from Felpham and which borders the western end of the estate to the main A259. At this point a public amenity space is being created and great views can be had of the south downs. Take a right and follow the grassed areas behind the raised tree laden bank which provides a sound barrier from the road. Walking round the flood relief ponds that are extremely dry at the moment to the far end of the recreation field and take a rest on the ‘Animal Tracks Bench’, which is very simple in design but cleverly features the wild tracks of the rabbit, heron and deer all of which can be spotted nearby, particularly so, if extending your walk to the fields beyond.
Continue to follow the northern border, past more relief ponds and on a small grassed circle where paths converge is the ‘The Seaside Totem Pole’ that links Felpham with the sea, it has been carved very cleverly incorporating many creatures and features of the sea, How many can you see?, every time i look at it i find something different.
Still keeping to the edge, cross the entry road and remain on the grass, just before a further play park is the amazing ‘Tyger Tyger Bench’ which is a link to William Blake depicting his famous poem, this sculpture showcases a life size tiger on a bench, that is so realistic it’s unreal.
From here pass amongst the trees that have been kept in place and once made up the original footpath from the end of Normans Drive to estate edge and follow to the pond that was put in with fountains as a decorative feature to the estate outside the first show homes that were built. Aptly situated by this pond is the ‘Kingfisher statue’, towering above the ducks below. Look carefully as fish can be seen in the pond and herons are often seen here stalking them. The fountains have long gone but the pond remains as a lovely feature.
A short cut can be taken to the last carving but i prefer to continue around the edge, passing through the trees to the last flood relief pond and back through to the far end of the trail where there is the ‘Way Marker’ indicating local sites in Blakes Mead and beyond, the base it sits on features Felpham’s links to agriculture and farming. Head in the direction of ‘Felpham Rec’ sign and work your way back to the community centre to complete this trail.
* Sculptures not in place at time of writing but are due to be installed soon
More of a stroll this month than a trek, taking in some more magnificent wooden sculptures created by Simon Groves along with exploring the hidden areas and history of Hotham Park. The 9 hectare (22 acres) of park can be explored by any route following the many paths but the suggested route below takes in the main features and some lesser known areas.
Starting off at the car park by the Lodge, once the Bognor Museum and now the HQ for the Hotham Park Heritage Trust head on the tarmac drive towards the bandstand, where a variety of music can be enjoyed on certain days throughout the summer. The main Hotham House stands proud at the end of the drive and was built in the late 1780’s by Sir Richard Hotham who developed a lot of Bognor that we know today. When the house was first built it was known as ‘Chapel House’ and the clock tower is all that remains of the chapel, built next to the house it chimes 156 times every day. The house has also had some notable owners that have all made their mark over the years. John Fletcher bought the house in 1857 and renamed it ‘Bersted Lodge’. William Fletcher inherited the estate in the late 1800’s, he changed the name to ‘Aldwick Manor’ and developed the grounds, planting many of the trees. One notable tree in the park is the cork oak, which allegedly was planted in the 1870s when Mrs Fletcher picked up the acorn at Goodwood. It was to be their own special commemoration of the year that they got married
Next to the house can be seen the new sundial made by Harriet James, this replaced the 17th century one that was made by Henry Wynne and had suffered much damage and vandalism over the years. The new dial is based on the original design albeit a little simpler, it shows time, compass directions and date curves for the summer/winter solstices and also beholds the crest of Sir Richard Hotham.
Follow the drive around to the boating lake that has provided recreation for many years. Although fenced off access is via a gate and a walk around the lake will reveal a Mediterranean Garden to the south that is adorned with many palm and olive trees. To the north of the lake behind the cafe is the Winter Garden where many plants flourish in the colder climes.
The Hotham Park railway station can also be seen just by the boating lake. A miniature railway has been operating in the park since 1969, however in 2005 it was removed and then replaced in 2007 with a 12 1/4” track gauge that is still running today.
The rose garden can also be seen by the railway station that was created following the 1987 storm which destroyed many trees in the park.
Looking out from the cafe and beyond the grass mound is the wildlife conservation area. A fenced off area and pond that has been left to develop naturally attracting many flora and fauna. Much nature can be seen in the park from squirrels scurrying around to woodpeckers tapping high in the trees.
Head to the area known as the William Fletcher’s arboretum which is central to the park, take a moment to enjoy the ornamental pond or a rest in the Mary Macfie pavilion. The arboretum not only contains a fine selection of trees planted by William but added more recently is a series of wooden sculptures featuring characters from Alice in Wonderland, the theme chosen by local schools. Look out for Alice, The White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts and even enjoy a picnic with the Mad Hatter at his table, There is also a memorial bench that has been carved to remember Danny Johnston a soldier who served in the Prince of Wales Royal Regiment (PWRR Tigers).
Whilst on the stroll look out for the hidden gem that is a carved wooden owl, not easily discovered but can be found in one of the areas mentioned above.
To discover more about the trees in the park and Sir Richards Hotham influence on the town then visit https://bognorregistrails.co.uk where more historical trails created by the bognor Regis Heritage Partnership can be found.
This months local trek was meant to be a follow up on the Bersted Park Trail, but unfortunately not all the new sculptures are in place yet, which means that I need to postpone this publication until the trail is all complete.
So instead, I thought I would share a fantastic walk from a recent holiday that encompasses four incredible waterfalls all in one trail. The walk is much further afield and situated in the beautiful Brecon Beacons near to Aberdare in Wales, so if you happen to be up that way then this is a must. It is a strenuous walk of 9km (5.5 miles) over some exceptionally narrow, steep and rocky trails which will take 4 to 5 hours to do.
Park in the pay and display car park at Gwaun Hepste, that charges £4 for the day, so make sure you have change as there is no card payment here. (Cwm Porth is an alternative car park).
The circular route is a red waymarked trail and is made up of a wide gravel track into the forest, which is steady underfoot at the beginning then starts to descend towards the river Afon Mellte, where it provides a safe route on the rocks. Each waterfall is then accessed by a much more difficult link path waymarked in green that are very narrow, particularly rocky and steep with many steps, these tracks are tough but will lead to the best views of the falls.
After about a 35 minute walk from the car park the rushing sound of the first waterfall can be heard and a short link path leads to Sgwd Clun-Gwyn fall, meaning the ‘fall of the white meadow’. The river pours over a third of this broad rock with a relatively big drop into a small pool where thrill seekers can sometimes be seen canyoning. Sgwd Clun-Gwyn is also the first of two sets of falls that are a few hundred metres apart on the river. Head back up to the red trail as this is the safer route to Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn, it seems a long way round with the long steep rocky link path that descends 150m back to the river with over 90 steps, however following the river edge is very dangerous with some steep drops and should be avoided. The lower twin of the previous fall is a picturesque river that cascades over tiers of rock like a giant staircase into a steep gorge.
A short rocky walk back along the river leads to the beautiful Sgwd y Pannwr falls whose Welsh name reveals that it was once used for washing wool. It is made up of four separate tumbling falls of water spilling over channels in the rock to a shallow pool below.
A steep ascent from these falls back to the trail and a further descent of 150m and 170 steps brings us to the most magnificent of the falls Sgwd yr Eira meaning ‘waterfall of snow’. A large expanse of water tumbles over the high rocks creating a thundering curtain of water that has a fairly narrow ledge behind where farmers used to lead their sheep, presumably in single file to get to the other side of the river, this is a magnificent experience to be able to walk behind such a truly amazing phenomenon, on sunny days the colours of the rainbow can also be seen in the mist of the water below.
Listening to a waterfall is a great way to wash away your daily worries and de-stress, the strenuous walk to these ‘hidden gems’ is certainly worth getting back to nature and away from all the hustle and bustle.
On heading back to the car park take time for a slight detour into the woods to see the eerie moss covered trees where very little sunlight gets through the thick leaf cover above.
After reading Sarah Davey’s feature last month about staying at home and discovering local areas i thought it would be a great idea to feature a local walk that is accessible to all. So this month a 3km (1.8 mile) trek takes in all the wooden sculptures at Bersted Park that have been created by local chainsaw artist Simon Groves. Bersted Park is the new housing development in North Bersted and is bordered by the redirected A259, within the 26 hectare site are large areas that cannot be built on and now feature the art trail along with a trim trail, lake, sports pitches and a community centre. Arun District council are managing this area in an environmentally friendly way with fields of wild flowers. Over a two year project Berkeley Homes have funded a total of 10+ sculptures as part of their conditions for this new development. Local residents were consulted for ideas on what the sculptures should be and each piece has been expertly carved out of locally sourced sustainable oak. A trail map can be found on the Arun District Council’s website which can be printed off and shows three routes of varying lengths.
The walk starts at the Bersted Park Community Centre and to the right of the building at the edge of the car park can be found the first sculpture featuring a ‘Trail Guide’ showing the three routes. The route featured in this article is the full route marked in yellow. Follow the trail into the fields towards the second sculpture which is a tractor and bales of hay, great for children who can sit on this and imagine that they are farming the fields.
Keeping to the edge of the field continue to the lake, this small body of water has been strategically created as flood relief to this low lying area. It is connected to a number of streams and drainage ditches and ultimately links up with the Aldingbourne Rife. At the end of the lake is a carved wooden sofa where you can sit and take in the native wetland habitat, Yellow Flag Iris can be seen along the edge amongst many wild flowers and the rare water vole may even be seen. In the middle of the lake is an island that features an egrets sculpture, the white of the birds can just be seen above the bushes.
The route goes round the lake and along the southern edge of the park to the trim trail, made up of various outdoor exercise apparatus this is great for those who want to further workout and burn a few extra calories. At this point a rest can be had on the dragonfly bench and whilst sitting here the orchid sculpture can be seen a little further on.
Double back and follow Barton’s lane to the entrance of the sports field where a great sculpture depicting a football boot and cricket stumps stands. From here the walk continues outside of the sports field, however an eleventh sculpture can be found on this field which is well worth taking a detour to, as the artwork is really amazing.
At this point in the trail swifts can be seen circling around, some great views of the South Downs can be had and a group of three grazing sheep can be seen strategically placed in the middle of the meadow.
Just past here is the WW2 Pill Box, one of thousands that were built along the south coast in 1940 which would have been manned by the home guard to hamper any enemy invasion.
At the far corner of Bersted Park can be seen the waymarker pointing to key areas like Eastfield conservation area and Bersted Brooks that are also worth further exploring if you want to extend the walk.
Follow the sign’s direction and head back to the community centre where the last sculpture called historic piece can be seen on the trail. A great walk for all the family to enjoy.
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………..
A circular trek of 5km (3.1 Miles) rising up 81m (266 ft) to the top of Highdown Hill which on a clear day will give some amazing views across Worthing to Beachy Head in the East and the Isle of Wight in the West. The walk starts in the car park at the base of the hill however a shorter route can be taken by parking at the higher car park approximately half way to the top.
Over the road from the car park and behind the hedge is the footpath that ascends Highdown, it follows the edge of an arable field and leads firstly to the upper car park at 43m high. With the entrance on the left a visit could be made to ‘Highdown Gardens’, these were once the grounds of the nearby hotel. The gardens started their creation in 1909 in one of the many disused chalk pits by Sir Frederick Stern and his wife, owner then of the Highdown Hotel, He developed the site until his death in 1967. In 1970 the gardens were passed to Worthing Borough Council who since the mid 1970s have restored them to Sterns’ original design.
From the gardens head on upwards until reaching an unmissable burial chamber known as the ‘Millers Tomb’. So called after the miller ‘John Olliver’, who In the 18th century had this tomb built 27 yrs before he actually died in 1793. Many claim that he was the leader of local smugglers and used the tomb to store contraband. He would arrange the sails of his windmill at varying angles to indicate the absence of customs men to his fellow smugglers out at sea. The mill is said to have been damaged in a storm and since demolished, however the brick base of the mill can be seen as a mound at the south west corner of the hill fort.
Take the downward path a short way, then follow westwards along the lower part of the hill, the path passes many disused chalk pits and gives some great views across Worthing. The Highdown vineyard can be seen nestled on the lower south slopes, with great soil and plenty of sun, this working vineyard produces both still and sparkling English Wines. Further along can be seen the Roundstone Farm that got its name from an incident with a runaway millstone rolling down the hill following an accident.
Just past the large chalky escarpment, the path continues west and is then shielded from the hill behind a hedge, giving refuge to many birds. Before long Ecclesden Mill comes into view and is situated just above Ecclesden Manor. This brick tower mill is said to have been built shortly after the demise of John Olliver’s mill in 1826, Milling ceased at Ecclesden Mill in 1872 and the sails were blown off in a storm in 1880. It has since been renovated and is now a private residence.
Walk northwards past the mill and then head up the hill on the well worn track to the top at 81m. The Bronze age saw the first settlers and a hill fort was constructed in the early iron age. Later on, this site also became an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and a number of unusual glass objects can now be seen in Worthing Museum. In more modern times the ancient archaeology of the site has been considerable damaged by a radar station that was built During World War II and many uprooted trees following the Great Storm of 1987.
On heading back down the hill, take a break in the Highdown Hotel built in 1820 as the family home of the Lyons family. In 1909 the house and surrounding grounds were bought by Major Stern and his wife, who’s surname was used as the name of a night club in the 80’s. A short descent from here leads back to the car park at the start.
A 9km (5.6 miles) circular walk starting in Eartham.
When i walked this route it was mainly in the darkness, such that i could get a different perspective of the sights & sounds of this area along with great night time views from Nore Hill. However i recommend that the walk is carried out in daylight which will show case the beauty of this area much more.
Park up in the village of Eartham and take the road south towards the church. The gates to Eartham House are on the left which was constructed by Thomas Hayley in 1743, albeit much smaller than it is today. Following Thomas’ death the house became home to his son and poet William Hayley who lived in the house from 1774 to 1800. The grade 2 listed house has been extensively enlarged and rebuilt over the years and is now occupied by Great Ballard School.
Head down the footpath opposite the church that passes the the graveyard, continue down the hill and across the fields, shortly the path will start to ascend Long Down, which is the site of some Bronze Age Flint Mines, now a scheduled monument the only trace that can be seen is the knolls of uneven ground when looking south of the path, apparently there are at least fifty infilled shafts and many of the shafts are now under the cultivated fields having been levelled by the ploughing.
Continuing upwards, Halnaker Windmill soon comes into view and can be seen straight ahead, at dusk it prominently stands as a dark silhouette against the setting sun behind it. A windmill has been on this site since 1540 and the current mill dates from the 1740s. The tower mill was built for the Duke of Richmond to service the Goodwood Estate and was working up until 1905 when it was struck by lightning. The mill has been subject of a Hillaire Beloc poem called Ha’nacker Mill.
The path soon meets the A285 which is part of ‘Stane Street’ turn right and head towards Londinium, this long straight path was once an important roman road linking London Bridge to the harbour at Chichester. Following the long straight path known as ‘Stane Street’ should be easy as it heads through Eartham Woods. Look out for deer as they are often spotted leaping amongst the beech trees of these woods.
Continue on path until the Six-Ways signpost is reached and where many paths converge. This sign is known locally as ‘Shippams Poste’, named after a local family who donated it. From here take the 1st path on the right that is signed towards Slindon (be careful not to take the firebreak). This long straight path passes through woodland known as North Wood. North Wood was once a large area of ancient woodland, but during both the 1st & 2nd world wars a huge demand on timber meant that many beech trees were felled to support the war effort. The fields were then ploughed and farmed to support British food production. By taking the opportunity of a short detour here through the gate and into National Trust reserve you’ll be able to see where 75 hectares of the arable farmland are being turned back into woodland. A massive project by the trust to recreate the special landscape and encourage much wildlife to return.
Head west, through Nore Wood and up to the 18th century Folly which was used by the Countess of Newburgh for many picnic parties. Take a moment here to catch your breath and admire the fine views across Sussex and on to Hampshire.
Leave the Folly heading towards Puck Lane Coppice, then take the westerly path back to Eartham. On this path can be seen the brick and flint octagonal pump house that once supplied the nearby great house. This path leads into Eartham and a short walk along the road back to the start. Before leaving however, Why not take the opportunity to refuel at the local pub.