Secrets of Kingley Vale

Beneath many parts of the South Downs National Park lies a secret landscape revealing the lives of people who resided, visited and worked on the hills. This months featured trek explores the National Nature Reserve of Kingley Vale, which not only is one of Englands most important archaeological sites containing 14 scheduled monuments but also has a unique ancient Yew forest.

This moderate 9km (5.5 miles) trek starts at the West Stoke car park and follows a nature trail route around the reserve. From the car park take the well trodden path passing between arable fields for about 1km where a gate and wooden sculpture marks the start of the special area of conservation that is Kingley Vale.

The nature trail starts by gently ascending through the centre of the Vale, where in the late 1800’s through to WW2 the enclosed hills were used as a military firing range. Evidence of this can be seen by the shrapnel marks in some trees and craters on the ground. In 1990 a clearance of the site removed over 6000 munitions of varying types.

Keeping to the eastern edge of the reserve the path passes through some of the oldest, gnarled and twisted trees, a short way on and the ascent becomes steeper leading you through more ancient Yew woods on the side of the Vale up to Bow Hill. The tangled grove of trees are amongst the oldest living things in Britain, several are at least 500 years old with some claiming to be between 900 & 2000 years old, the oldest of the Yew trees measure more than 5 metres in girth. Very little daylight filters through the entwined branches which gives an eerie feel as you walk amongst them, the ground is very bare and carpeted with dry needles.

At the top follow the wooded trail northwards for about 1km and take the Monarchs Way path downhill a short way to the iron age settlement of Goosehill Camp. The undulating ground hidden in the woods was once a small settlement probably for a family group, who may have only spent time here when tending to their flocks. The views from here in 500BC would have been fantastic across the valley and up to the Trundle Hill Fort.

Double back up the hill and take either path through the open access woodland back towards Bow Hill. Nestled in the woodland just below the summit is Tansley’s Stone, a memorial to 20th century ecologist Sir Arthur Tansley who was instrumental in the campaign to get Kingley Vale registered as a national nature reserve.

A few hundred metres to the west of Bow Hill are the Devils Humps (Kings Graves) the most familiar archaeological feature of Kingley Vale. These large tumuli are superb examples of bronze age burial mounds. There are four barrows in total consisting of bell and bowl barrows, the difference is down to the ditch that surrounds them, the bell barrow ditch is separated from the mound by a narrow step whereas the bowl barrows ditch take the shape of an upturned bowl. Many folklores and legends surround these barrows such as how the men of Chichester defeated a Viking war party in the Vale, the Viking leaders were buried in the Devil’s Humps hence their alternative name of the Kings Graves. Many of the Vikings died where they fell, under the Yew trees and on the slopes of the hill. Their ghosts are said to haunt the Yew groves, and the trees themselves are said to come alive and move at night. This folklore may have had its origin from a battle in AD 894 between the men of Chichester and the marauding Danes.

From the Devils Humps the route descends through Yew Tree Grove on the western edge of the reserve. Look out for the WW2 ‘Home Guard Auxiliary Units’ observation post which would have been linked to an underground patrol base near the bottom of the valley. Follow the same well trodden path back to the car park to complete the trek.

Trout, Wild Garlic and Fairmile Bottom

Foodie Trek – 2018

29th April 2018

A circular walk of 9km (5.6 miles) in a lesser known part of the Duke of Norfolk’s Estate just outside of Arundel.

The walk starts by passing by Waterwoods Cottages situated either side of ‘The Waterwoods’, which is on the roundabout between the A27 and A284 (Be really careful how you cross here as these roads are exceptionally busy at times). The tarmac drive heads away from Arundel through a picturesque valley with high wooded banks to the south, with big reveals that look like they may have been landslips in the past, opening up the chalky ground allowing some wild garlic to grow amongst the exposed roots of the trees. Further on the lakes of Chalk Springs trout fishery are visible to the right and a few anglers are seen on the banks, one trying to land his catch. We popped into the fishery so that Tim could pick up ‘The Informer’ and after flicking through the pages proudly showed us a picture of himself with a large trout as he often fishes here and brings back a few trout. The chalk springs trout fishery is fed from a spring that emerges through the chalky downs and originally had only two lakes. It was created in 1984 on what was the old watercress beds, the alkaline and mineral rich waters would have provided a great environment for growing watercress. Chalky spring water also has copious amounts of invertebrate for the trout to feed on and since the fishery opened a couple more lakes have been added whereby giving fly fishing anglers more variety to catch trout in the crystal clear spring waters. For the non anglers and with advance notice fresh trout can be netted and bought here.

Continuing along the drive it starts to steadily climb up hill and go further into the woods on a path that suddenly become very muddy following the recent rainful, time for a bit of dodging the puddles and balancing on the strategically placed branches. The woods were not that deep and we were soon emerging into open downland. We followed the edge of a field that seemed to have pens set out for breeding pheasant in ready for the new season. Following this path took us into sherwood rough, a forest that has been extensively cut back, but is evident that it is sustainable and managed as new trees had been planted. Walking through here you can also see across a small valley and it was so  reminiscent of a prehistoric britain, it just seemed so unspoilt and you could imagine a large velociraptor appearing from the trees (our imaginations running wild here i think!). Trekking further upwards and looking over our shoulders we had some great views back to the coast with rampion wind farm standing proud in the sea.

Both Sherwood Rough and Dalesdown Woods have had medieval settlements that have been discovered in these woods and although archaeological digs have taken place here,  little information could be found on them. The official footpath through this wood can easily be missed as there are many tracks and fire breaks here too, so the good old trusty map and compass were put to really good use.

As we were approaching Fairmile Bottom Nature Reserve more and more Yew trees were becoming apparent with their mangled branches all inter twining with each other and now giving a very different feel to britian, one of a more mystical nature. The Yew trees led us up to Yew Tree gate on the edge of Fairmile Bottom and if we had headed straight down the hill from here it would have led us to where an old cafe once stood. The wooden Fairmile cafe was first mentioned in 1939 by a local resident from Madehurst and it became a very well known landmark with those on their travels stopping here for a brew and cake. Unfortunately the cafe was closed and demolished in 2000, however it has since been re-assembled to its full glory at the Amberley Working Museum and is once again serving teas, coffees and cakes.

We found a path that was fairly straight at the top of Rewell Hill and tracked it through the woods that also contained many yew trees amongst the dense beech woodland, it was great to see the occasional marsh orchid amongst this wooded landscape too. After a short way we dropped down the hill to the open grazing land of the Fairmile Bottom, the yew trees here had been fenced off due to their toxicity to any cattle that grazed this land. Looking up at the woodland it was fascinating to see the many contrasting colours of green amongst the trees, from the fresh new leaves of spring to the hard dark spines of the yew trees, spring seems a great time to visit this reserve as many yellow cowslips were in full bloom.

After walking through the open grassland we headed back up the hill through what seems a tunnel of yew trees to the top of Rewell Hill, where we were met with a lovely array of blue bells with their misty blue haze on the forest floor and delightful aromas floating in the air.

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We passed through Rewell Wood, another area of managed forest that also has patches of open land where trees once stood and that have since been cut back, distant blue bells added a hue of blue on this desolate forest floor. After passing Rewell House we were soon back in open downland and being rewarded with some fine views to the coast overlooking Bognor, Littlehampton and beyond to Worthing. The spire of the Arundel Cathedral could also just be made out at the distant end of the path that we were following.

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We dropped back into the woods that are above chalk springs and followed the path back to Waterwoods Cottages where we started, passing a few more patches of wild garlic on the way.

The recipe for this months trek has been inspired from both the smell of wild garlic in there air and trout from Chalk Springs.

Trout Fishcakes with Wild Garlic Salsa Verde

For the Fishcakes:

  • 400g Cooked Chalk Springs Trout, flaked and bones removed
  • 300g Mashed Potato with milk
  • 3 Spring Onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
  • 2 tbsp Dill
  • Zest of 1 Lemon with juice of half
  • Beaten Egg
  • Flour
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Salt
  • Pepper

For the Salsa Verde:

  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 2 tbsp handful Kalamata Olives
  • 4 tbsp flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tbsp wild garlic leaves, chopped (or Chives if out of season)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 3 cornichons
  • 1 tsp French mustard
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Make the salsa verde by roughly chopping the parsley, wild garlic (chives), garlic, olives, capers and cornichons then mix all together. Then put into a large bowl and add the mustard, extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  2. For the fishcakes; mash the potato with a dash of milk in a large bowl then add the trout, chopped spring onion, lemon zest & juice, dill and parmesan cheese and thoroughly mixc. Add salt & pepper to test the seasoning, then leave mixture to cool. ]
  3. Divide the chilled mixture into as many portions as required depending on the size of fishcake preferred.
  4. Coat each cake in the flour then dip them in the egg and coat in the breadcrumbs. Fry the fishcakes in hot oil until golden brown and crisp.
  5. Serve with a fresh asparagus salad and Nutbourne tomatoes.

Enjoy……

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