Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Sussex Border Path Section 3 Rowland's Castle and Chalton

Stansted Park
On a remarkably similar day to the last outing on the Sussex Border Path, I again got myself out of bed nice and early on a Sunday morning and headed out to the western end of the county to chip off a few more miles of this route. On the last trip I had clocked a small parking area by the entrance to Stansted House and resolved to park there. However, when I arrived I found I was too early! Luckily there was ample room to park by the side of the road. This part of Sussex in particular is very rural and with little public transport available it is virtually impossible to undertake this section without a car or by taking some lengthy detours.
The Avenue
I headed back along The Avenue, retracing my steps back to where I had left the Sussex Border Path previously. Essentially it meant this time that I walked the whole length of The Avenue, a walk reminiscent of the landscaping normally associated with French Chateaux rather than English country houses (although there are a few notable exceptions). The Avenue was alive with the sound of twittering birds and chirping and buzzing insects, all out trying to get themselves fed after a few days of rotten weather behind us. Other than the wildlife, I had the whole path to myself, which was absolutely great.
Air Memorial
At the far end of The Avenue, there was a memorial to a lost aircrew that had crashed during World War 2. It was highly decorated, giving a poignant reminder of how much these chaps sacrificed keeping our freedoms alive. Just beyond the memorial the wide open space of The Avenue came to a halt and the path disappeared into some trees, emerging on the edge of Rowland’s Castle. Although off route I was keen to see if I could see anything of the castle and so headed off into the village.
Rowland's Castle
I passed under the railway line and approached the village green. There was rather a big clear up operation going on as the green had hosted a music event the night before and the litter gangs were out clearing up the debris left behind. I wanded to the other end of the green where I thought I might see the castle but realised quite quickly that whatever was left it was protected within a large area of walled off private land so I gave up. Still it wasn’t a wholly wasted detour, as Rowland’s Castle was a pleasant place to stroll around and I should imagine quite a desirable place for Portsmouth commuters to live.
I retraced my steps back to the Sussex Border Path and headed out along the road that runs north out of the village. Alongside the pavement were a strip of bungalows where you clearly have to be a keen gardener in order to own a house there. The outlook was across open fields and woods. I can think of far worse places to be! Luckily though the road walking was kept to a minimum and soon I headed along a path between the houses and across the railway once more.The fields on the other side were showing the first signs of ripening, heralding the arrival of late summer already.The path wove through fields of crops before reaching the next village, Finchdean. I was now sharing the route with the Staunton Way, a path I had followed pre-camera days and in the opposite direction.
All was quiet in the village, with few people about, in contrast to the scene at Rowland’s Castle. I passed the George Inn, a place I seem to remember having a very welcome pint in one day when walking in these parts. Being breakfast time still there was no chance of reprising this memory! The village doesn’t amount to much, although it does host one of those curious little pounds where livestock used to be stored. There are still a surprising number about even though they are all completely redundant these days.
Idsworth Chapel
Upon leaving Finhdean I initially continued along the road but was thankful when after a short distance the path escaped along the side of a field. The crop was rapeseed, now long past its lurid yellow colour and a duller shade of green/ brown as the seed pods were ripening. I was more interested in the wild flowers along the edges of the field and the various bugs that these were attracting. The poppies were the star of the show, with hoverflies going mad for them, although the flush of red colour was on the wane and it was just the late flowers that were still going.The path steadily climbed to eventually reach Idsworth Down. As I climbed the most wonderful downland views emerged as I was now heading towards the ridge of the South Downs.
Speckled Wood
Far below me was the small and unusual church at Idsworth. This little church was apparently the chapel of a large manor house, but the owner departed when the railway through the valley was built, taking the village with him. Now the church lies all alone in a field, with only the walled gardens of the former manor house as a companion. It looks rather incongruous in the countryside now, although it has stood here since the 12th Century.
New Pylons
As I reached the top of the hill I passed the curiously named wood called The Folly. I was intrigued as to how it got its name and had a scout about to see if there was a stone tower or some other such thing lurking inside, but didn’t see any remains of any sort sadly. A little further on was the unusual sight of the electricity pylons and wiring being replaced. It had never occurred to me how complicated this task must be until I saw the work in progress. A large amount of the field had been left bare and a temporary service road constructed in order to complete the work.
Heading Through the Rapeseed
Once past the pylon work the path continued through more fields of various types of crop as I made my way along Chalton Down. Although the far off views were still great (even being able to see the Isle of Wight on this most clear of mornings), the immediate walking wasn’t so interesting. I put off visiting Chalton village until the next stage of the walk and left the Sussex Border Path shortly afterwards so that I could complete my circuit back to the car in Stansted Park.
Chalton Down
The walk down the side of Chalton Down was hugely interesting. I am guessing that this is what is technically known as ‘unimproved grassland’ for the whole of the side of the down was covered in all manner of lime loving wild flowers and a profusion of butterflies, all of which seemed to be camera shy! It was a delightful walk which disappointingly ended when I crossed a stile and ended up trying to walk through a thicket where the path had been seldom used.I passed underneath the railway via a very low pedestrian bridge and joined the road the other side. I faced about a mile of road walking now, which was unexciting and probably should have been replaced by a longer walk though the fields and a closer look at Idsworth Church. To be honest I wasn’t paying sufficient attention and probably missed the best sight on the rest of the walk. Oh well – another jaunt along the Staunton Way should rectify this…
As I headed along the road I was stopped by a rather stressed looking driver who was looking for the Goodwood Festival of Speed which was taking place about twenty miles from my location. It seemed a rather odd way to be going, but he looked mightily relieved when I showed him where to go on his road atlas. Surely stuff like this shouldn’t happen now in the age of satnavs?
Idsworth Meadow
I was relieved myself to leave the road behind and climbed through some very attractive woodland until reaching what seemed to be an ancient trackway, hemmed in by high hedges and trees. I guessed that this was probably once a roadway of sorts but not deemed important enough to become a highway when roads were metalled. It was a pleasant if not overly exciting stroll for the next couple of miles. I eventually reached the village of West Marden, although only skirted it before climbing up to walk through more fields. These were thick with the scent of camomile, a smell that is quite sickly and very distinctive. The flowers grew in profusion along the side of the fields and the smell certainly grew stronger as I walked across some of the flowers that had strayed onto the path.
At the end of the fields I entered into woodland that forms the outer edges of Stansted Park and I knew that I would be getting back fairly soon. The air was alive with the sound of buzzing insects and twittering birds, a sound I had largely missed for some time, apart from a few skylarks telling me off way back on Chalton Down. By now it was getting on for late morning and other walkers were about too. It felt rather strange sharing the countryside with others as up to now I had pretty much had the place to myself. I breathed a sigh of relief though as the various dog walkers I encountered weren’t going the same way as me and I returned to my solitude. The path eventually escaped the woodland and skirted alongside it, providing great views down towards Langstone Harbour and the Isle of Wight beyond.
Soon I emerged onto the park road that I had walked along a few weeks previously when I had visited Racton Monument. It was a bit déjà vu as I headed along the estate road back to the colonnaded lodge house and to my car just beyond. The Sussex Border Path part of this route was very nice, but if I’m honest I probably picked a route back to complete the circuit that was too long and a little short on things to see. True it was a fabulous day and I should not be disappointed by that, but I couldn’t help feeling that I could have extended the SBP part of the walk at the expense of the rest.
Returning to Stansted Park


  1. Twenty years ago I used to live at Horndean and would often go walking in the Rowlands Castle and Idsworth area. Nice to see more nice images from my past life...!!

  2. Thanks! I'll bet the area has changed very little...