Saturday, 17 September 2011

Sussex Border Path Section 6 Rake and The Black Fox

Storm Damage
My 6th outing on the Sussex Border Path took me back to the rather convenient car park that I had found at Durford Heath. Rather than an early morning expedition, the weather forecast dictated that this would be a late afternoon/ early evening trip. In fact the weather in the morning was pretty foul and it was rather a leapof faith on my part that I went at all. However, the rain stopped about half way to Midhurst and a small break in the cloud ahead gave me some reassurance even though the air was thick with moisture.
Bracket Fungus
When I finally got going from Durford Heath I was rather glad that I was walking through the sandy heath and pine forests of this corner of north west Sussex, for it did reduce the amount of mud that I had to trawl through. The first half mile was down rather a narrow lane with steep sides. Although the rain had stopped there were some rather large drops of water that gave me something of a wetting, especially every so often when a gust of wind blew. There was no doubt about it – it was far from the usual conditions I like to walk in!
Flying Bull Pub
I turned left off the road withsome relief, having been passed by only two cars on the half mile section. It was not a pleasant encounter on either occasion and I was pleased that it hadn’t happened more often. The path through the woods felt like an ancient trackway that had managed to stay a track rather than be turned into a country road. It was pleasant walking through the forest and the canopy of trees rather shielded the fact that it was quite cloudy above me. I also caught up with some fellow walkers which rather surprised me so soon after the wet weather had passed.However, when I approached it was clear that they weren’t seasoned walkers as they had completely unsuitable footwear for the wet forest conditions. I smiled sweetly and inwardly wished them luck picking their way through the mud and puddles with their canvas shoes on…
Hedge Woundwort
I eventually reached the first settlement of the day, the village of Rake. People were now emerging from their houses and into their gardens now that there was a hint of sunshine. Hedge trimming and snipping of dead plants seemed to be the order of the day now that the end of summer was fast approaching. I crossed over the former A3 trunk road, now by-passed some distance to the north.Although now very quiet it was obvious that this was a very busy road in its former life, for it was built with a much better specification than its current status as a ‘B’ road would suggest. I passed the Flying Bull pub, which was probably originally a coaching inn with a rather less silly name. From here I faced just over a mile of road walking, which wasn’t great but at least the road was relatively quiet.
Railway Crossing
Just past Brewells Farm I was rather alarmed to find a dog running helter-skelter towards me. It didn’t stop when it reached me luckily but kept on going seemingly at 100mph. I wondered where it was off to in such a hurry? A few minutes later it became clear when I passed the owner grumbling that the dog had chased after a vehicle up ahead thinking that it should be on board! By now the sun was properly out and in the hedgerows blackberries and elderberries were dripping with water, while the bushes they hung on groaned with all the extra weight of their fruit and rain.
Weavers Down
I passed over an obviously rebuilt railway bridge (it had very shiny new bricks, although the design was far from modern) and passed the small hamlet of Langley. From this point the character of the walk changed again. I had now entered a heathland environment and the path continued along the side of a pine woodland with views out across what was a surprisingly wild piece of countryside. The area to the north of here is Weavers Down, partially occupied by the military. The rest looks like a chunk of the New Forest dropped into this part of north-west Sussex. I am guessing that it is agriculturally useless, for there seems to be little attempt at any kind of obvious cultivation.
Folly Pond
Even though it was only early September, autumn seemed to have really got underway already. Fungi of various descriptions had pushed their way up through the soil and leaf litter and colours on the trees were showing beginnings of autumn tints. The wet weather that had passed through earlier in the day seemed to heighten the sense of autumn. Glimpsed through the trees was Folly Pond, a surprisingly large body of water that was full of swans.I tried getting close for a good look but it was soon obvious that from the south side this wasn’t going to be possible. I therefore decided to wander around the northern edge of the pond to get a better look and was pleased I did so for the setting was absolutely beautiful.By now most of the clouds had cleared and the air was clear and bright with late afternoon sun. On one side of the lake overlooking the view was a large looking building that I later learned was a health resort. Rather a grand setting and I am sure it does very good business. How could it fail being here?
Folly Pond
My onward route took me through fields and sections of more pine woodland until finding my way back to the old A3 at yet another coaching inn, this time the rather lonely looking Black Fox. All was quiet at the pub, although it did look as though it was still trading, which was some relief. So many have closed now that only the strongest seem to survive and these solitary places need to offer something extra special to stick around. It was here that I left the Sussex Border Path to start my return journey to the car park.
Back to the Railway
I crossed the road and headed off across a section of woodland that had recently been felled, leaving only tree stumps. Away in the distance I could see three large birds of prey (possibly buzzards) circling around above the still intact woodland and calling to each other. It was almost as if the three of them were working as a team. I joined what looked like it might once have been an estate road, marked as it was by some rather large columns on either side. It was obviously now a public highway, marked by the surprising number of cars that passed me as I walked the few hundred metres I needed to along it.
Black Fox
At the rather grand looking Milland House I turned to head across a still rather wet field. I passed by some more woodland and was just admiring a big clump of flowering heather in front of me when a small copper butterfly alighted on one of the stems posing and almost begging me to take a picture of it. Of course by the time I set myself it had taken flight – tease! I briefly came upon the old A3 for a third time, an unusual section for here it turned into a dual carriageway, very unnecessary now! The onward path left again almost at right angles and I felt rather odd as I crossed what appeared to be the bottom end of the garden of a rather large house in the distance.
Milland Estate
At the other side of the garden I passed through a gate to come into the extraordinary churchyard of St Luke’s Church. This Victorian church is certainly very pleasant and looked its best in the early evening sunshine, but it is surely eclipsed by the adjacent and redundant Tuxlith Chapel. This old church is now cared for the by the Friends of Friendless Churches (a rather bitter-sweet concept) and dates from some time in the 16th century although its origin seems to vary depending on which report you read! Declared redundant in 1974 the old chapel stands empty, but it is still possible to explore inside (I did).There are no longer any pews and I guess that its demise was principally because it was too small for its local audience, hence the bigger church was built next door. Nevertheless, it was a most enjoyable and unexpected find. I was amazed to think that I had never heard of this place, even though it is in the county that I have lived in for so many years.
From the churches I dropped down the side of a very steep and wooded hill via a set of slippery steps and passed the horse loving residents of Maysleith who were grooming their steeds. The next couple of miles were along a path through game bird shooting territory. There were literally hundreds of pheasants wandering about making the most awful racket calling to each other and warning their friends of my approach. By now I could tell that I was in a race against time to get back to the car as the sun was getting very low in the sky. I guess the pheasants were nervous as they were readying themselves for roosting down for the night.
Tuxlith Chapel
I passed through Combeland Farm, which seemed to be yet another full of junk as well as a hay barn that was literally falling down around the hay it was supposed to be protecting. A little further on and I reached Combe Pond, yet another delightful oasis of calm in the woodland. Judging by the fishing platforms this looked like a popular spot with the angling fraternity, although at this late hour I had the place completely to myself. I did linger for a short while enjoying the moment but from here on I did not hang about. I was anxious to get back to the car for daylight hours were running low.
Friendly Pheasant
In all honesty there was little to report on the last stretch for much of it was through rather dark and foreboding woodland, heightening my desire to return to the car! The only thing I have to report is that inevitably perhaps I did take a wrong turn and ended up having to walk the last mile or so back along the road. Not pleasant, but at least I didn’t get horribly lost!
Combe Pond
This was a nice easy walk with some really good highlights at Folly Pond and Tuxlith Chapel. There are few sections that are unpleasant and I am sure the last mile could have been avoided with more haste and less speed. The car park at Durford Heath is convenient for it lies directly on the path and there are a couple of pub stops en route for refreshments if needed. The only facility that isn’t available is a village shop, so make sure you have fluid with you before you set out. Conditions underfoot were mostly dry although there are a couple of the forest stretches where I could see that mud would be a serious problem in the winter months. I am looking forward to more of the same kind of terrain on the next section of the Sussex Border Path as I head towards Haslemere.
Last Sign

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