Another early morning expedition on the Sussex Border Path and for the first time I faced the prospect of a walk north of the
South Downs ridge. In common with the last trip out on this walk I headed to a car park at the northern end of what I wanted to complete today. I arrived at just after 7am, a delightfully early hour to be out walking for there were few people about. The landscape at the beginning of the walk is more akin to the New Forest than the landscape normally associated with West Sussex. I found myself in a pine forest, still fairly wet from a day of heavy rain the day before and smelling pungent as a result.
I opted to do the unofficial loop before finishing with the official part of the route from where I had left it near
South Harting on my last outing. Only five miles of the official route were to be followed today although my total walk was 11 miles. I headed out of the forest towards the village of Rogate and past Nyewood before meeting up with the official route just beyond West Harting.
|Looking out over the Downs|
The initial section of the day’s walking was delightful. I feel drawn to pine forests and heathland – I think after coastline it is my favourite type of countryside to walk through. I enjoy the smell of bracken and the warm earthy smell of decaying pine needles as well as the shafts of sunlight that penetrate through the sometimes thick overgrowth of pine trees (and a very different kind of light to that found in broad leaf forests). As I wandered through the forest enjoying the early morning sunlight I suddenly became aware of something following me. As I looked round I discovered it was a dog, which gave me a bit of a fright as it was almost on top of me before I realised.
I moved along more quickly to try and get some distance between myself and the dog walker and maintain our relative solitude. I didn’t have to worry too much – as we left the forest we took different directions as we headed out across the fields. Once free of the trees I was able to enjoy extensive views across to the
Downs, with the ridge from Butser Hill to Bignor Hill being readily visible, a distance of well over 20 miles. I wandered down the lengthy access lane to the property (?) and once again I got to enjoy the antics of the butterflies servicing the hedgerow flowers. As ever they were incredibly hard to capture with a camera but I did have a go.
At the end of the lane I paused briefly to listen to the rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker high up in the tree. I am guessing it was a green one for it was pretty elusive and probably used its green plumage to hide in the foliage. This was outside a house where the car parked in the drive looked as if it were slowly being reabsorbed by nature. Such vehicles fascinate me as I always wonder whether the person that parked them in such a position intended that such a spot would be the vehicle’s final resting place?
Some way further on and I entered a potato field. This is a fairly unusual crop for
and I cannot remember a time when I have previously had to wander across such a field. Being late summer the tops were starting to die off, suggesting that harvest time probably wasn’t too far away. The path wasn’t obvious across the field and initially I headed for the wrong corner before righting myself. It did give me the opportunity to see a good flush of camomile and poppies alongside the edge of the field. I also got a bit bogged down in the mud which seemed to be a bit of a problem in the corner. This reminded me that I had left the sandy soils of the forest earlier and was now crossing the clay vale that characterises this part of the Weald. Sussex
At the other end of the field was the delightful
, spoiled only by the A272 and the traffic that thunders through. I availed myself of the local shop, which supplied a useful array of refreshments and then had a squint at the church, which is covered with wooden shingle tiles. The refuse crew from Chichester District Council were busying themselves in the village when I wandered through – one of several sightings of the same round that covers a surprisingly large rural area. I can think of worse places to pick up rubbish from! village of Rogate
|Former Railway Bridge|
From Rogate I headed across the fields towards Nyewood with the
Downs looming ever closer to me. The fields were full of buzzing bees and hoverflies and there were also plenty of butterflies flapping between flowers. The late show of flowers alongside the fields suggested that herbicides are less commonly used in this area, which was good to see. I had to walk along the road for the last stretch towards Nyewood, which enabled quick progress but wasn’t a particularly pleasant stretch due to the odd speeding car.
Nyewood seemed to be more of a collection of houses rather than a proper village. I passed over an old railway bridge and remembered that the former Midhurst to Petersfield line passed through here so I went to have a look at the old station, which still exists although is now an office building. Originally the station was for Rogate and Harting, although it has to be said that it wasn’t convenient for either which probably explains the settlement having grown up around the station. Anyhow, the last train left from here in 1955 and the line looks almost completely forgotten now. See how it used to look at http://www.gravelroots.net/rail1.html . A little further down the road I encountered the refuse crew on their rounds once again, making short work of the bins along the road through the village.
I joined the Serpent Trail for a short while as I left Nyewood. This rather odd path is so-called because it resembles a snake as it navigates its way through the sandy geology of this part of the Weald. I suspect this will become a future project some day! Once past a small piece of woodland it was back out into open fields and had an encounter with a small group of horses. In fact the whole of this area seems very popular with horse lovers as I had already passed a number of fields full of horses.
A little further on and my encounter was a group of cows all charging into the field, presumably from milking. I stood and watched as they found their freedom once again. The farm hand reassured me by shouting that they wouldn’t be a problem for me. I guess some walkers are nervous of cows these days following a couple of well publicised cases where people have been killed by cattle. I was too far away to really worry about them too much.
I headed through fields to
West Harting, thinking that there were already definite signs of autumn even in early August. Apples were weighing heavily on trees and crops were almost ready for harvesting. I encountered the refuse crew one last time in the village, thinking that they were following my every move (or was it the other way round?), before meeting with the Sussex Border Path at last and heading north once again.
I passed by the substantial house called
, where I saw a sign for a woman for a 71 year old woman who had gone missing. I stopped to read it, for such a sign is quite unusual in rural areas like this. It seemed as if she had gone missing from her house in Quebec South Harting a week or so beforehand. I hoped she was alright – I gather she was suffering from Alzheimers (I later discovered that she was found safe and well!).
I had a bit of road walking ahead of me and the odd few houses I saw on the way all had superbly maintained gardens full of flowers. It must be lovely to have enough time of your hands to be able to keep gardens like this. Eventually I left the road and headed off across cow pastures to Down Park Farm. This place was a veritable junk yard. The whole farm seemed to be full of all manner of farm machinery that had been left to rust and rot away. It was like a long lost museum!
A little way past the farm the scenery changed once more to sandy heathland and the slightly sticky conditions that I had encountered completely dried up. I think that is why I like this type of countryside so much – it is rare that mud becomes a problem on these kinds of soils. I also briefly met with the Serpent Trail again but split when I reached the line of the old railway that I had met at Nyewood. I passed through the remains of the old bridge (only the abutments were left) and a huge house alongside. The house had incorporated some of the old trackbed in its garden, which afforded them a small platform like area above the surrounding countryside and a view across the field opposite. I should imagine it is quite a pleasant place to sit and read the newspaper!
A little further on and I crossed the River Rother, which was ablaze with the pink colours of Himalayan Balsam. This pest of a plant chokes river banks, but is undoubtedly quite pretty when in flower and seemingly beloved of butterflies and bees, which may account for its spread. Beyond came the section of path I had been dreading – the half mile trek along the A272. It’s a pity that the path planners hadn’t come up with a better solution here, for the dead straight section was pretty unpleasant especially because of the speed of passing vehicles.
I was pleased to leave the road at Durleighmarsh Farm. I travelled along what appeared to be an old coaching road through some dense woodland. This eventually opened out a bit to provide views across the surrounding countryside and I could soon see that I was closing the loop that I had started out on early that morning. The last section through the pine forest and Durford Heath was a most pleasant way of ending the day’s walk. Now much later in the day (it was almost 11am now), the mood of the forest was much changed. Gone was the early morning moisture and slightly damp atmosphere and now I was glad of the shade provided by the trees. As I wandered through the forest I disturbed a deer, who initially looked at me to assess whether I was a threat, before running away quickly through the trees. It was a lovely way to finish my day’s walking just as everybody else was getting ready to head out!
I was pleased that I began and ended my walk in the pine forests, rather than have it part of the middle as would have been the case if I had begun where I had left off last time. From here the next couple of sections will be through the sand-influenced heathland of
north west . It’s a part I am looking forward to exploring more! Sussex