An unexpected midweek treat came along courtesy of the teacher’s strike recently – a whole day off to go walking with my oldest daughter! She had a hankering to look at a Tudor Ruin as she has been learning about this slice of English history and so I constructed a short loop walk that would also enable me to go fungi hunting too. My Tudor ruin of choice? Cowdray House near Midhurst seemed an excellent choice and I thought that a reprise of some of my route on my last outing would enable me to find plenty of fungi.
We started our walk at the edge of Midhurst and wandered along the main road towards Chichester for about ¼ mile or so through a narrow channel between leaves and chestnut casings. Most of the chestnuts seemed to have fallen off the trees now, meaning that our path would be covered in small spiky casings. My daughter loved it – she wanted to gather as many chestnuts as she could until I told her that most were so small they would barely feed a squirrel! Before leaving the main road we also caught a glimpse of the old rail tunnel that ran under the road. The line has been closed now for longer than it was open but it was good to see that not all of it has disappeared in Midhurst. We would be seeing more of it later…
It was a relief to cross the road and head into the woods especially as the road was not conducive to conversation. Our path was initially like a sunken track – I suspect that it was the original route of the road and my suspicions were confirmed by the passing of a rather salubrious looking pub called The Royal Oak. The whole place looked pretty new and a quick check on Google maps told me that the place was derelict when the street cameras went through in 2009. Good for the owner! I hope that he fares well and manages to make the place run well for taking such a huge leap of faith.
A short while later and we ended up on the lane that I had walked along last month, this time heading in the opposite direction. It was a little scarier this time as I had to think about road safety for two. Luckily we had no traffic on the way but did see plenty of very large fungi that obviously thrived in the moist shady conditions of this sunken lane. We passed Dunford House, now a training centre but a place with a fascinating history. It had once been the home of Richard Cobden, a Victorian Statesman and liberal proponent of Free Trade. Indeed his ideas led to the setting up of the Great Exhibition in 1851. It would be a fascinating place to visit and look around if the opportunity ever arose.
Not far past here and we entered the woods of Heyshott Common. Our first priority was to find a dry spot where we could have lunch, not an easy task after all the rain we had been having. We eventually found a useful tree stump, one of the few not to have been colonised by fungi. Once satisfied by lunch I had a human daughter again and we set about looking for as many different types of fungi as we could. Sadly my knowledge of species isn’t that great and so although I can be reasonably sure that we found at least a dozen different types the only ones I could be sure of identifying were fly agaric, birch bolete, angels bonnets and common earthballs. It was fun to look though and for my daughter it was an interesting insight into life on the forest floor in autumn.
|Negotiating the Puddles|
We wound our way around the woods enjoying the solitude and passing only one other person, a horse rider who galloped off on an adjacent path. We soon reached the old railway once again, passing over an unusually well appointed bridge. The trackbed below looked quite an enticing walk, although officially this section is not a right of way. We pressed on enjoying the relatively dry conditions of the sandy soil under our feet. That soon changed though as puddles started appearing and then fearsome mud. We could have almost traced the line between sand and clay in the geology underneath us!
|Losing the Sunshine|
As we looped around the small viallge of West Lavington a rather sickly sweet smell greeted us. In fact after a short while both of us started to really hate the smell, which was emanating from the remaining flowers of the Himalayan Balsam. I’m not sure if they put out this sweet smell at the end of their growing season to attract the few insects that are left, but it was almost overpowering in some places. Surely any bee would able to smell that from a mile away!
Our sunshine also disappeared as we passed Kennels Dairy, one of the farm buildings for the Cowdray Estate (as denoted by the amber coloured window frames). Overhead were some rather threatening looking rain clouds, although in reality these had a bark worse than their bite and they didn’t materialise into anything in the way of rain. What was more concerning was that we were nearing Cowdray House and the clouds threatened to overshadow the house for pictures.
|Proffering Its Gifts|
We rounded the earthworks for Midhurst Castle first. This was a Norman castle that has long since disappeared, save for a few stones denoting some of its foundations. The earthworks still look castle like but only because I knew what I was looking at (the map shows its existence!). My daughter didn’t give it a second glance – she was focused on trying to find chestnuts that were a worthwhile enough size to take home.
Sadly Cowdray House was closed for the season – we missed it by about six weeks. However, even looking from the distance of the perimeter wall was quite atmospheric, especially with the billowing clouds that were passing overhead. There was a particularly large one though that was blocking the sun and it was most annoying. I had to wait some time before I got a decent shot away. The house burned down in 1793 and has lain in ruins ever since. The family that owned it declined to move back in, convinced that there was a curse on the building and moved to a replacement house nearby on the estate. A Heritage Lottery Grant was used to stabilise the ruins recently and it now hosts tour groups during the summer season.
The building is clearly beloved of photographers for we saw a couple further away with all their equipment set up waiting for just the right shot. As we passed them on the causeway back to Midhurst my eyes were drawn to a large and rather unusual looking spider that was crawling along a wood fence. I quickly got a snap, not drawing my daughter’s attention to it – she hates the blighters!
We plodded up through the streets of Midhurst, a very affluent town that is something of a tourist honeypot. It is now the self styled capital of the South Downs, being the HQ of the National Park, but in truth it is more of a Wealden town in character. There are plenty of tea shops and small businesses geared up to serve the tourist trade. However, out of season it remains an agreeable place although there did seem to be an unusually large number of children wandering about looking a bit lost, courtesy of the teacher’s strike. I was rather glad of the educational opportunity it afforded me – it was lovely to spend the day with my nature and history loving eldest child. Let’s hope the enthusiasm lasts J