Thursday, 6 August 2015

Belloc's Mill

Dial Post Cottage
A few years back the old mill at Shipley sadly closed its doors to the visiting public when the charitable trust running it were told that their lease would not be renewed.  The mill was in full working order at the time and had been made famous during the 1990s as the home of Jonathan Creek.  We had visited the mill in the last few weeks of it being open but not been near it since.  We thought that it would be good to explore the area courtesy of walk 16 in Pathfinder Guide West Sussex and the South Downs.
As I wasn’t sure whether it was still possible to park at the mill since it closed, our walk started at Dial Post.  It was a beautiful summer day, quite unlike the weather forecast which we had been promised which was dire.  Our route initially took us along a farm road west out of the village hemmed in on both sides by large hedges.  The hedgerows were full of life with plenty of wildflowers, butterflies and other buzzing insects.

Blue Skies
Eventually we came to Bentons Place Farm, a very well appointed looking place that seemed to be hosting some kind of function.  Looking at how well manicured some of the buildings were here I also imagined that some are holiday lets or weekend retreats.  Some rather well dressed looking people said hello to us as we passed.  Further along the track we missed the turning that we should have taken and ended up on the road just beyond.  When we retraced our steps it was not surprising we missed it for the turning was quite overgrown.

Vantage Point
We crossed a small stream via a ramshackle looking old footbridge and came out on to a bridle path beyond that had all the appearances of a road that had never quite managed to make it to the tarmac era.  The packed lunch that we had brought on our walk was already calling to the children at this point and so we found a suitable spot to eat it.  Fortunately it was not quite wasp and fly season and so we managed to eat without being bothered too much by flying insects.

View From Tree Platform
Feeling fortified we continued on our way along the path.  The path had wide verges suggesting that it may once have had a more important purpose.  After half a mile or so we came to a most unusual feature, when we spotted a tree platform with a set of steps up to it.  We eagerly climbed up to look at the view but to be honest it wasn’t as good as you might think as mostly all we could see were other trees!  The main purpose of the platform is for wildlife watchers but there was precious little about for us to view.  Perhaps it is a better facility when there is less foliage on the trees?

Shipley Mill
A little further on and the path changed nature, becoming narrower and I suspect quite muddy during the winter judging by the ruts in the dry track.  As we rounded the next corner we came upon a small group of deer browsing in the hedgerow.  They didn’t stick around long when they saw us!  Down one side of the path was a very large deer fence – they are obviously not welcome in the surrounding agricultural land.

Shady Horses
At a road ahead the path dog-legged but largely kept in the same direction although it got ever narrower until we reached the smock mill at Shipley.  The mill was built in 1879 and was owned for many years by Hilaire Belloc, noted early 20th Century writer and MP.  Following his death in 1953 the mill was restored to working order in his honour after a period of dereliction.  The mill was leased to a charitable trust until 2009 and opened to the public until then, when the doors closed.  The mill is now in private ownership and off limits to any visitors.  It does look in much better shape now though than it did the last time I passed when the sails were off.  It gleamed in the sunshine and looked resplendent.

Knepp Castle
After passing the windmill we continued along the road through the village.  It is a very attractive village and has not been subjected to much in the way of new development unlike some of its neighbouring places.  The gardens were well tended and there were quite a few people around looking after them.  We passed by almost unnoticed and out into a neighbouring field where we found some friendly horses seeking some attention from the girls.  Luckily they weren’t as insistent as the one we met the other week near Warninglid!

Knepp Lodge
We passed through a small wood and crossed another road to enter the parkland of Knepp Castle.  The present day Knepp Castle is a rebuild of a castle built in 1812 but which burned down in 1904.  An earlier mediaeval castle ruin also exists at the other end of the estate but all that is left is a fragment of wall.  We did not pass that castle on this walk.  The modern day Knepp Castle is at the centre of an interesting estate for the parkland is not managed in the same way as many other country houses of this ilk.  The owners have tried to revert much of the estate back to grassland using natural methods after much of it was converted to arable farming due to World War II.  Our first impressions though were of a traditional parkland with large trees dotted across a landscape where you expect to see groups of browsing deer.
Kneppmill Pond

The path passes the castle at some distance away and out past a rather lovely looking lodge house.  We wandered down to Kneppmill Pond, a surprisingly large body of water.  Inevitably this was once a hammer pond for the Wealden Iron Age industry.  Now it is a calm oasis with plenty of wildflowers around the edge.  The water looked quite appealing with reflections of the big puffy clouds overhead.
Longhorn Cows
We turned back towards the road we had crossed earlier and passed a couple having a rather lovely looking picnic.  They were well advised to stay this end of the field for at the other end was a very large herd of cattle including a very large bull.  We gave them a wide berth, staying on the opposite side of a dry ditch in case anything untoward happened.  We needn’t have worried as they largely ignored us.  Nevertheless it was a relief when we crossed a bridge over the rather dry looking River Adur.  Only a small channel was flowing although the floodplain suggested that flooding does happen here during the winter months.
Painted Lady

On the other side of the Adur we then crossed a rather overgrown field where we finally saw a large herd of deer.  We had been expecting to see one all this time without previous success.  The group here though were quite relaxed – safety in numbers I guess?  It was out onto the road and a short stretch of road walking before the last stretch back to Dial Post.

River Adur
The last part of the walk crossed farmland and through a couple of farms.  I cannot say that the countryside was anything special although it was very pleasant walking country.  A couple of things caught my eye on the way back – a campsite populated with yurts and lots of butterflies especially small tortoiseshells.  Otherwise the heat was rather getting to us and so when we got back to Dial Post we dived into the beer garden of the Crown and had ourselves a nice long cold drink.

I have to say that much of this walk was rather ordinary but saved by the sights of Shipley Mill and Knepp Castle which are memorable sights.  Seeing the group of deer was a sight that my children very much enjoyed.  On the whole though I am not sure I would be in a great hurry to do this particular walk again.


  1. Fabulous blog Paul, I've enjoyed the walk via Flickr but this brings it all togather. I've said it before but your girls are really lucky to have such a Mum and Dad!

    1. Thanks very much Tom; you are very kind. Funnily enough blog came first and Flickr was supposed to act just as an overflow for pictures I couldn't fit on here!