Monday, 3 August 2015

St Leonard's Forest

Wine Crop
It was one of those afternoons where it was very difficult to know how the weather would go and even the forecast was non-committal and changing every hour.  What we couldn’t be sure of was whether it would rain or not.  On that basis we were up for a walk but not anywhere too exposed or long distance and so we picked walk 1 in the Pathfinder Guide Volume 24 St Leonard’s Forest (also walk 6 in volume 66 West Sussex and the South Downs).

Lazy Sheep
The car park in the forest is most convenient and seemed to have plenty of room.  What we also discovered was that the weather had brightened up considerably and we were soon shedding layers.  The beginning of the walk was far from pleasant – the first half mile or so was mostly along roads that were surprisingly busy for country lanes.  We had to stand back from passing cars a few times – not a pleasant experience with small children.  Eventually though we found our path leading off from Golding Lane and the memory of the awful start was soon banished as we entered some delightful woodland at Alder Copse.  In the adjacent fields some very lazy looking sheep were lying around chewing the same grass it seemed forever (or maybe it was just gum?)

Roosthole Pond
Our straight path dropped into a small valley filled by Roosthole Pond.  This was quite clearly a hammer pond left over from the era of the Wealden Iron Industry.  Originally this whole area would have been wooded but the gaps in the forest were probably once victims of the industry, which relied on huge amounts of wood in the form of charcoal to fuel the furnaces.  Now the hammer ponds are treasured by anglers and many are fishing holes under the auspices of angling clubs.  Indeed there were a couple of fishermen here who looked like they were here for the long haul judging by the amount of provisions and stuff they had with them to keep themselves comfortable.  Wouldn’t be my sort of thing but there is no doubting the beauty of the surroundings and I could understand them at least on that level.

St Leonard's Lodge
Once across the dam end of the pond we climbed up through the woodland dominated by birches to reach the road once again.  This time we were pleased not to have to walk along it but cross instead and pass a most attractive looking lodge house.  I suspect that this would once have been part of the St Leonard’s Estate, although the main house was out of sight.  Our onward path was dead straight, suggesting that it may have been an estate road?  The path now though is only a rough track and not the sort of driveway that I have seen at other country estates.  Although bound by trees the fields to the left and right were agricultural and not part of the forest.

After about half a mile or so we reached a couple of ponds although only the map really told us that as the ponds themselves were so vegetation choked that you could have been forgiven for not knowing they were there at all.  We took a sharp right at this point and headed along a narrow path that was not very well used judging by the amount of vegetation growing along it.  Indeed, after about 100 metres or so we gave up on the path altogether and started walking alongside the neighbouring field, which is what most other people seemed to have been doing judging by the path that had been forming there.  I actually remembered walking along here when I walked the High Weald Landscape Trail a few years back.

Heather Crop
Woodland soon gave way to heathland and we crossed an area that looked like it was beloved of people on wheels rather than foot.  I suspect that it was a combination of off road vehicles and cycles although such was the dusty nature of the terrain that it was difficult to tell which.  Luckily this section was very short-lived as we descended into the main part of St Leonard’s Forest.  As we passed down into yet another small valley the air was filled with the sound of commentary from the final of the women’s tennis at Wimbledon.  A farm worker was sat in his tractor having a break and listening intently to the action at the All England Club.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed this section of the High Weald Landscape Trail.  The forest was full of very tall conifers and the forest floor was covered with wild flowers, mostly foxgloves, quite a few orchids and musk mallows. It also meant that there were plenty of insects around especially bees and butterflies.  We had some fun trying to keep a tally of how many different types we could see.  I would like to tell you how many we kept a record of but unfortunately we lost count.

Forest Clouds
We turned at a large track and headed south back towards the car park and saw the unusual sight of a backpacker who passed by shortly after.  Backpackers in Sussex are fairly rare, especially away from the South Downs and to see a lone one was almost unheard of.  Turns out that he was local and walks these paths regularly.  We weren’t sure what he had in his pack – maybe he was foraging rather than staying overnight somewhere?

Musk Mallow
By now the sun was really hot and the walk was a pretty thirsty business.  We were very pleased that the walk was short for that reason.  At the next junction of paths we had to be sure that we picked the right one as it wasn’t too easy to choose.  Thankfully we chose right straight away and our path descended through a much more densely wooded section of the forest back to the beginning.  This was not a taxing walk by any means but probably perfect for the type of day it was.  Importantly it got us back into the habit of walking once again.

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