Half term brought some beautiful weather with hints of spring in the air and we were all eager to get out. We needed somewhere that was fairly dry underfoot and settled on Ashdown Forest. This part of Sussex has always been a bit of an enigma for me - I've travelled through dozens of times over the years but walks are still quite rare. In fact I realised when seeing a picture of Nutley windmill that I'd never seen it up close and felt that I had to fix that. I delved into a different guidebook for this walk, Cicerone Guide Walking in Sussex - this is walk 11.
We parked opposite Duddleswell tea rooms. I remember this place being impossibly busy back when I last visited more years ago than I remember. Today though it was empty and closed - probably a lot less clientele around on a winter's midweek day in February. As soon as we got going we had some difficulty with route finding. That isn't unusual to be honest and probably why I haven't been up here too often. There are so many paths that it isn't easy to know whether you are on the right one...
We got in a bit of a tizz trying to find our way through the bracken but in the end the view of Nutley in the distance and the lie of the land got us there. I was rather surprised at how many houses had been built on the edge of the ridge and even a new build was going in. That was perhaps the biggest surprise of all but sure it must just be replacing an existing house?
We dropped down a broad ride through the forest to a confluence of streams at the bottom of the valley. Even though we had barely covered a mile the children were already angling after their picnic and this seemed as good a place as any to stop. Picnicking in February is not quite the same as it is in June but this little place did make for a lovely place to stop.
After refreshments we continued on our undulating route towards Nutley. We could see the grave of some airmen who crashed here during wartime. Our route this time did not pass close enough to look more closely - we'll come back another time I think. We routed around a farm that looked as if it were geared up for equine farming rather than anything foodwise. There was a lot of activity in this area, mostly men and Range Rovers. Not sure what this was about but was thankful that it did not seem to involve shotguns this time.
Once past the farm we dipped down into another valley before climbing up through the woods and into the village of Nutley. I've always though that this otherwise attractive village is rather spoiled by the A22 running through the middle of it. Villages with main roads running though the middle of them seem to lose a lot of their charm and this one is no different. It was lovely to see gardens getting some colour back though - snowdrops and crocuses were on show in many of them - the bleakness of early January seems a long time ago already.
We passed by the small church and the school before diving down a lane to take us away from the village. This was a very pretty lane and made for easy walking for about a mile. The houses scattered along the lane had beautiful gardens and great views; they must be idyllic places to live especially as the road noise had already died away. At the end of the lane the path climbed up through a small stretch of woodland and came out at a pink cottage. We again lost our way a little here as the instructions didn't seem to match what was on the ground. Luckily there was a path a little further along the road that we took although that meant we had to double back to the windmill.
Nutley Windmill is claimed to be the oldest working windmill in Sussex and was built around 1700. Sadly it wasn't possible to have a particularly close look as it is understandably locked behind gates when not open to the public. The sails were also pointed away from us so I had to make do with the view that I got. The sun helped though, coming out briefly from behind the clouds to shine on it and really light it up. I dwelt here for a short time before rejoining the girls who had already moved on.
Our route now descended across typical Ashdown Forest country - bracken and small areas of woodland criss-crossed by broad rides/ fire breaks. At the bottom of the valley the path became more intimate as we crossed over a stream and we followed it for a short time skirting around a rather grand building called Old Lodge. Children were starting to lag by this point and so sweets had to come out to help them along :) We also caught sight of a goldcrest in the hedge but try as I might I could not get a decent shot of it as it did not sit still for more than a second! It was lovely to see Britain's smallest bird though - I don't remember a time when I have seen one this close before.
|Camp Hill View|
We found our way onto the drive to Old Lodge and followed it all the way up to the main road. The sun was fully out now and we had an extended sunny interval as meteorologists would call it. The trees that we walked through seemed to have an extra glow about them, especially the silver birches that positively gleamed! The end of the driveway marked the start of the best bit of the whole walk. We now headed alongside the main road and over Camp Hill, an iron age hill fort. While the fort itself is not particularly impressive the views out from here most certainly are. We could see right down into Hampshire from here and a squint through the binoculars enabled us to see Blackcap, Devils Dyke and Chanctonbury Ring. By following the ridge of the South Downs west Bignor Hill could be seen and beyond until even through the binoculars I couldn't determine exactly what I was seeing.
Just after Camp Hill we lost the sun for a short while. The amazing thing about the sun going in at this time of year is that it transforms the landscape into a much duller version of itself almost immediately. Sadly this was the case as we passed by Ellson's Pond - we didn't pause to admire it like the people in the guide book did. The sun did come back a little way further on though and immediately the temperature increased too! By now we were almost back to the starting point and the onward track that we had missed at the start of the walk was rather more obvious. Perhaps there is a case for starting the walk at Ellson's Pond to make route finding a bit easier?
This eventually became a very satisfying walk but the route finding did prove to be a problem a number of times on the way round. Mud was in short supply thank goodness, meaning that this is a pretty good winter option. Ideally though try to pick a day when the tea room and the mill are open for maximum enjoyment :)
|Duddleswell Tea Room|