4.7 miles (7.5 km) Approx: 1.5 – 2 hours walk.
A beautiful, warm spring day in God’s own Sussex. A gentle breeze ruffling the prodigious barnet as I alight the train at Burgess Hill, I set forth with a spring in my step and a certain amount of joy in my heart. The destination is Plumpton Station in the village of Plumpton Green, via the wonderful woodland of Blackbrook Wood.
Turn right out of the front entrance of the station and then immediately right again through the car park to join the footpath that runs alongside the railway track.
As paths beside railways go, the track from Burgess Hill station is something of a delight. Celandines and lesser stitchwort adorn the edges of the wooded path, the blossom of the blackthorn thick in the hedgerows. The path soon leads out of the town and fields open up on the left, where a public footpath leads across open fields heading more or less south west, through a path slightly incongruously lined with fairly recently planted trees, across a rather fine footbridge courtesy of the local Monday Group volunteers (purveyors of Sussex’s ponciest stiles and bridges) and up towards and then to the right of a prominent white water tower. The path then leads along a private road flanked by the grounds of Weald House, crosses a lane and then along another private road, through meadows, new woodland and between horse paddocks before a bank of celandines peeking through the hedges announces the arrival at a main road. Turning left along the road and just past the houses is a an entirely unmarked gate leading to a path across a meadow, over the railway by a brick bridge and then across another meadow with large oak trees dotted hither and yon. The path leads to a pretty little group of cottages on the far side and turns right along the far end of the field, along the side of another field (which I shared with a red kite for a while) and then comes out at a road junction, just past which is the entrance to Blackbrook Wood.
Blackbrook Wood is private land and its many paths can be wandered at your own risk. I didn’t tell you they were there, right? In fact, I don’t even know what paths you’re talking about. The main public footpath is clearly marked and easy to follow, but many hours can be lost simply wandering through the extensive hazel and hornbeam coppice. On my visit today the anemones were in full bloom, forming astonishing carpets and studded with copious celandines. Bluebells also carpeted and mingled with the anemones, but not yet fully in flower. Another week… I shall be back. I make no bones that this is by far my favourite patch of ancient woodland in Sussex and in late April and early May it is simply stunning. The carpets of flowers, the tiny paths weaving through the hazel and the beautiful, elegant hornbeam stools. The fresh new leaves opening on the hawthorn, both of the common and midland varieties, the latter an ancient woodland indicator species and talking of which, other indicator species abound, such as wild service tree, field maple and spindle. The path briefly leaves thick woodland at the other side of Blackbrook Wood and a gate affords a wonderful view of the South Downs, the high point directly in view is Streat Hill. The deeply rutted path, bordered here by primroses, herb robert, stitchwort and cuckoo flower soon plunges back into dense woodland with carpets of interspersed anemones, celandines and bluebells. At the further edge of this woodland the path reaches a crossroads. Although our way goes straight ahead across meadows, it is worth, as this time of year, taking a momentary detour along the southerly path to right. The bank here is a true delight, being smothered with primroses and bluebells and, on the day I was here, nearly fully open early purple orchids. Again, I shall be back soon to see them in their full glory.
Back to the path to Plumpton and the way is reasonably easily followed across a succession of meadows and paddocks, although the old, low, concrete footpath sign is difficult to spot at the white metal gates of a farm, but don’t panic, you do want to go through these, follow the path, climbing over the slightly odd bit of orange bailer twine that appears to want to prevent crossing another fine example of slightly overly-complicated stile courtesy of those fine, pedantic and, one suspects, slightly bored folk at the Monday Group. At Shergolds Farm, turn right onto a broad green “lane” between hedges, cross the farm drive and take the footpath on your left. Otherwise, it’s an easy walk along a path commanding fine views of the South Downs, which later becomes a track and then a metalled lane that brings you into Plumpton Green by the shop. Simply turn right here and it’s a couple of minutes to the station.