Firle Beacon

Some particularly good pictures of clouds in this set. I walked in a great big loop from the car park at the top of Firle Bostal, over the Beacon itself, down to Stump Bottom (hehehe) and back up through Blackcap Farm.

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Brede High Wood

Brede High Wood is one of those places I’ve been driving past for years, always thinking “I should stop and have a look one day” and, eventually, on the 13th of September 2018: that day came. An almost magically beautiful woodland owned by the Woodland Trust a patchwork of ancient areas, old coppice, plantations and the occasional open glade, I was entranced by mysterious fungi, wild hops, portentous arches and mile after mile of beautiful, stately beech. Very glad I finally decided to stop and look around.

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Wivelsfield – Burgess Hill. 12.55km (7.8 miles) Approx 4 hours

hedgetreesclouds

Hey! Hoi! Hupla! It is Spring! There are bluebells! It has, therefore, become essential to set forth on a jolly stroll so as to look at them. Now, my original plan had been to do my usual walk from Burgess Hill to Plumpton via Blackbrook Wood, but the good conductors of Southern Rail had other ideas and went on strike, rendering Plumpton Station inaccessible by train. Due to this unexpected happenstance, I was forced to change my intended route and settled on starting at Wivelsfield and ending at Burgess Hill, this route taking one also through West Wood on the way to Blackbrook Wood. I had never been to West Wood before and it turns out to be lovely and if it hadn’t been for the striking train conductors, I would never have found it, which just goes to show that collective organisation of the labour force has benefits throughout society.

Now then. First of all let’s get over any sniggering you may wish to do at the name “Wivelsfield”, no I’m not sure what a wivel is either, nor why one might want them felt, but let’s move on. Upon exiting the station, turn right on Leylands Road, if you’ve come from the Brighton direction, you will pass under the railway. Those coming from the Far North, like Haywards Heath or somewhere, will not get to experience this joy. Or at least, I suppose you could just pop through the bridge and back again if you really want to, but I’m not sure why you would if I’m honest. It’s a just a bog-standard railway bridge and wholly unremarkable. Proceed to the big junction you can see ahead of you and turn left onto Valebridge Road. After a little while there is a signed footpath on the right – the first that you will encounter. Follow this between the houses and straight ahead where it crosses a road until you cross a stile and into a meadow.

The path then heads slightly off to the left and is easy to follow. At the other side of the field, you pass through a gap in the hedge and then along the side of the next field with a hedge on a bank to your left, when I was there it was smothered with bluebells and stitchwort, which was rather lovely of it. We know how to tell the difference between English bluebells and Spanish ones, right? The flowers of English bluebells are all on on side of the stalk, making it bend over at the top in a charming fashion, while the brazen Spanish ones have flowers on all sides and, thus, stand upright in a most unseemly way. I mean, it’s not their fault they don’t know how to behave. Despite this obvious poor behaviour, they are beginning in places to out-compete and widely hybridize with their English compatriots and how you tell them apart I couldn’t venture to say. You’re probably best off throwing your copy of the Wild Flower Key at it and running off screaming.

Follow the path ahead which becomes a private road past Ote Hall, which is written in that fancy writing on the map that means it’s well old and posh and stuff. Where the road turns to the right, you will see a footpath straight ahead, which you should eschew, favouring instead one that turns half right and goes over a stile or through a gate or something, the path then sticking to the edge of the field on your right, marked by a hedge.

Now, I think we’ve come to that stage in life where we really need to have a little chat about hedges. In the old days, before my old Dad was born even, fences were a very uncommon sight on farms. “But how”, I hear you cry, aghast. “How did they control the livestock? Were the cattle and sheep running hither and yon, rubbing shoulders with the horses and causing mischief in the barley fields?” Why no, they were not. They were kept in place by hedges. Now, I don’t know if you’ve seen a cow, but I’m guessing you probably have. Big things, cows, as I’m sure you will agree. Hefty heifers and, erm, bulky bullocks. “How”, you may be given to wonder, “did the often spindly, gappy-looking hedges one sees about the place ever stop half a ton of beef from going anywhere?”.

The answer lies in the amount of labour available on the fields before the advent of mechanisation. Farms could often support dozens of workers in various roles and, during the winter when there was less to do on the arable fields, the hedges would be laid. The stems of the hedge plants would be partially sliced away on one side and then the whole plant pushed over to about a 45 degree angle. Hazel stakes cut from the woods would be hammered in upright along the length of and inside the hedge and the cut plants weaved through the posts, the tops of which would be bound with plaited thin hazel or willow withies. This created a hedge much thicker and stronger than one left to its own devices. Strong enough, even, to give a bull second thoughts – and bulls are fairly unlikely to have first thoughts, let alone second ones.

This thick hedge not only stopped beasts of the field from scattering willy nilly about the countryside; they also provided habitat for birdies and small mammals and wild flowers grew along their edges. They often linked areas of woodland, giving a corridor for wildlife to move across the landscape out of sight of predators, such as barn owls. Between the wars, however, the tractor and combine harvester came to farming and the workers weren’t needed. Huge farms could, for the first time, be run by a mere handful of people. A tractor with a mechanical augur on the back can drill holes in the ground and put a fence up in no time. No-one laid hedges any more and all the wildlife that depended on them is ebbing away from the countryside.

But what’s the difference between a hedge and a hedgerow? More on that later.

At the end of the field, the path goes around the right-hand end of Great Otehall Wood and then left with the wood on your left. You should now be in a long narrow field and the path leads diagonally across it to a footbridge over a stream. Cross the stream and follow the path ahead until you reach a road, which you head more or less straight across, the footpath slightly to the left of the one you’ve just left and obvious, leading down beside and fenced off from the grounds of a house, you will soon enter a scrubby bit of woodland. Of no great age for the most part, there is some older hornbeam coppice dotted about and a few older oaks that show every sign of growing in an open aspect, rather than in a woodland. Large trees that have grown in woodland tend to grow tall and straight to reach the sun, while those grown in the open are often shorter, but their branches spread out from much nearer to the ground, creating more of a domed shape. Turn left.

At the end of the wood, the path becomes a road in front of some beautiful old cottages. I had intended to take the second path on the right into West Wood, but I got a bit over-excited and turned right too soon at the first footpath and found myself in a field, so turned left there and followed the edge of the field until I went over a stile and onto the bridleway I had been intending to take. Turn right here, into the woods and follow it all the way through. I have no idea as to the ownership of this wood, but there were no signs saying “PRIVATE” and there were many clearly well-used paths through it, so… So long as you keep going in the same direction as the path, which follows the right-hand side of the wood you should be fine… What I will say about this wood, though, is it is truly beautiful and packed with ancient woodland indicators, as well as carpets of bluebells and anemones. Really lovely. You can find out more about how to spot ancient woodland in my post on that very subject here.

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At the end of the wood, you will be able to see fields through the thin band of trees you are now in to your left. Ignore a path off to your left that crosses the field, which came as something of a relief, as that path was hellishly muddy on the day I was there, and follow the path leading slightly to the right and stay in the trees. After a short while you will come to a track which you turn right onto, past houses. The track will bring you to a road, where you turn left and then immediately right and into Blackbrook Wood. There may well be cars parked at the entrance, which has a short wooden fence and a footpath sign.

Blackbrook Wood is one of my favourite woods in Sussex, bursting with ancient woodland indicators, like extensive hazel and hornbeam coppice, midland hawthorn, wild service tree, field maple, wood banks, stumped trees, lovely sinuous edges and, of course, more carpets of bluebells and anemones.

If you follow the main footpath through the wood, you will come to a gap in the woods with a gate leading into a field between Blackbrook Wood and another wood and giving a wonderful view of the Downs. Streat Hill is the highest point on the ridge that you can see. Follow the track (which is often very muddy here) on through the second wood. At the end of this track, if you turn right you are then in what is probably an assart hedgerow.

Aha. Ahahaha. Hedgerow. What’s the difference between a hedge and a hedgerow? Very simply, a hedgerow has trees in, which a hedge doesn’t. A hedge is generally a planted thing, often made up of all the same species, and tended in the way described above to make an impenetrable barrier. Hedgerows tend to be made up of many different species and include large trees. As a rule of thumb, the more woody species present in a hedgerow, the older it is. Each different species adds about a hundred years, so by counting the number of species it is possible to estimate the age of the hedgerow. In the case of assart hedgerows, though, these are remnants of older woods that have been left behind when fields have been cleared and may, therefore, constitute a thin strip of ancient woodland in their own right. This one has wonderful banks of primroses, bluebells, anemones, stitchwort and early purple orchids in the spring.

Return now back the way you came. Once you re-enter Blackbrook Wood after the gate with the view, do not on any account turn left on the first path down to a second track. Neither should you turn right along this track through more hornbeam coppice. You certainly shouldn’t follow this to a set of metal gates leading to a road, then turn right on a path that leads back into the woods and I can’t believe you’re even thinking of turning left at the end of that path and following another path back to the entrance you came into the woods by. Shame on you, this is private property and there are signs to say so.

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Once you emerge back onto the road, turn left and cross the end of Spatham Lane and follow the marked footpath on the other side. Follow the path along the right-hand side of a couple of fields and then right, through the gate on the other side, ignoring a bridleway leading off to the left of the gate. You will now be in a fenced-off path with cottages behind an apple-tree containing hedgerow on your right. Turn left over the stile after a short while and cross the large meadow, walking to the right of the trees on the middle of the field. Cross the railway line on a brick bridge and continue walking in much the same direction. The path should be discernible on the ground. There are wonderful, expansive views of the Downs here. You will end up in the corner of the field and through a metal gate onto a fairly busy road. Turn left across the front of a house and then right along a track opposite the house.

Follow the track ahead, which after some horse paddocks becomes a path through an area of fairly recently planed oak woodland and over a stile into a field, the right-hand edge of which you follow until you reach a private road, which you follow ahead. Straight over the next road and along the driveway of Weald House, just past the entrance of which you will see a stile into a field, with a water tower prominent. Climb the stile (or maybe it’s a gate, I can’t remember, but whatever) and turn left, down the hill, through the hedge, straight on across the next field, over a wooden footbridge through another hedge and over a stream, straight ahead again up the other side and you will come to the railway line, where you turn right and walk along the well-made path to Burgess Hill station.

Pevensey Levels

Pevensey & Westham – Polegate 9th June 2015

pev ditch12 miles: approx 6 hours

Navigation:

Now then. As you may have noticed, this is quite a long walk. The going is pretty easy. They’re not called “Levels” for no reason, but still. 12 miles is a long walk if you’re not used to it. Walking on the 1066 Country Walk section is very easy to follow, but after that navigation becomes much more difficult. Paths are often poorly marked, have locked gates across them that require climbing or are almost impossible to follow. An OS 1:25,000 map of the area (Eastbourne & Beachy Head) is recommended along with the ability to read it. There was a lot of head-scratching and map-scrutinising on this walk.

Farm animals and wildlife:

This walk is almost entirely across pasture and on areas not accustomed to a high density of walkers. Almost all of the fields had sheep, cattle or both, which can react badly to humans and their dogs. As well as this, much of the walk is in the habitat of a great deal of wildlife, particularly bird species, some of them endangered. The disturbance caused by people and, in particular, their dogs, can be severely detrimental to such species.

Moo cows
Moo cows

Basically, be mindful of where you walk and how loud you’re being. And don’t bring a dog.

Right. That’s the finger-wagging done, let’s get on with the walk. This was a different sort of walk for me. In terms of landscape that is – I mean, I didn’t walk sideways, or on my hands or anything. It was still quite traditional with regards to putting one foot in front of the other and everything. No, it was the flatness that made it different.

The Levels are, as the name suggests, quite level. The reason for this is that it’s all reclaimed land. Until relatively recently in geological terms, the whole area was under water, at least at high tides. Indeed, throughout the first part of the walk, you will notice that you are walking towards a line of low hills that stretch along the horizon from west to east in front of you. This is what’s known as the Saxon Shore, which may give you a bit of a clue as to what sort of time period we’re talking about.

Attempts to drain and farm the Levels appear to have started as early as the 8th Century and really got going in the Middle Ages. This was mainly achieved by the expedient of waiting for the tide to go out and building sea walls to stop it coming back in again. This seems to have worked nicely until the “Great Flood” of 1287, which as the name suggests was a flood, and a great one at that. After that time commissioners were appointed to take charge of the drainage of the Levels and this was completed by 1696.

Wind pump
Wind pump

Even before they were drained, certain higher areas never flooded, even at high tides, leaving “islands” among the waves. These islands were known as “Eyes” or “Eys” and this name persists in names such as Horse Eye Level and even Pevensey itself. Indeed, before the drainage, boats were able to moor at Pevensey Castle, which is now some distance inland. Before salt water was entirely expunged from the area, harvesting salt was an important part of the local economy.

Blimey, I’ve written a page and we haven’t even taken a single step yet. Sorry about that. I do go on.

From Pevensey & Westham station, turn right and then right again at the mini roundabout. Turn left onto Peelings Lane, past a little pond on your left. After a short while you will come to the entrance to Castle Farm on your right. At first it doesn’t seem marked, but there is a small footpath sign on a telegraph pole to the right of the entrance. Go straight through the farmyard and over a stile into a meadow. The path is pretty obvious ahead of you and goes straight through a gap in a hedge, then turns slightly to the left – heading towards a footbridge. Cross the bridge, turn right (again the path is obvious) and a few yards later enter a hedgerow where steps take you up a short rise to the edge of Sussex’s attractive A27. Now then, I’m sure you remember the Green Cross Code, but I will say BE CAREFUL. The A27 is very busy and fast, but not a dual-carriageway at this point, so crossable with care. Down steps and through a hedge on the other side and we emerge on our first proper bit of Level. Paths immediately become slightly tricky to see on the ground, but you will see a footbridge ahead of you and slightly to the right. Head towards that – over another couple after that – and you will come to a much more substantial bridge over a rather wider stretch of water. This is Pevensey Haven.

Buttercups and red clover
Buttercups and red clover

Now, I’m not good at bridges at the best of times, but this one is terrifying. IT BOUNCES UP AND DOWN. Don’t like it. I ventured on to take some pictures, but amidst the sweating, shaking and crying, they didn’t come out very well. Mainly because I was convinced I was going to drop my phone in the river. Thems of you what is also not good at bridges will be glad to know that our path doesn’t actually cross the river at this point, but turns left along the near bank to join the 1066 Country Walk. The path here is very easy to follow alongside the river. A wind pump sings eerie, metallic songs at one point – the meadow next to it deep with buttercups and red clover on the day I visited.

Keep following this path until you pass a barn and get to a cottage on a lane. Turn right and cross the bridge, there are signs at the junction of roads saying you should turn right. Do so and then left, still following the 1066 Country walk. This little place what you have just passed through is called Rickney, which I find impossible to say without doing so in the style of Patsy Palmer bellowing “RICKAAAY” at Sid Owen in Eastenders of yore.

Taken from the terrifying bouncing bridge
Taken from the terrifying bouncing bridge

I like the sound of this 1066 Country Walk. Perhaps it was something William the Bastard did to unwind a bit after all that brutal slaying and before getting on with his nice little hobbies, like building the Tower of London and the Harrying of the North.

You then follow the path alongside a wide dyke called Herst Haven for a good mile and a half, which gives you ample opportunities to enjoy the wide views. Ahead of you, on the horizon, you cannot fail to notice the white pimple-like dome of an observatory in the grounds of Herstmonceux Castle. This was, until 1990, the home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory and is now a science centre. The castle itself is also open to the public and stages regular medieval events. You can also see the spire of All Saints church, Herstmonceux.

Gate with yellow on
Gate with yellow on

Eventually, you will reach a leaning post showing that the 1066 Country Walk turns to the right away from the dyke. Follow this round a clump of low trees and through a gate onto a green lane between hedgerows. Keep your eyes peeled for a wooden gate on your left with a bit of yellow tape on it. No other markings are apparent, but after a deal of going back and forth, peering at the map and muttering about contours, I ascertained that this was, indeed, the path I was after. From here on navigation gets much trickier. Ahead and slightly to the right you will see a set of gates. Head towards them, pass through, ignoring the marked path that leads off to the right, and follow the path leading diagonally off to the left, which will bring you back to the dyke. Turn right, through a gate and then, on the left, you will see another padlocked and unmarked gate. This is your path and you will probably have to climb over the gate. It is then easy to follow the way-marked path along the dyke to the road.

Entirely unmarked, padlocked gate
Entirely unmarked, padlocked gate

Turn left onto the lane, walk past a farm on the right and then turn right through two gates and onto a bridleway, called Marshfoot Lane. Easy going at first, this path follows the charmingly-named Whelpey Sewer before plunging into a thicket of blackthorn, which at times renders the way almost impassable. With a certain amount of swearing, it is possible to get by. This path also features a mysterious third rut in the middle of the track – covered with grass at this time of year, it is almost perfectly placed to turn your ankle. You will reach a crossing of paths, where one turns left across Horse Eye Level. From here on in I found the best way to navigate was simply to look ahead for the next footbridge, of which you will cross many. After a fairly substantial one, you will head into the left-hand corner of a field where various signs will show you have reached a bridleway. Go through the gate and turn right, over a brick bridge and immediately through another gate onto a decent track.

One of several thousand footbridges in the area
One of several thousand footbridges in the area

Follow the track, with the tower of Hailsham church obvious on the horizon, until the first footpath on the left. The path quickly goes round to the left, over a stile and then heads to the right, towards a footbridge. We’re back to navigating by looking for the next footbridge. After the first one, the path heads slightly to the left crosses another bridge, goes straight ahead and over a bigger bridge, ignoring a path to the right. Straight ahead after this bridge will bring you to a byway. Turn right and then immediately left.

We’re now at Down Level and I nearly got a bit lost here. Yes, even I, your experienced guide can get lost from time to time. That time in Churchill Square Shopping Centre being a particularly notorious example. Also, my battery had gone flat, so I was unable to take helpful pictures, which is a shame. Anyhoo, through the first gate (or maybe I climbed it, I can’t remember) the path can be discerned ahead of you, just. To the left of the end of a fairly wide dyke and then along a narrower one, do not follow the more obvious track round to the right, but keep heading straight on and you should get to a gate with an earth bridge across a ditch. Through that, past a couple of small meres on your left and each bridge was fairly obvious from the last. In the end, you will get to a field surrounded by hedgerows with the roof of a house visible. Head towards it and the path goes through a knackered metal gate onto a road.

Evil
Evil

Turn left onto the road and then right just before the next house. I must confess I completely lost the path here, after crossing the nice footbridge, the appearance of which filled my heart with hope that the way ahead would now be easier to find, only to have my hopes and dreams cruelly dashed by the lack of any further way marks. I went through an obvious chalky gap in the hedge to the left after going through a bit of scrubby stuff and being barked at by a dog. I then went straight ahead to a gate that let me onto the road. I am not at all convinced that this is the correct route of the path and neither did I see any further evidence of it from the road. Nevertheless, turn right onto the road, head straight ahead at the junction, ignore the first path on the right and take the second one through a gate and onto a track at Windyridge. This public footpath is marked if you care to search hard enough under the ivy that cloaks the gatepost.

Two for the price of one
Two for the price of one

Follow the track, which leads to a dead end, slightly alarmingly surrounded by high, locked gates, but never fear. To the left of the gate in front of you is a stile that can just about be reached through nettles. Over that and follow the hedge to your left down into a corner of the field, over a stile surrounded by beautiful trees, turn right and through another gate or over a stile or something, it’s way marked. The path goes through a narrowing gap into a horse field with farm buildings ahead. The path goes all doowacky here as well. It turns right, past a huge mound of chalk and reaches a track. I turned left here and walked through the farmyard, which almost certainly isn’t the right way, but nobody stopped me. I then came to the entrance to a rather fine house called Priesthawes and the marked footpath leads to the left, through the gates and past the front of the house. Follow the drive round to the right and down to a road.

Another ditch
Another ditch

Cross the road and follow the track on the other side, which turns right past the end of a belt of trees. The path then turns left immediately, along the edge of the belt of trees. It’s not way-marked and I had to climb over some kind of peculiar pipe thing, but this is definitely the way. You will come to a large pond on your right, which you leave to your right, following the path on the edge of the field and over a stile. The path then leads along the hedge to your right, with glimpses of the pond through it. When the hedge turns to the right, you turn to your left where the path crosses a stile and is then fenced off along the left-hand side of the field. This brings you to a track and turning left takes you over a bridge across the A27. Straight on at the other side, following an old lane with a new housing estate on your left, through a gate at the end, follow the road straight on to the main road. Turn right. Just past the Old Polegate Station restaurant, turn left through a gap in the wall and follow the road, turning right onto a path between high fences. At the end of this path you will see a particularly attractive car park, Polegate Station and, even more excitingly, a Co-op, from which I immediately purchased a pork pie.

Litlington Circular – via Lullington Heath and Friston Forest: 27th of May 2015

4.24 miles (6.8 km) – About 1 ¾ hours, but see below.

heather, gorse, scrubThis walk starts from the village of Litlington in East Sussex, which is not served by public transport, as far as I’m aware. The No.12 from Brighton or Eastbourne stops at Exceat for the Seven Sisters Country Park and it’s an easy walk from there to Litlington via the road, the Cuckmere River or through the forest.

chalk track hedgrowsAlthough this walk says it’s only an hour and three quarters, when I did it I was out for about three hours, partly because there’s some lovely places to sit and smoke contemplative roll ups, but mostly because the whole point of this walk was to go and have a look at Lullington Heath, which is Access Land and can be wandered about on at will, so the instructions only tell you how to get there and back again. The rest of your time may be spent gaily tripping hither and yon through the heather. Did I say heather? On chalk downland? More of that in a bit.

Just to the north of the church in Litlington (if the church is on your left, you’re going the right way) there is a bridleway leading off to the right, through a farmyard. Go up there. It turns diagonally to the left, marked by a post, past a barn and then turns right onto a chalk track between hedgerows. Follow this path until you get to Lullington Heath.

Well. That was easy to explain.

Winchester's Pond
Winchester’s Pond

Oh wait, no, there’s more. You will get to a junction of bridleways and a Natural England information board welcoming you to the Heath. To the right of the board is a gate, through which is Winchester’s Pond, an 18th Century dew pond. We’ve done dew ponds before, right? And you remember it all, yeah? Man-made ponds dug to collect rainwater for sheep to drink? Well anyway, this is a particularly lovely one and there’s a bench upon which to sit and catch one’s breath while enjoying the vista. Having just read the information board which said there were newts in the pond, my companion for the day said he could see one – pointing in the vague direction of the pond. After a certain amount of “No, you idiot. There. By the big reed.” I spotted what he was pointing at and, with a small whimper, raised myself from the bench to get a closer look. On closer inspection, what we’d thought was a newt turned out to be a rather handsome grass snake, which was lovely to see. In all my years of wandering about the countryside, I’d never seen one swimming before.

From here we headed vaguely north east and wandered about to have a look at the heath.

Common Sorrel on Lullington Heath
Common Sorrel on Lullington Heath

So, what’s so special about Lullington Heath? Put simply, it is the largest and best example of Chalk Heath in the country. And just what is chalk heath? Well, now. In general, there are three types of plants, with regards to the soil types they’ll grow on. Generalists, which will grow more or less anywhere, calcicoles, which like to grow on alkaline soils, such as chalk and limestone and calcifuges, which grow on acid soils such as sand and sandstone. Heath is a community of plants that grows on acid soils. The observant amongst you will have noticed that the South Downs are made out of chalk. So why are there acid-loving plants growing on chalk? Basically, at the end of the last ice age, the water from melting glaciers flooded over the chalk and wore it away until it exposed the underlying clays of the Weald. Such was the ferocity with which this water surged across the landscape, it washed some of this clay up onto the top of the chalk and deposited it there, making a clay-with-flints cap on top of the Downs. Clay is slightly acidic and this was enough for acid-loving plants to get a foothold. Chalk Heath was once fairly common on the Downs, but due to over-grazing it has almost all disappeared.

In many places it is possible to see where there would once have been chalk heath, as the one calcifuge that continues to grow in those places is gorse, that enormous prickly bastard with the yellow flowers and a scent of coconut. Chalk heath is rare because it can be killed both by over-grazing and under-grazing. Over-grazing will trample and otherwise remove the delicate plants, which are barely clinging on in that environment at the best of times; while under-grazing will allow the gorse to take over and shade out those same little sensitive fellas. Only with the right level of grazing can chalk heath flourish, which is what Natural England are attempting to achieve at Lullington. Besides heather and bell heather, over 250 species of plants (both acid and chalk loving) grow on the heath, around 100 kinds of birds visit and about 50 nest there. Only about a third of the heath is actual heathland, with the rest being chalk grassland and scrub woodland.

Common Hawthorn (Maybush) in flower. In May.
Common Hawthorn (Maybush) in flower. In May.

Scrub is something a lot of people put a lot of effort into getting rid of. It is regrowth – mostly of common hawthorn, ash and sycamore – that has grown up since grazing became less common on the Downs between the wars. It shades out smaller plants and destroys the grassland. However, there is a place for some scrub on the Downs as it provides habitats that would otherwise not be present, particularly for nesting birds.

Friston Forest
Friston Forest

Once you’ve had enough of mimbling about on the Heath, follow the track you came in on until you reach a bridleway on your right, which leads down and round a long, sweeping corner. Eventually, you’ll go through a gate and into Friston Forest. Although, as a Forestry Commission forest, much of Friston is rather boring pine plantations, this bit of it is actually rather lovely, with a great deal of mature beech growing on either side of the broad track. Go straight on at a meeting of several paths and a few hundred yards later take the narrower path into the trees on your right. After 200 yards or so, you will come to a gate into a field. On the day I was there, there was a profusion of early purple orchids just before the gate. Follow the fence to the bottom of the field where the path becomes a chalk track and follow that all the way back to Litlington.

Early Purple Orchids
Early Purple Orchids

Once back to the road, a right turn will bring you back to the start point and will take you past Litlington Tea Gardens, which is well worth a visit, should you fancy scones, clotted cream, jam and tea while sitting in a shed – and frankly, who doesn’t?