If you turn at the beautiful old farm at Bignor and drive up the narrow road onto the Downs, you will find a lane so steep and winding that you will be forced to change down into first gear to get the car up there. I have made this climb many times, both by car and on foot, but what I didn’t realise until yesterday was that as you make the second steep turn, you join Stane Street, the Roman Road from London Bridge to the East Gate of Chichester.
Not only that, but the “agger” of the old road itself can be clearly seen at the top of the hill, where the tarmac gives out, but the ancient route continues.
Now, I’ve been up to Bignor Hill dozens of times and I’d noticed this long, linear earthwork and, in my ignorance, had assumed that it must be some kind of medieval boundary marker. It was only a bit of idle map-perusal that led me to realise that this bank of earth was, in fact, built by Roman engineers nearly 2000 years ago!
So, of course, armed with this new knowledge I set off for a proper look. Eschewing my usual route along the edge of the scarp (which is beautiful), the old Road was easy to follow and, as it emerged from some trees it stretched so obviously ahead of me, towards Chichester I could scarcely believe it. As I walked back along the bank I’d seen before I couldn’t get over how clearly this was a road, now I’d seen it in the right way.
What a wonderful thing that a place one knows so well can turn out to have something so completely unexpected and exciting as this!
Now, I don’t know how you spend your evenings, but I spend quite a lot of mine looking at Ordnance Survey maps. Mostly, of course, I’m looking for places with rude names (Wellcombe Bottom being a particular favourite), but also I’m looking for places that might be nice for a walk. One such place is an area of open access woodland I noticed to the north of Fittleworth in West Sussex (Fittleworth of course is not a rude name, exactly, but it’s still an awesome one). Today being a nice day, I decided to go and have a look… And found this! Built as a church and a school in 1880, it stopped being used for education in 1925 and for worship in 1959.
One of the best things about living in Brighton is how easy it is to get out to the countryside. Often I drive out to the Downs, or Ashdown Forest or somewhere, but this walk starts at my front door and within ten minutes I’ve left the city and the green fields are all around me.
The path fell steeply away at my feet as I entered Darwell Wood and I was quickly deep in the quiet, dreaming woodland. I could see on the map that I wasn’t far from the reservoir, but I couldn’t see it. My heart sank a little and I wondered if it would be the same as Weir Wood Reservoir, where only the barest glimpses of the water can be caught from the path and a high fence prevents getting any nearer. The path brought me to the long, gently winding incongruous sight of a covered conveyor belt, running through the trees: there are gypsum mines in these woods and the conveyor stretches for just under 5km between them. Turning away, the footpath drops once again and suddenly, to my delight, I could see the water through the trees. Fighting my way through dense willows, I emerged on the shore. What a beautiful place. I didn’t want to leave, but leave I did and looped back round through the woods to the car.
Darwell Wood in the High Weald
Ashdown Forest is a former hunting preserve in East Sussex and is now one of the largest areas of open access land in the South East of England. More open heath, riven with winding streams than dense woodland, the “forest” part of its name refers to its status as a hunting ground, from the original Norman French meaning of the word. Having said that, it does have woodland and that’s where I mostly was today.
Ashdown Forest in the High Weald
Ashdown Forest in the High Weald
Bosham (pronounced “Bozzum”) Harbour is part of Chichester Harbour in West Sussex, which is basically an enormous network of low-lying estuaries and winding creeks and it’s one of the most *beautiful places on earth*. Look!