A ‘proper’ wood and a fair hike to get there too, at least for me from Lewes. A 53 minute journey took over an hour and a half. I was trapped in Lewes and the western edge of East Sussex thanks to contraflows at Earwig Corner out to Ringer/Uckfield to the north east and along the A27 to east Eastbourne at Drussilla’s Roundabout and Polegate – and thus it will be for many months to come.
I’m calling this my first ‘proper’ wood because of its scale 647 acres is far larger than the woods of between 11 and 25 acres that I have been to so far. There is a car park (ample during the week, though I am sure they struggle in better weather, weekends and holidays). An intrepid regular announced to a friend that he was doing the entire circuit; I asked him how long this would take. ‘3 hours to 2 ½ hours he told me’. My intention was to spend 1 ½ or so – to see how I got on and whether Evie could take it. We took 3 hours to do the circuit with only a few diversions along the way.
I only have my phone and the Woodland Trust ‘Yours to Explore’ guide. I take a photo of the map in the car park and default to Google Maps from time to time to help spot me locally. I know I should be coming out with an Ordnance Survey Map and a compass. I haven’t even downloaded the compass App to my phone. Nor have I read the Woodland Trust Management Plan which would give me the most thorough insight into what the wood is all about, and where it is going over the next 5 to 25 years.
Simply because I like to be alone I went in the opposite direction of the fellow who set off ahead of me; I knew that this would see me walking in parallel to a busy road to begin with before cutting down towards the lake.
Out early the dew got through my ‘Vegetarian Boots’ – these must be replaced. A spray on ‘waterproofer’ has not worked. What I have here is a canvas fabric that looks like leather with a metal toe-cap – they are sturdy, but not waterproof and make my feet sweat.
I have in my pocket a swatch of Woodland Trust ‘leaves’ but quickly defer to Picture This to familiarise myself with the tree, the shrub, the plant: Scotch heather, sweet chestnut, spruce at my first stop.
Coppicing or birch and conifers
Along the way I learned some lessons about coppicing, first birch, later conifers – the aim to return as much of the wood as possible to ‘ancient woodland’.
I’ve started to ‘collect’ images of benches and markers featuring dedications. It would interest me to know if the public would like to know more, or if the relatives of those remembered in these dedications would like to know more about the person or people? It could be their relationship with the land and this wood, rather than a personal biography or details of any contribution. Do I look into it further? Local newspaper archives might say something, for example, or some details were sent to the Woodland Trust.
As I walk I keep a general eye on the time and the position of the sun – I’ve always felt I had a great sense of direction and for this walk I know I am walking four sides of a rectangle – more or less. A lake is always a focal point and there is a large one here – somewhere.
Should I be wandering off the path from time to time? I love to follow a watercourse, see how fallen trees have brought regeneration. It is noticeable right across this corner of south east England, especially on the higher ground or close to the sea, how many trees went down on 27th October 1989. I was at The School of Communication Arts, London and we came down a few days later to spend an afternoon taking a brief from a school for special education needs students in Brighton – the collapse of mature trees along the Old Steine in Brighton was devastating.
I’ll pick up litter when I see it – within reason. I am aware that dog’s can wee on dropped litter and the a cup with shit in it is a thing – as if chucking a Mcdonalds coffee cup into the trees is somehow achieving something. When I find a can or cup or dog or bag of poo in a tree I assume this is some truculent fellow walker rather than the person who dropped the litter.
We made it to the lake.
Then onwards. Having got this far and preferring a circular walk I decide to press on. Evie is content and finds plenty to do along the way – her hip is holding out and so is mine :
And onwards around the lake – the reservoir dam is my goal, though it will have to be given a wide berth.
The quality of the paths, and the bridges and steps is commendable and as I pick more and more Woodland Trust woods it is crucial given that my left leg (hip/knee/ankle) is unreliable. These walks are in part a way to build on muscle and maintain motion without having to go to the gym, or to routinely cover the set of exercises provided by a physiotherapist. I understand that muscle will provide greater support that has been lost during lockdown when 500 steps a day rather than 5,000 or 10,000 was my norm.
When I return to these woods some of these landmarks will be my visual guide to place me either side of the lake.
We make it onto a single-lane road by the reservoir and use it to bring us in front of the dam and back to the woods.
We stumble upon Seven Acre Woods and follow the polite notices around their home, grounds, visitor encampment and Kidz Woods. Though currently closed, I quite like the idea of a night or two here to relax in the woods rather than having to ‘do it all’ in a 3 hour hike.
By now we are starting to flag; thankfully I have a bottle of water. Evie has plenty of opportunities to take a dip in a stream and have a drink too. Only over the last 15 minutes, with the sun out, and on an uphill climb does she hand behind a little. My hope is that I don’t find myself an hour from the car and needing to carry here – she is 13, but appears to thrive on this kind of outing (as do I).
The last stretch back to the car in the East Gate Carpark. A 3 hour amble, that might have taken 2 ½ hours or less had we not slightly lost our way and I had not taken so many detours into the woods to explore. There was no picnic break.
A bench dedication and its view: