I visited Markstakes Common May on the 7th, 12th and 17th May 2022.
My discovery of Markstakes Common came about by accident: I was headed for a return trip to Beechmill Wood but finding roadworks blocking the road to Newick north of Chailey and a diversion too out of my way to bother with I doubled back, checked on The Woodland Trust website ‘Find A Wood’ and found this gem – a wood and common up there with any of the best ancient deciduous woods I’ve discovered around East Sussex over the last nine months. I was a bit late for any wood anemones or bluebells at their very best.
Nonetheless, even if not in their full glory, the common awash with bluebells on 7th May was wonderful to see – as if a blue mist were lifting off the common.
Then I stumbled across a diversion in the path put there to protect an ancient oak – 360 years or more old, I believe.
Then, there are more, many more ancient trees: oak, beech, ash and hornbeam.
Courtesy of Friends of Markstakes Common there are various detailed maps picking out the ancient trees and the different habitats; it is this that has me fall in love with the Common; it has variety.
There are ancient trees (I’m thinking 34 trees with ‘ancient’ status meaning they are over 350 + years old).
Yet there are trees of all ages, open spaces and meadow, pools and ponds and seasonal streams. I can’t get enough of it. This suggests to me a space that will still be thriving in another 200 years time.
I’d gladly live close-by. Each time I have come here I meet and talk to someone: an elderly gent with whom life-stories were shared, a mum with kids two young for school but hurtling around like puppies. Most of us had a dog, And young couples too. Everyone is happy to talk and share their love for this space.
It is messy; trees fall and are left, maybe a few branches cut away to assist people on a walk. There is mud, partially dried up seasonal streams, a pond of sorts …
Parking is easy; it is well-shaded off a quiet road by a sturdy stone walk with a large access gate. Unlike every other wood of its kind I have been to around the county there is not one sign here relating to the Country Code, the need to keep dogs on a lead, footfall because of bluebells or a myriad of other concerns that can cause organisations a flurry of worries, costs and concerns that necessitate information boards and other announcements in various forms that can stand up to the weather (or not), or look dated … but does any of it work? My understanding is that all that works are ‘ambassadors’ on the ground talking to as many people who visit a space as possible and sharing the word.
I even have to wonder if information boards and signage simply encourage footfall and visitors by their very presence and do little to contain behaviours: some people drop little and let their dog(s) shit where they like, others do not. Some people trudge across beds of wood anemones and bluebells in search of a unique shot or photo op while others keep back.
These trees and these woods will, I very much hope, still be here long, long after we have gone. All we have to do is avoid killing them off while we’re around.