There are days when I visit The Railways Land Wildlife Trust land in the morning and late afternoon without fail – and more often if they have an event on.
Longer walks are now being measured by how long we have been told our dog Evie should be out – 20 minutes, not an hour or more. So we do a short circuit taking a different route each time we return.
A morning walk on the Railway Land with heavy due glistening in the low sun. Capturing the delicacy and brightness of due on the rushes needs something better than the lens in my phone, but who carries around a DSLR anymore?
Lewes Present tells me I am looking at White Poplar here, something I confirm by putting some closer images through the App Picture This and then reading up some notes from The Woodland Trust.
From the Woodland Trust British Trees App
The thing I should look for is this bright, white shininess in the canopy. Knowing that the underside of the leaf is paler than the upper side explains the effect they produce as you walk around the trees from a distance.
The visit ends at Bake Out for a coffee, or later in the day at the John Harvey Tavern for a pint of Harveys.
Lewes has it all. Though some benches along the river bank would be welcome. A project for the Town Council.
I’m ticking off another East Sussex Woodland Trust otherwise I might not have gone far from home – I’m going down with a cold. But the sun is out, the dog needs a walk and the fresh air usually does me good.
Not for the first time I got lost in the suburban entrails of a town, this time 1960s detached homes, and bungalows on the edge of the London to Brighton Rail Line. I don’t like to get caught in a cul de sac or turning circle in a dead end so parked when I felt close enough and could see tops of trees over garden fences. Asking a friendly dog walker gave me a way in – no through someone’s back garden (they do not even have access), but down the road, along a path, by the railway …
The top end of the walk was me getting out of the housing estate, and then doubling back along a narrow path between a link-chain fence and the railway and high fencing along people’s back gardens. An inauspicious start though had we wanted the brook by the bottom of the path might have been a spot for Evie to wet her feet and take a drink.
People are always friendly and usually have a dog with them. In this instance the conversation turned to ‘ash dieback’ before I even got to the wood. In the distance chainsaws wired. I reassured a depressed walker that over in Lewes we cut back the ash a few years ago and all the stumps were left to grow back. The dead or dying trunks need to be cut down before they kill someone I guess. It’s the responsible thing to do – especially where the wood is managed by the Wood Trust to provide accessibility.
There’s much that can be learnt from the Woodland Trust Management Plan for Butcher’s Wood which is available from the Woodland Trust website.
They were working on the trees when I was there, with intermittent chainsaw action, plenty of space in the canopy and piles of logs. Some will be left, some removed. Additional planting is unlikely as hornbeam, silver birch and sweet chestnut should self-seed I believe.
This is only the second time in a six weeks of doing these woodland walks that I’ve come across people at work – the paths kept me well away from them, across a patch of meadow into Lag’s Wood – privately owned, access permitted, with a brook running through one side of it.
I can understand the pleasure locals will have here, adults and children, for walks and picnics.
On the way back passing through Ditching I pulled over to get some photos of their effective traffic calming measured; I can’t see getting approval for this in Lewes, but this is what some residents are calling for. I’d like this on Winterbourne Lane to oblige the rat-run traffic to be more considerate, while over in Malling people would like something like this on the busy main road that is Malling Hill and Malling Street.
After a day in bed with a bad cold this short walk is just to reawaken my legs and get some fresh air into my lungs. It is also a change to enjoy the view, the early autumn colours and sounds, walk the dog and think about where else to live other than Lewes – like in the village of Glynde.
I’m now doubling up and walks which makes it a whole lot easier – I know where I am going and what to expect. Even ambling along we’ll be back in less than an hour, the hill is gentle and the entire thing less than one end of the Newcastle Town Moor and back.
I got a negative PCR test back for Covid early this morning after a test on Thursday afternoon. I have cold systems, not full-blown Covid-19 or ‘Flu symptoms but best be certain before I start mixing with people again next week. As it is I declined the Lewes Town Hall event yesterday evening.
This is the sort of walk to do before or after a pub lunch; sadly there is no Glynde Pub, just a tea room that is only open in summer. Or is there a pub over by the station? I should investigate. Here I come for the view, best enjoyed on a clear day such as today.
If you don’t park by the Village Shop, then there’s a layby on the way out of the village just beyond Glynde Place heading out towards Glyndebourne.
The village has a number of old dwellings, a blacksmiths and workshops. It’s a buzz during Art Wave in September and has a busy cricket field and lovely children’s playground too.
My second visit here which should have made it an easier trip over but for extensive roadworks at Polegate on the A27 which lost me a good 20 minutes; I usually use Waze to dodge this kind of thing and would have cut across country further in land or along the coast.
I’m back because I want to witness that transition through early autumn as the leaves change; I rather think that rather than a great crescendo of colour, that there are instead staccato events over several weeks depending on which trees you are looking at – the sweet horse chestnut are early, British oak is late. We will see, or my homework reading The Woodland Trust management plan for these woods, their magazine and other research will do its job.
I’m not about to disappear through the woods and around the reservoir for 2 1/2 hours; I might manage it but our dog Evie is getting tired after 1 at best 1 1/2 hours so I have to keep things shorter or come alone.
I have become dependent on All Trails. In the past I have got lost with Google Maps which are fine until you leave the road and I’ve got an Ordnance Survey subscription that I am yet to fully test.
I was looking for change, the streams, the trees, the sites and smells. A tractor was out doing what I could only describe as ‘scarrifying’ the bracken/gorse in a clearing not far from the reservoir. I need to read the Brede Wood Management Plan from the Woodland Trust again to get the lowdown on this; these woods are managed. Parts of it were once farmland. Parts of it were once plantations now being thinned. In places invasive species such as Rhododendron have been removed.
The patchwork of different elements to this wood will become clearer in time. I need to arm myself with a map design for and about the woods.
I also feel I need to be getting out pen and paper to pick out the features in a way that makes them more clear: I am drawn to the sound of a brook which makes it feature so much bigger in my mind than it appears in a photograph. These trickles of bouncing water mean something to me, bring back important childhood memories of being left to play in such spaces creating dams and laying sticks out – even redirecting the water in tiny rivulets.
Five days and fifteen more posts to add in due course as we spent every day out on foot or by car exploring as much as we could. This was facilitated by a museum pass which saw us taking in art, history, archaeology and numerous forts, as well as trips away from Valletta to Mdina, Dingli cliffs.
There was time too to swim, to sunbathe, shop, eat and drink Cisk.
There was also time to meet family, talk history, climate change and politics.
East Sussex Dog Friendly Walks
It has taken a month before I have started to double back on my favourite walks; I could have easily gone another 8 weeks exploring the coast, South and North Downs without ever visiting the same place twice but there comes a point when you want the ease of going somewhere familiar. This time I understood where to park, where to set off, where to hang back and how long it would take on different sections of the walk.
Parking could not be easier; the grounds of Buxted Park are, contrary to your expectations, open to the public. I had done a U-turn the first time I had entered through the stone gates by the lodge and parked across the road in Buxted – this time I parked under the trees in the dedicated parking by the St.Mary’s Church. There must surely be days when this is impossible.
I was brought here originally by ‘East Sussex Dog Friendly Pub Walks’ which saw me completing circular routes with Evie earlier in the summer between Plumpton and Ditchling around Arlington Reservoir. Today I am armed with my growing knowledge of trees, an interest in the countryside and history and an eye for a good view.
Organ Music is playing in the Church; I don’t enquire. Entering a place of worship with a dog feels inappropriate and if I tether Evie outside she will bark. I give a passing nod to the War Memorial whose names I plan to research at some stage and head towards the ancient yew and a side gate out of the cemetery into the park. The yew tree is reportedly over 2,000 years old. Whether it is now one tree or several is a moot point as the trunk has opened out into a crown all coming from a common base. My mind is a whirl of inspirations and wonders I had as a boy – a BBC TV drama I recall (or perhaps a book) in which a lad left a sword he had used in the Middle Ages under an oak sapling only to retrieve it many hundreds of years later. My mind dwells on ideas of a rejuvenating immortal who takes sucker, if not life-force, from ancient trees like this – modern graphics having him (or her) by the tree at different stages of its growth.
There were many dog walkers out on our last trip; today there are a handful – families too. Last trip I took close interest in the trees downed in the 16th October 1987 storm. I’m sure Buxted featured with trees flattened like so many chopsticks and all aligned from the south-west. Whilst much of the wood was cleared enough has remained in place to regrow creating peculiar semi-mature hedge-like stands of successive trunks emanating from the fallen tree – I like nature’s capacity to rejuvenate like this.
Today I peg my walk to the oldest trees that I spot, a stand of oaks, a lone park-planted redwood and a couple of beech by the lake.
Although I got myself to the entrance of the wood I was fooled into thinking it was someone’s private drive as the cul de sac here is made up of large detached homes – the air of the wood and its surrounds is ‘gentile’. I wonder how many here helped find the funds to purchase and protect the wood, or perhaps it was something the original developer did.
For almost the first time on one of these Woodland Trust woodland walks I appear to have set off from the entrance gate – no fancy noticeboard. I guess without the trees this little wood would cover the size of a rugby pitch. All Trails has me in and out in 45 minutes or so.
You can see the management plan, the plantation planted trees thinned, some old wood cut and stacked, the variety of species, but what this feels like is the bottom of someone’s garden, albeit a large one.
Maps and plans from OpenStreetMap and All Trails.
The southern edge of the wood is boarded with large detached houses with equally sold fences, while part of the northern edge has a dense, high hedge of conifers and more hedging.
I can see locals enjoying this but wouldn’t make the journey especially.
I double back to Buxted Park, pull up in a parking space down from the church. This is open parkland, heath and a couple of ornamental lakes, but there are huge 300 year old oaks and a yew tree over 2,000 years old.
The Woodland Trust
Best laid plans … As always I failed to find an official entrance and after going back and forth along the southern edge of the wood I pulled in at a likely spot before Evie exploded with frustration and the need to go.
It was an inauspicious start to find myself looking at a flytopped dishwasher; I couldn’t have been in a Woodland Trust Wood – I wasn’t, but I was close.
From the OS map I could see that I was on the outer edge of Hargate Wood so could follow a path of sorts along the edge of a field to Sprat’s Brook then make myself upstream and into the woods proper.
The 9 year old came out in the brook – the compulsion to engineer a few sticks here and there took me back to the so called ‘water works’ at Mowden Hall – the tiniest trickle of water that the youngest boys, me amongst them, age 8 or 9, would play in for hours redirecting runnels of water and forming dams.
The wood properly revealed itself in the shape of mature oaks and Scots Pine and a pond with a Woodland Trust bench and dedication.
By now I am an All Trails fan, zooming in close to show paths through the wood that even the OS map doesn’t pick up. I can also orientate All Trails to True North so I become as handy as a compass in the palm of my hand.
We make it across to a closed reservoir along one edge of the woods then double back. Having met no one in an hour it was a surprise to meet a woman walking her dog and her daughter’s dog, which I learned is scared of skateboards and cyclists – apparently there is a cyclist about in the woods somewhere. She lives in Tonbridge and wanted somewhere her daughters might be let off the lead without being spooked.
Having found our way back to the car via a few misdirections over poorly erected wire fences I drove a few minutes to the ‘official entrance’.
It is a disappointing start: a lot of cars parked up, the noisy A26 along this side of the wood, and the smell first and then the site of dog shit – this is my first encounter of a ‘dog shit alley’ despite the notices asking people to pick up and despite the prominent bin along this stretch. A couple of young dog walkers with an array of five dogs, only one on a lead, another escapee with its lead still on was indication enough that dog poo was being left in situ. What is the solution? To start with any bin has to be placed further down the path and there should be several of them – someone who is too lazy to pick up after their dog does not double back to bin the offending matter – they either leave it where it is, or toss bag, poo and all into the undergrowth.
Moving deeper into Hargate Forest you start to see the Management Plan in action – the fir trees fined, opened up heath thick with bracken and self-seeded saplings and ancient trees that have toppled, cleared from the path but otherwise left in situ.
I’d visit again: it is easy to park, and easy to find (once you’ve got your bearings) and once into the depths of the ‘forest’ you are away from the traffic on the A26 and Bunny Lane, with mature deciduous trees, Sprat’s Brook and a pond. Though largely eradicated rhododendron is creeping back in various spots. I’d never appreciated what a problem it was, as a child loving to vanish into the maze of stems of a mature stand of rhododendron with their tunnels, dens and burrows. They kill the light so that nothing on the ground can then grow.
First Wood of the Day. I’m on a minition to ‘bag’ a few today; the twitcher in me is out.
Evie and I walked from the village of Blackboys. We’re earlier enough to be ahead of school drop-off and far too early for the wonderful looking pub.
Across the busy B2192 to Heathfield from Uckfield Road and into the woods. Sadly the noise from the traffic is never far away – how much more pleasant it would have been to have been here, quite against the regulations, during the Covid-19 lockdown when even our local wooded walk along the edge of the busy A27 Lewes bypass was silent.
We get quickly away from the road and in so doing move through a patchwork of land use types.
Indeed, there is a second wood, Turnmill Wood, not yet on the Woodland Trust website (or missed amongst the 1,000+). There’s a ‘remnant of precious ancient woodland’ in here – dark between mature trees and pooling streams. It is a treasure, but sad in its isolation, like a neglected standing stone, or a piece of Hadrian’s Wall alone in suburban Newcastle. Foreigners must laugh at our niggledly loves and precious attitudes, but when you just have crumbs or ancient woodland left rather than vast forests stretching miles over mountains and dotted with wide lakes what else can we do.
It doesn’t take long to find the ‘other’ entrance, or the correct entrance to Kiln Wood – there’s layby parking here too – for two or three cars at least, off the busy main road.
It is more of an entrance too, with some of the features I am coming to expect and recognise in a Woodland Trust managed wood – excellent steps, gates, bridges and signage. I’m looking forward now to returning to these spaces after a downpour or in the rain, once the tree cover has gone and in winter. So my frantic ticking off woods in Sussex now is to set me up for 28 or more return visits over the next 6 months through autumn, winter and spring.
I’m used to telling a person’s story each day of the year for The Western Front Association, people, almost always young men, who served and died during the First World War, rather than peacefully and commemorated like this in a local wood. I have my eye on several spots around Sussex, a beach in Northumberland and a snow covered slope in the French Alps, so my ashes will have to be bagged up and split, and funds set aside for a bench or two such as this.
The Blackboys Inn is so picture-postcard that in the summer, and outside Covid-19 travel restrictions, I am sure it is popular. I’ll aim to get here for lunch or an early evening snack next time.
The third wood of the day. I struggled to find somewhere to park on the side of Rocks road and started in the wrong wood (Westpark Local Community Nature Reserve) albeit with some very old trees on the edge of a housing estate on the edge of Uckfield.
Is this the green belt? Protect patches of woodland, however small, on the edge of town? It is squeezed in between a dual-carriageway and a housing estate,trodden on, frequented by dogs, where litter is dropped and domestic cats roam. I wonder if such patches of woods are nothing else but sad remnants, moth-eaten like a tattered regimental flag – reflecting days of glory long gone.
I doubled back to a narrow layby by a stone wall to try my luck again. I am finding that regardless I am generally better off on foot once I am in proximity.
Access is limited; the land is walled off and fenced in. There is a single entrance from this side of the wood. We take a path and head for water. I notice the bird boxes – someone cares.
I sense that this is a large landscaped garden from a stately home (Buckswood Grange) rather than a natural park – the estate dissected by the Uckfield bypass, the manor house long gone or turned into a care home, apartments or demolished.
I find the lake, then follow the track around its perimeter finding Ruskin-like stone cliffs, tunnels and scrambles. There is a huge Wellingtonia and a beech.
All is sadly diminished by the noise of the A26 and litter. Not much, but having picked up a few items I realise I don’t have gloves and a bag or the energy to do any more.
I’ll be back – wearing headphones. For local residents this is a pleasure garden – just sad we can’t dampen the noise of traffic, trucks and motorbikes on the dual-carriageway. Noise pollution is tolerated where air pollution is not.