Thursday, 12 February 2009

High Weald Landscape Trail Day 1 Horsham - Cuckfield

New Trail
It’s always difficult to know when the best time is to undertake any particular hike, but the High Weald Landscape Trail always suggested that it would need to be done during the summer months due to the amount of woodland and potential muddy spots on the way. I had therefore waited until May to get started. This walk weaves its way across the High Weald, the central part of the geological feature known as the Wealden Anticline that is responsible for the landscape features in the south east of England. The High Weald represent the oldest rocks in the anticline, having been exposed as a result of the younger rocks that still exist at the edges being eroded away. The predominant rock types are sandstones and clays, giving rise to acid soils and distinctive vegetation types.

Cow Line Up
I had with me a new camera today as my last one died. I thought I would put it through its paces and took loads more pictures than I usually do. The Trail starts without fanfare at Horsham station. In fact there is no marker post advising the start of the route at all, only directional signage just to the south of the main entrance pointing the way under the bridge. The morning wasn’t great, with dampness in the air and the suspicion of rain on its way. I stocked up with provisions at the first shop I encountered and headed on my way out of Horsham along a very straight road and past a large school.

St Leonard's Forest Pond
At the edge of Horsham the road walking stopped and I headed into St Leonard’s Forest, a vestigial part of the ancient forest that once covered the whole of this part of Sussex. As it was early May, the bluebells were all still out although they were a little past their best. The sight of these carpeting the woods all day certainly made for a colourful spectacle. Shortly after entering the forest I passed an off-road motorbike track that was thankfully quiet today, but which I suspected would have made for an awful din on a busy weekend.

Bluebell Woods
Through the forest the only noises I heard were bird song and the odd scrabblings of squirrels and rabbits. It was a pretty still day and very few people in evidence in the forest. It was quite a contrast to walking on the Downs where you could see pretty much the entire day’s route in one view. Through the trees you would be lucky to see more than a few hundred metres in front of you at any one time. The forest was a mixture of pine and broad leaf trees, heathland and shrubbery with carpets of bluebells and the odd broom resplendent in yellow flowers.

Eventually I left the main part of the forest and headed out across farm land, although with such heavy soils there was little arable activity here, mostly livestock farming. The path continued its trend of winding its way over the rolling hills, making for fairly energetic walking. Out in the open countryside I could see that the May blossom was in full swing as well as the bluebells and even the odd apple tree was also in blossom. Everywhere around was a riot of colour. Unfortunately, a sight that I had not expected was a pile of approximately 1000 tyres dumped by the side of the road. I wasn’t sure whether these had been fly-tipped, or whether they were there for legitimate reasons but they looked horrendous in such a rural setting.

Slaugham Church
At the bottom of the same hill, the path ran past the biggest of the hammer ponds so far. These man made ponds are the remnants of a once mighty iron industry that was widespread across this part of Sussex. The ponds tend to be a distinctive triangular shape as they are dammed at one end where the mill would have once stood. All was quiet today, but next to the ponds were reminders of preparations for an event that thankfully never took place. Large tank traps were still in place from World War II along with a pill box, neither of which had thankfully seen active service.

Slaugham Pond
After crossing a main road it was back to fields the other side. After a couple of dodgy moments of navigation I arrived at Slaugham at around lunchtime. The pub was obviously doing quite a good trade as there were many cars parked up outside. Unfortunately the number of parked cars rather spoiled the loveliness of the village, which would otherwise have been picture perfect. The church dominated the village green and the path went right through the churchyard. The other side of the church was a very different environment as the path crossed pasture land and a couple of ponds were rounded. Another mile or so later, and with energy somewhat sapped I entered a very attractive piece of ancient woodland. I knew it was (even though the guidebook also told me), as it had a certain character about it that was rather lacking earlier in the day when traversing the more planted woodlands this morning.

Eventually I came to another village, Bolney. This had once had the main London to Brighton A23 road running through the middle of it, but was now a much more tranquil place with the newer alignment of the road to the east by-passing the village. Unlike Slaugham though, the path didn’t take me through the best part of the village and I headed across the A23 and into the woods of Cuckfield Park. By now I was struggling a bit as the heat of the day was getting to me a bit and my boots were hurting my feet. I crawled through the woods and enjoyed the last of the bluebells before finally reaching Cuckfield. From here is was a short bus journey into Haywards Heath and then the train home.

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