First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Beech leaves twinkled like gold coins in the cold autumn sunlight as they rained down from the trees of Buckhurst Park. It was just the day to be walking the well-tended and waymarked paths of this prosperous piece of parkland on the northern borders of Ashdown Forest. Cricket field, lake, sheep pastures, neat little estate cottages with red-tiled roofs and walls – Buckhurst is carefully looked after, and it shows.
On the ridge beside Coppice Wood we stood to admire the southward view over a shallow valley rolling upward to meet the fringe of Five Hundred Acre Wood – AA Milne’s ‘100 Aker Wood’, where Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear had their many cosy adventures. Christopher Robin Milne and his parents lived just across the hill at Cotchford Farm, and this billowing, thickly wooded countryside was their enchanted place, a gorgeous snapshot of a mythic England on this brisk autumn afternoon.
On the lane past Whitehouse Farm our boots scuffed drifts of oak leaves and crunched the acorns that the squirrels had not yet gathered for their winter hoards. A tang of woodsmoke hung round Friar’s Gate Farm with its gipsy caravan, shepherd’s hut and wheeled wooden henhouse.
In the fringe of Five Hundred Acre Wood old ponds lay rust-red with iron leached out of the underlying sandstone. We found enormous ancient oaks big enough to accommodate Wol and all his tribe, and carpets of beech mast and acorns that could have fed a thousand Piglets. No hoard of Hunny, though.
At Fisher’s Gate the estate cottages stood neatly in a row, looking back across the valley to the tall chimneys, great mullioned windows and Elizabethan gables of Buckhurst Place, carried aloft on a sea of gold and green treetops. On the lane back to Withyham the flailed hedges were dotted with brilliant autumn colours – scarlet rosehips, crimson haw peggles and spindle berries whose bright orange seeds had split their lipstick-pink cases and were pushing on outwards.
On the far side of Withyham we crossed the slow-flowing infant River Medway and looped back to the village along the Forest Trail railway path, a tunnel of pink elder leaves, roofed and floored with oaken gold.
Start: Dorset Arms, Withyham, Hartfield, E. Sussex TN7 4JD (OS ref TQ 496356)
Getting there: Bus 291 (East Grinstead – Tunbridge Wells)
Road – Withyham is on B2110 between Tunbridge Wells and Hartfield.
Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 135): Beside Dorset Arms take driveway (‘High Weald Landscape Trail’/HWLT). In ⅔ mile, 100m past lake, fork left (502350, HWLT). At gate in ⅓ mile, left over stile (506347, HWLT); half left up to corner of wood; half right between 2 trees, on down slope. In ¼ mile, left over stile (504342, HWLT); turn right downhill inside edge of wood to cross B2188 (503341).
Up road opposite. In 300m HWLT turns left (503338), but continue along lane. At right bend, fork left (502335) up farm drive. In 350m, on right bend leading to sewage works gate (501331), bear left over stile. Left up field edge past Friars Gate Farm buildings to drive (499329). Follow it to road (499325). Right (take care!) to B2188 (497331). Right; in 200m on sharp right bend, left along drive (‘Private Road’). In ½ mile, fork right (491336, yellow arrow); in 60m, fork right, and right again beside gate (‘Weald Way’/WW). Skirt a section of driveway to stile (490338) and follow WW north along drive for 1¼ miles to B2110 in Withyham (493356).
Left for 50m (take care!); right (stile, WW) across 2 fields. Cross Forest Way cycle track (491363, WW) and River Medway beyond. Continue on WW (stiles) for ¼ mile to driveway at building (495368); follow it to road (498366). Right; in 250m, right on Forest Way. In ½ mile, left (491363); WW back to B2110; left to Withyham.
Lunch/Accommodation: Dorset Arms, Withyham (01892-770278, dorset-arms.co.uk) – stylish place, great food.