First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
If I could just bottle a day like this and sell it, I’d be a millionaire and the lucky purchaser need never fear the onset of winter again. A sky of enamel blue lay over the Sussex Weald, and the views from the hilly lanes around Chelwood Common were twenty-mile prospects, out across the green and gold of the Wealden woods to the soft grey line of the South Downs clamped against the southern horizon.
Cyclamen made delicate pink half moons in the verges at Aggons Farm, and the holly hedges were thick with crimson berries and hung with scarlet necklaces of bryony.
The woods of Chelwood Common were running with water, their paths sodden, their rain-carved dells loud with the chatter of streams. Out in the open we passed Chelwood Farm, all red brick gables and tall chimney stacks, and in the fields beyond disturbed a herd of twenty-five roe deer feeding by Maskett’s Wood. They turned and fled into the trees, each animal’s movements mirrored by its companions as though one hundred-legged creature were scampering away.
Not so long ago Sheffield Forest was a hubbub of rural activities – charcoal burning, clay digging, coppicing, iron smelting in primitive bloomeries. If tree trunks were too heavy for horses to drag away to the sawmill, they’d be cut into planks on the spot in a hand-dug sawpit. A pair of sawyers would work with a great long saw between them, the upper man known as the ‘top dog,’ his colleague down in the sawpit as the ‘underdog.’ Searching for these old sawpits and bloomery hearths, we found only bumps and hollows – the forest had long swallowed them.
A snaking track led us down and across a damp valley, where the Annwood Brook flowed through a string of beautiful lakes.
Before taking the soft and squelchy homeward path we lingered under the trees at Sheffield Mill pond, watching the wind ripple the reflections of beech trees burnished gold and acid green by the declining sun of this perfect day.
Start: Coach & Horses Inn, School Lane, Danehill RH17 7JF (OS ref TQ 411287). Please ask permission to park, and give the pub your custom!
Getting there: Bus 270 (East Grinstead – Brighton)
Road: Coach & Horses is signed from Danehill on A275 (between Sheffield Park and Chelwood Gate)
Walk (7½ miles, woodland and field paths, OS Explorer 135): Up Coach Lane; cross road, on between gateposts. At Willowlands (418285) ahead through trees (yellow arrows/YA). In 400m, nearing Chelwood Farm, left (422286, stile, ‘Public Footpath’) across paddock. Follow YAs to lane (425286). Left; in 250m, just before road, right (electricity pole on left) across footbridge (427287), then through trees. In 200m, leave wood by stile (428286); left to cross stile without footboard. In 450m, opposite Maskett’s Farm, right on green lane (431283, stile, fingerpost). Follow YAs for ¾ mile to Bell Lane (430272).
Right; in 300m, right past barrier and ‘Sheffield Forest’ sign (429269). Follow forest road. In nearly 1 mile cross stream (421265); in 400m, cross another in valley bottom (421262); right at junction. In 250m on left bend, right downhill (419262) on grassy path. In 500m, fork right (416258, 3-finger post) across Sheffield Mill dam; up lane to road (409259). Right; in 250m fork right at Portmansford pond (409262); through gate to right of Rose Cottage. Follow squelchy path (YAs). In 600m pass between lakes (412267, YAs).
In 100m fork left; duckboard across stream; right to cross stile (422268). Keep right (YAs) along fence for 2 fields into wood (414271, stile, YA). Right to stile out of wood; left along field edge (YA) to stile next to gate (417272). At junction, ahead. In 200m at pond, ahead through gate (418274, YA) and on. In 600m pass Allins Farm (419278); in 700m, left over stile (419284, fingerpost, YA, ‘Paths to Progress’). Follow YAs across stream, up to lane (418285); left to Coach & Horses.
Conditions: Wet, muddy walk
Lunch: Coach & Horses (01825-740369, coachandhorses.co). Booking advised. – currently closed due to Covid
Accommodation: Griffin Inn, Fletching TN22 3SS (01825-722890, thegriffininn.co.uk) – fully Covid compliant