First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A beautiful hot day in Cowdray Park, the last in a string of them, with thunder and brimstone forecast for tomorrow across the Sussex countryside. Under the gale-tattered old chestnut trees that lined The Race avenue, the humid air was stirred by the slightest of breezes.
Woodpigeons cooed throatily among the chestnut leaves, and the shady avenue was tiger-striped with bars of fierce sunlight as we stepped from cool to hot and back to cool.
Smatterings of Capability Brown’s landscaping subtleties showed in Cowdray Park’s curves and falls of perspective. A side path led up across a dusty harrowed wheat field, out over the lush shaven fairway of a golf course, and down a sandy path through a valley of bracken between huge plane trees with patchwork bark.
Modestly hidden behind Steward’s Pond (itself well camouflaged by bushes) we found a mighty veteran tree, The Queen Elizabeth oak might well have been standing here since before the Normans came to Britain. Its girth, 41 ft, is nearly twice its storm-truncated height. Warty and scaly, split and hollowed by lightning strikes and age, the tree had donned a green crown of leaves and acorns for the summer, as for every summer past for a thousand years.
By contrast the lime trees of the avenue that led us onward, planted for our own queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, were slim striplings scarcely six inches round the middle. How many of them will flourish till the next millennium?
In the shade of the coppiced hazels and sweet chestnuts of Heathend Copse we went south to cross the River Rother and enter the heath country of Todham Rough. Here conifer plantations alternated with broom and gorse. Labyrinth spiders had built funnels of webbing under the overhangs of the path margins. Our footsteps crunched on the stony tracks, and pheasant poults went racing ahead in panic, raising puffs of dust.
We crossed wheat stubbles and passed the tree-smothered mound of Midhurst’s Norman castle. A path over rough ground to reach the great ruin of Cowdray House, burned out long ago, and a final stretch beside the polo fields of Cowdray Park where teams of well drilled groundsmen were preparing for next Saturday’s match.
How hard is it? 7½ miles; easy; parkland and woodland paths
Start: Cowdray Park café car park, Easebourne, Midhurst GU29 0AJ (OS ref SU 895224)
Getting there: Bus 1 (Midhurst–Petworth)
Road: Signed off A272 at Easebourne
Walk (OS Explorer 133): Cross A272; follow Midhurst Way/MW (‘Permissive Footpath’) up The Race avenue. In 800m, opposite gate on left (902229) turn right (fingerpost/FP) across field, wood, and golf course (black arrows); follow direction of fingerposts. In ¾ mile, at bottom of dip, left through kissing gate (912226, yellow arrow/YA, MW). Past Steward Pond (Queen Elizabeth oak is behind pond at 913227); on up young lime avenue.
Through kissing gate (917228); bear left (YA) clockwise round top of field. Into trees; right (919229, FP, blue arrow/BA) for 600m to road (919223). Right; in 150m, ahead (919221, Restricted Byway’) to cross A272 (take care!). On down lane; in 700m cross River Rother (916212); right (FP) along river, then over field to road (912206). Left; at corner, right (913205, ‘Bridleway’). In 200m pass cottage (912204); in 250m, right (910201, BA). In 650m, left (905204, ‘Bridleway’ FP); in 250m, bend right onto New Lipchis Way/NLW (903202, ‘Bridleway’ FP) on broad forest road.
Follow NLW (waymarked arrows; if absent, follow ‘bridleway’ arrows) for ¾ mile to Selham Road (900211). Left across Costers brook; at crossroads, ahead (‘Kennels, Dairy’), following NLW. In ¾ mile bend right to cross bridge (890213). NLW goes left, but keep ahead (FP) and bear right (YA) between castle mound and river. Follow path across rough ground to cross river by castle ruins (890217). Left; in 150m, fork right on track to car park.
Lunch: Cowdray Park Café (01730-815152)
Accommodation: Angel Inn, North Street, Midhurst GU29 9DN (01730-812421, theangelmidhurst.co.uk)