The long, high waves of the East Sussex Weald lay under smoky rolls of grey cloud, through which a pale penumbra of sun came gleaming like a half-dissolved pearl. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
‘Wild boar, ostrich!’ promised the sales board at the entrance to Birdbrook Farm. ‘Bison, zebra, wildebeest!’ There were no signs of such exotic creatures in the small-scale hedged fields around Witherenden Farm – just cattle bellowing in the farmyard as they were passed across the scales in a welter of men and dogs before heading out for market.
We squelched along a track of sticky Wealden clay and came into Newbridge Wood, one of the coppice woods that have been tended in these parts since medieval times, when this now quiet and all-but-empty landscape was England’s ironmaking centre. The only hint that remains of the smoky, noisy, fiery industry is the large number of woodland ponds – they stored and released the water for the wheels that drove the ironmasters’ bellows and drop-hammers – and the woods themselves, harvested to produce the charcoal for the blast-furnaces.
Newbridge Wood, and Batt’s Wood and Dens Wood beyond, were thick with hornbeams, the smooth poles of their overshot coppice sprouts seamed with long runnels like withered and witchy arms reaching for the light. Each tree seemed lit from below by the millions of acid green and rich gold leaves that carpeted the forest floor. From the gaps among the woods we had wonderful views across the Weald – the sun-reflecting oasts at Bivelham Farm, thatched roofs among the trees, long low meadows, dark hedges and woods rising to high ridges like green ocean billows.
On the lane into Batt’s Wood, seven inkcap fungi rose in a ring beside the hedge, like pixie hats with upturned brims. Dens Wood and the landscaped slopes by Wadhurst Park Lake were full of deer – red stags chasing hinds, roe deer delicately bounding out of the trees, a big pale fallow stag stock still under the silver birches, giving us the wary eye. We shuffled hornbeam leaves in the lane to Dens Farm, and sniffed the sweet scent of applewood fires as we made back across the fields towards Witherenden Farm in the half-light of evening.
Start: Stonegate Station, East Sussex, TN5 7ER (OS ref TQ 659272). All day parking £4.50
Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 136):
From station entrance, left to cross railway line; continue down verge of road for 400m. Right up Witherenden Farm drive (655270; fingerpost, ‘bridleway’). Bear left through farmyard, on down muddy track, through metal gate (651271), right round field edge. Where trees start, right into Newbridge Wood (649272, blue arrow/BA). In ⅔ mile pass Bivelham Forge Farm (640267); in 100 m fork left (BA) to road (637266). Left; in 80 m, right over stile (yellow arrow/YA), across 2 fields to cross road at Pound Bridge (633265).
Keep ahead along track (BA); in ¼ mile it turns right (629266) up hill past Gold’s Farm. At top of hill, opposite cottage with ornate porch on left, keep ahead by fence (630274) to cross stile (YA) into Batt’s Wood. At interpretive board turn left (YA), then immediately right (YA) along grassy track. In 50 m, left at T-junction (631275). Descent ride (can be slippery!) for 350 m to gate near Wadhurst Park Lake (633278). Right along track (boggy!). In 400 m pass sluice (636277); in another 150 m, fork left (YA) along path. In 400 m, left at junction (641277) for 20 m; at next junction, left to cross stile (YA) and stream.
At 3-finger post, left (YA) up inside edge of Dens Wood. At top of rise pass Flattenden Farm (640282) and descend track. At junction by ‘Weir Cottage’ sign (641286), right for ⅓ mile to Dens Farm (646283). Right through farm gate/stile (YA); fork right between sheds and down stony lane. In 50 m, left (YA) through gate, along fence on your right. In 200 m cross stile; across next field, through one wicket gate (YA), then another. Cross stream by footbridge (648279) to gate; don’t go through, but turn right along hedge. Follow path for ½ mile by YAs across 4 fields to track below Witherenden Farm (651271); left through farm and back to Stonegate Station.
NB: Paths in Batt’s Wood often slippery/boggy!