First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A blustery, breezy sky over West Sussex, with marching rain clouds and brilliant blue intervals. The village of East Dean in a crook of the South Downs is all you want on such a day – as pretty as a picture, flint-built, with its simple cruciform Norman church, the snug little Star & Garter Inn, and a tree-hung pond from whose modest waters whelms the River Lavant.
In between spits of rain and windows of sunshine I climbed an old holloway sunk deep into chalk and flint, heading north for the dark ridge of the downs. A bench perfectly placed to look over the village carried a plaque inscribed:
‘Field, Coppice, Cottage & all I see
Vivified, hallowed by Memory.’
– A.E. West, Copseman and Countryman.
Who was A.E. West, with his dignified title of ‘Copseman’ and his nostalgic little couplet? No more than a shadow and a name to passers-by; but more than that to someone in East Dean, for certain.
Enormous clouds advanced over the ridge, heavy with rain, so purposeful and weighty that I found myself marvelling that clouds make no sound as they travel. As the thought came, so did an ogreish growl from the sky, and a blast of wind that beat at the beech trees and made their boughs twist and rattle.
From Pond Barn a flinty track took me up past green-roofed Postles Barn, its flint walls pierced with arrow-slit windows. I turned up the grassy slope of Brockhurst Bottom into Eastdean Woods where gleams of sun made silver pillars of the birch and pine trunks. The sky muttered again, a sulky rumble like a dyspeptic giant turning over in bed, and a squall of rain blotted out the light among the trees.
Up at the crest of the downs I bowled east along the South Downs Way, through ancient cross dykes or boundary banks, with a long prospect ahead of Bignor Hill curving into a blur of milky grey. There was something so vigorous and uplifting in this rainy stride along the old ridgeway that I felt I could have followed it for ever. Soon enough, though, it was time to turn aside and find the forest road through the beech woods that would carry me down to East Dean and the Star & Garter.
Start: Star & Garter Inn, East Dean, West Sussex, PO18 0JG (OS ref SU 904129)
Getting there: Bus service 99, Chichester-Petworth (pre-booking essential – 01903-264776, compass-travel.co.uk).
Road – East Dean is signposted off A285 (Chichester-Petworth).
Walk (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 121): Up road from Star & Garter to church (905132); through gate in NE corner of churchyard; left up sunken lane. In 100m leave trees; in 50m, bear right (904133, blue arrow/BA) up grassy holloway. In 200m, at top of section among trees (905135) footpath bears left, but keep ahead. In another 300m, bridleway bears left (904137, BA); fork right here (yellow arrow/YA, fingerpost) through wood for 400m to Pond Barn (904142).
Right over stile in bottom right corner of field; left at lane, then fork immediately right along gravel track. In 700m pass Postles Barn (911145); in 500m, bear left (917149) at fingerpost. ‘Restricted Byway/RB’ forks right, but fork left here (BA), trending slightly away from fence on left as you climb Brockhurst Bottom’s field slope to gate at edge of wood (916154). Ahead through wood (BAs), keeping same direction for ½ mile to reach South Downs Way (921163).
Right along SDW. In 1 mile pass first Cross Dyke shown on map (937159); in another ¼ mile pass second Cross Dyke (940158; resembles a hedge-bank on your left). In another 350m, where SDW re-enters trees (943155), turn right (‘RB, East Dean’) at fingerpost inscribed ‘Tegleaze’. Follow track south-west through woods (RB, purple arrows; then ‘Public Bridleway’ fingerposts). In 1¾ miles, just before ‘Shepherd’s Croft’ on map, main gravel track curves left at clearing (919144); but keep ahead on lesser track for 1½ miles back to East Dean.
Lunch/Accommodation: Star & Garter, East Dean (01243-811318, thestarandgarter.co.uk) – beautifully kept, welcoming village inn.