First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A warm afternoon still gilding the backs of the South Downs, but growing cool in the shade of the trees of Hesworth Common. The downs hung halfway up the southern sky, a long and gradually undulating spine of tar-black woodland and dull gold fields. Baby rabbits were playing ‘statues’ in the verges of the stony lane that led past the back gardens of Fittleworth and on among the sweet chestnuts of Fittleworth Common.
A green lane zigzagged north through the bracken undergrowth of Walters Plantation. Approaching Limbourne Farm the hedges were thick with the white bugle mouths of convolvulus and netted over with hop bines. We squeezed the sticky hop buds as we passed, and carried their pungent oily smell away at our finger ends.
Beyond the farm we entered the dense plantation of Fittleworth Wood. Properly maintained coppice of sweet chestnut is rare enough; there’s little call these days for the laths and battens, the hurdles and staves for which country craftsmen once harvested the chestnuts. But here in Fittleworth Wood the path ran between coppiced trees at every stage from tender new growth to mighty poles fifty feet tall – a beautiful sight with the sun filtering in thick bars of watery green light between the saw-edged leaves.
Near the edge of the wood a tiny Jack Russell pattered up to press its cold nose against my fingers, savouring the hop aromas as appreciatively as any real ale connoisseur. Beyond the trees lay hay meadows and the mellow red roofs and brick walls of Springs Farm, its peeping windows framed in sprays of buddleia.
If chestnut coppices are generally neglected nowadays, the commons where local folk once grazed their pigs and cattle have largely become overgrown with trees. We turned west through the luxuriant ash, oak and holly of Lithersgate Common, and south on a path that edged Bognor Common’s thickets of silver birch and rowan.
Down through Little Bognor, another picture-book straggle of beautifully kept old houses along a millpond stream, then on south through open fields. The powdery pink soil smoked in our wake, water-smoothed pebbles from some ancient river rolled under our boots, and the long arm of the downs stretched ahead as though to fence off the valley from the outside world.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; easy underfoot; careful navigation needed in woods
Start: Hesworth Common car park, Fittleworth, West Sussex RH20 1EW (OS ref TQ 007193)
Getting there: Bus Service 1 (Worthing-Midhurst)
Road – Car park signed off B2138 on west outskirts of Fittleworth.
Walk (OS Explorers 121, 134): Left/southeast (Serpent Trail/ST), parallel with B2138. In 200m, left to B2138 (009192). Right; in 50m, left past wooden barrier. Fork left on path. In 300m cross road (011191); on to Fittleworth Common. At wooden post bear right (014190), parallel with and then alongside northern boundary fence, to cross A283 (018190 – take care!). By pond, right (fingerpost/FP); in 50m, left up bank (black arrow/BLA) on path through pinewood.
In 150m bend right; in 150m, left (020191, bridleway fingerpost/BF) on broad bridleway. Pass Limbourne Farm sheds and silo (020193); in ½ mile, enter Fittleworth Wood (022201). In 100m pass footpath turning on left (FP); in another 100m take 2nd turning on right (022203, unmarked fork). Continue uphill. In 300m turn right (024206, blue arrow/BA). In 50m, left (BF); in 150m, right (BF, bench), steeply down bank. At bottom, follow BA uphill and on for 250m to top of wood (027210). Out of wood through gate; on to top left corner of field (027212); left (4-finger post) through gate; half left down across field. Follow lower edge of field below Springs Farm to drive (025213); follow it for 400m to road (021213).
Left; pass track to Warren Barn; in 15m, right (FP, stile) on path through trees of Lithersgate Common. Pass 3-finger post; in 200m, at next 3-finger post, right (019211). In 15m fork left down past pond. Follow ST for 550m to enter Mitfords Copse (013211); in 200m, descend to path crossing (011211). ST turns right; you go left/south-west (FP). In 300m, cross road (009209); down road opposite through Little Bognor. At far end of village pass ‘The Potting Shed’ on right; in 100m, left over stile (004204, FP, ‘Dyers Cottage’).
Follow YA past Dyer’s Cottage and on. Follow field edge downhill; in 100m, left (BLA, 006202) into wood. At end of trees, keep ahead to 3-finger post (005200); left to corner of hedge; half left across field past lone tree with FP to enter trees (008197). At kissing gate, half right across paddock to gate (BLA). Follow path to road; right to A283 (009194).
Right round bend (take care!); cross into Church Lane; right up path (FP) beside A283. At Scout hut, up left side of building; keep ahead to B2138 (008192); right to car park
Lunch/Accommodation: Angel Inn, Petworth GU32 0BG (01798-344445, angelinnpetworth.co.uk)
Information: Arundel TIC (01903-737838)