RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: Cowdray Park

Country walk: Cowdray Park
Country walk: Cowdray Park

It is years since I walked the park.

It is so good I have done it again for those of you who enjoy historic trees, views of the South Downs, and gentle, rolling hills.

Go on a fine autumn day if possible, parking is at Benbow Lake on the A272 two miles east of Midhurst, SU915223.

Moorhens, mallard and black-headed gulls are among the cadgers from your picnic.

A new arboretum has been planted in which you can see such rarities as paper bark birch, snake bark maple and upland laurel oak.

Your footpath winds just to the right around this enclosure as it runs north then north-west into the groves of ancient trees.

The avenue of 300-year-old limes, maples and chestnuts is impressive enough on the estate, but look to the right across Steward’s Pond and you will see the daddy, or is it the mummy, of them all: The Queen Elizabeth I Oak.

The Tree Council designated this as one of 50 ‘Great British Trees’ to mark the Golden Jubilee of the present Queen (see Nature Watch).

A footpath does pass close to this tree, but beware of the bull in that large meadow. Our path today veers a few points on to due west, up the brackeny gully to a chorus of jackdaws which nest amid the mistletoe.

You come out on to the golf course and with care cross one of the drives and into one of the roughs.

Rough, that is, with the fine tawny carpet of heath bent grass in which wild flowers include yarrow, harebell, bird’sfoot trefoil, and jack-go-to-bed-at-noon.

Then downhill into Lime Bottom and up the other side of the sandy valley,

soon leaving the vehicle track and keeping the warning bell to your left as you keep north-west into an arable field.

Here you have a splendid view ahead of The Race, an avenue of ancient sweet chestnuts.

This, I suppose, was a favourite gallop for the likes of the Silks and Scarlets, The Druid, Surtees, and similar Cracks of the Day.

So turn left under the leafy giants, as you avoid prickly shots from their chestnuts on your way south-west into Easebourne along the permissive footpath.

Then cross the main road with care to find the Cowdray Farm Shop and Café and a splendid view across the famous polo grounds on to the South Downs.

Turn sharp left at the green sign Lawns and Polo Grounds through a gap in the rails and into a railed walkway east through five kissing gates. This eventually leads you back again to the A272 which you cross and follow the grass verge back in Lime Bottom.

Half left on yellow arrow uphill along the edge of another drive, crossing this soon, and under some more old oaks to the Halfway Hut, where golfers refresh themselves with drinks and sandwiches.

This leads you back to your outgoing path, and another look at the Queen of All Trees.