RICHARD WILLIAMSON Country Walk...Houghton Forest to Madehurst

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This walk of 4.4 miles (7kms) is through old woods, meadows, lanes and fields. All very pleasant as I discovered in this new year.

Large car park TQ002108 at Whiteways Lodge on A29 with cafe and lavatories. Mostly firm underfoot but a few squishy places in wet weather.

Northwest out of car park almost straight into old beech forest, the trees about 200-250 years old, the first one on the right an old pollard, others with bristly epicormic growth and monstrous figures.

The stone track gradually curves west. Note the Bronze Age earthwork on right.

Houghton meant ‘village on the side of the hill’. Note laissez-faire forest management along path with regrowths of ash, hazel, birch among the beech and fir plantations.

Keep left on blue arrow by huge beech log and cross damp patch with willows. Here I saw buzzard, marsh tits, nuthatch and robins singing. In summer a good place for warblers such as willow, chiffchaff, blackcap. Note high browse line by fallow deer on ivy. Here I also saw prints of fox, badger and roe deer in the mud.

Climb out of valley still on Monarch’s Way noting grassy verges which in summer will be dense with flowers of the chalklands, orchids among them. You join another bridleway coming in from the left then after 300m sharp left on blue arrow, leaving Monarch’s Way.

After 80m the view opens out over Madehurst valley and one grey glimpse of sea. The name meant ‘meadows among woods on hills’. Sharp right through Trot Row wood where a 250-year-old beech has recently fallen across the path. Others felled round about by the 1987 hurricane.

Emerge from woodland tunnel turning left along grass causeway between fields, noting badger latrine on left among brambles as you do. Just discernable Bronze Age field lynchets here.

Continue west to bridlepath crossroads, noting box trees here and there, once planted as cover for pheasants. This area is called Stammers, which in Old English meant stones. A field here is called Misery, memory of a time when women and children picked stones off the fields to help the plough and their own income.

Follow the minor by-road now southeast for two miles, keeping left at junction, the road eventually turning northeast. This valley is a timeless landscape cut off from the bustle all around in which only 100 people now live. The houses are often stone and flint and appear to have grown out of the ground.

The copses are often old and the hedges tall with that ancient plant butcher’s broom showing how old they are.

At Lower Farm look for a curious warning on gate of ‘Strange Dog’. Is it Old Shuck?

As you climb hill back through the beech trees take short cut left through a meadow of fine downland turf in which grows wild basil and spotted orchids.

For me a woodland walk back to a wooden car and I hope yours will be as enjoyable. Many like this in my Walks Book soon to be published in early March.

** To view a map of this walk see the January 19 issue of the Observer.