RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: West Stoke Downs

This walk is from the cornfields at West Stoke described opposite and on northwards uphill to West Stoke clump, then on to Woodend.

Distance is 3.8 miles (6.2kms) and it is a stony, dry path with a return along the country roads. There is a parking bay along the Lavant – West Stoke road at SU835084.

The bridleway climbs north to the clump of trees that was once a beacon site during the Napoleonic Wars. Many of the beeches were felled in the ’87 hurricane but replanted. From here you have a fine view to the Isle of Wight. The cereal fields ahead of you as you drop down towards Kingley Vale used to hold an abundance of birds when I first arrived in Sussex in 1963. There were hundreds of grey partridges, the hedges had breeding stonechats and lesser whitethroats and in spring I would always see one or two hoopoes on migration. In winter a flock of one thousand mixed finches and buntings fed for months on the stubbles. I also once counted 100 hares in this view.

Today, hardly a living creature lives on this prairie. Far to your right there was once a Bronze Age flint mine complex with tumuli covering four acres. This was all bulldozed flat in the 1950s. Turn left at bridleway junction and follow this straight for one mile past the entrance to Kingley Vale nature reserve to the road at Woodend. Turn left along the road for another mile back to your car. You pass Hollandsfield Lodge en route. This is where ‘The Jersey Lily’ lived in the 1880s. Her real name was Lily Langtry, friend of Oscar Wilde, J.M.Barrie, and the Prince of Wales.

A celebrated beauty of her day, she was also a famous actress and toured Europe, South Africa and the USA, and made a sensation being the first society woman to go on the stage. There are four gravestones in Hollandsfield garden to her dogs the inscriptions of which I wrote down in 1964. One to Nell reads: ‘Her parentage is wrapt in mystery. Died from injuries sustained while in the performance of her duties, being spiked through the chest while pursuing a rabbit in Kingly Bottom. In her, Jordan the rat-catcher lost a source of income and Patrick de Bathe an affectionate and beloved companion’. De Bathe was Lily’s husband.

Another memorial is to Chumps: ‘Once lady champion Bull Dog of England, winner of 62 prizes, 25 firsts. Born 10th Sept. 1897. Died 1st April, 1906. Erected by her sorrowing mistress, Violet de Bathe. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.’ The third reads: ‘Here lie the remains of Tyke. A small rough haired Fox Terrier. Unequalled as a sportsman. Who accidentally hung himself April 14th, 1893. Erected in his memory by his master, Hugo de Bathe.’ The fourth is to Myra, a little rough haired terrier which was ‘a most promising sportswoman’ but lived for less than a year. ‘No sooner here than done for, can’t think what I was begun for.’

In West Stoke hamlet you will pass St. Andrews, with its cork oak tree, and its Norman nave, nestling near the white 18thC. house and cedar tree.