A Bimble Around Ashdown Forest (East Sussex)

As a good old-fashioned, map-reading kind of girl (yes, the massive, unfolding, get in a muddle Ordnance Survey kind), Ashdown Forest has always held a special allure.  It rambles, with multiple paths tempting you this way and that, and it’s quite easy to get disorientated. But for the intrepid explorer, just head to one of the many designated car parks, pull out your OS Explorer 135 and head down the first path that sings to you.

A bit about the Forest

Ashdown Forest covers an area of approximately 10 square miles in East Sussex in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its history dates back to the Bronze Age and it would at one time have been home to bears, wolves, and wildcats. It’s on the highest of two sandy ridges meaning it has some fantastic views as well as a unique ecology. As a result, it is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. It’s a mixture of heathland and woodland and home to diverse flora, fauna, and wildlife.

Ashdown Forest

The Forest is crossed by three major trails: the High Weald Landscape Trail (Horsham to Rye), the Wealdway (Gravesend / Thames to Eastbourne), and Vanguard Way (Croydon to Newhaven). Among the other points of interest are the Crowborough Caves (built in WWI), a Llama Park, and the world-famous Pooh Sticks bridge (of Winnie the Pooh fame).  There are also lots of local pubs in the surrounding villages and if you want to make a weekend of it, well there’s always Ashdown Park Hotel (self-described as one of the finest luxury hotels in Sussex – and we’re not going to disagree).

Windmills and memories

At the south end of the Forest, there are two particular points of interest and some of the best views which are best found if you approach from Nutley (head east) and park in the Friends’ Clump car park. As always, an early start will mean you have the best chance of having the forest to yourself.  As you face the clump of trees with the car park behind you, there is a main path that will take you down to Nutley windmill. A short distance along this and the windmill is signed and easy to find but as you walk, look out for views of Old Lodge (a Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserve and home to an international stud farm) to your right.

Ashdown Forest

Nutley windmill

Martin Brunnarius (him of The Windmills of Sussex fame) describes this windmill rather beautifully as, “This little lady represents the English post-mill in its basic early form, grinding mill for the local smallholders, with few of the refinements or trimmings of its later companions in this county … Our present subject remains charming in her innocence”. The reference to innocence refers to future elaborations to windmill style and design.

Back in the late 1970s, Brunnarius believed that the windmill may have come from Goudhurst in Kent and believed it to possibly be the oldest post mill in Sussex although he found no record of her before 1840. That said, at one time there was an inscription “WS 1817” inside.

Nitley Windmill
In 1929 (left) and 1975 with credit to Martin Brunnarius

The windmill finished her working life in 1908 and was renovated first in 1928 and then again by the Nutley Preservation Society in 1969 so that she was in full working order again by 1972. Today she is owned by the Uckfield and District Preservation Society and is the last open trestle post mill in Sussex and one of only five left in the country.  She is the best-preserved windmill in Sussex and the only one that is fully operational. It is now thought that she was built in the time of King Henry VIII in the 16th century and moved to the current site in 1830. She is open to the public at certain times of the week but you do need to check first. There is a website www.udps.co.uk but we haven’t included a direct link as it’s a bit out of date.

Nutley Windmill

The Airman’s Grave

Head back towards the car park and take in the views from the trees there across to Camp Hill (where the trees were first planted in 1825 and where I once spent a long night under canvas – don’t ask). When ready, from the car park, cross the road, and head vaguely south east.  There is in fact a nice triangular route of only a few kilometres that takes in the Airman’s Grave but you will need a map or a very good sense of direction.

Ashdown Forest

As you walk, you can see right across the Low Weald to the South Downs. In fact, if you know your geography, you can see the clump of trees on the top of the Downs where you can turn off the South Downs Way and drop down into Rodmell, and to the right, you can see beyond Lewes to the chalky path up the South Downs from Kingston (and details of that walk are here in case you missed it).

The Airman’s Grave is a memorial to six airmen who lost their lives when their plane came down in July 1941 on their way back from a raid on Cologne. It’s a rather poignant reminder of lives lost and was erected by the mother of one Sgt PVR Sutton who was only 24 when he died. It is still well tended and there is a service there each year on Remembrance Sunday. With wonderful views and beautiful surrounding heathland, it represents a rare chance to pause and reflect before you ramble onwards.

Airmen's Grave, Ashdown Forest

Lunch?

You’re slightly spoilt for choice when it comes to local pubs, but if you want a particular recommendation, head to the Coach and Horses at Danehill. It’s a good old-fashioned pub with a pretty garden and they serve a very respectable burger and beer.

Coach and Horses Danehill

 

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