Distance: 5 km. Elevation: 124 m. Difficulty: Easy to Medium
For this Fittleworth walk, I joined Gerald Gresham Cooke who is an experienced Petworth Town Walk Leader and an absolute font of all knowledge when it comes to the local area. We met and parked at Fittleworth Stores (and community café) in School Lane (Gerald knows my weakness for cake). For this walk, you need two Ordnance Survey maps as it sits on the edge of OS Explorer 121 and 34.
From Fittleworth via the Serpent Trail
From the Fittleworth Stores, we crossed the recreation ground, and then crossed the main road at the junction with School Lane and took the footpath almost (but not exactly) opposite the junction. This leads to a pleasant grassy track and on to Churchwood (a very small hamlet) after about one kilometre. At Churchwood, turn left and begin a slow steady climb up through woods. This is a section of the Serpent Trail which is a 103 km footpath from Haslemere to Petersfield and which, as the name suggests, winds its way through the countryside much like a serpent. You’re also in Fittleworth Wood here, home to lots of chestnut trees making it a great autumn walk.
Heading to Stopham
After about half a kilometre of woodland path, the Serpent Trail leaves the wood and goes left to Bedham Lane but we went right, back into the wood, and diagonally across towards Stopham. At two kilometers into this walk, the footpath takes you across open fields. Hovering in the distance, you can see Stopham House, and on an autumn day, with mist layered across the fields and with the South Downs in the distance it felt Medieval. Perhaps that’s no surprise, as there is mention of a manor at Stopham in the Domesday Book and descendants of the same family (the Barttelot family) have held the manor from the Norman Conquest. Stopham House was built during the reign of Elizabeth I but there were major alterations in the 18th century.
Once you’ve crossed the fields, you reach a small, quiet lane where you bear right. You’re in Stopham now and you pass the award-winning vineyard of the same name on your left. There’s something about Stopham that makes it feel forgotten in time, and perhaps it’s because it’s down a narrow lane and off the main “beaten track”.
Stopham is also home to a beautiful Medieval church (St Mary the Virgin). In the churchyard, crab apple trees are laden with fruit in the autumn and there’s a sense of being somewhere special with an old Yew tree overseeing church affairs. The nave and chancel of the church date from the 11th century while much of the rest dates from the 12th century. There is a 14th century font and a series of 17 brasses along the nave and chancel floor, now under carpet which decorate the tomb slabs of members of the Barttelot family. Three of these pairs are from the 15th century and one set is from the early 17th century.
From the church, take the lane back to the main A283. If you turn left here, you would come to Stopham Bridge which is a stunning and curvaceous 14th century bridge. However, we didn’t. We turned right. At this point, you have to walk along the main road for a short section, before turning left into Sandy Lane just before Lee Farm (another notable and Grade II listed property).
From Sandy Lane, you have magnificent views across to the South Downs. Halfway down Sandy Lane, there is a footpath on your right that takes you into Fittleworth Common and the incredible Wynkcoombe Arboretum. This is the work of Nicholas Smith of Wyncombe Hill, who has planted and tended trees from around the world since the mid-1970s. There are over 800 trees and shrubs including many rare species and many of them now have small tags and QR codes to help you identify them. It’s another gorgeous stretch of woodland that gradually brings you into Fittleworth Common and back to the Fittleworth Stores for cake.
For a short walk, this is packed with interest and I am very grateful to my guide, Gerald, without whom I wouldn’t have learned so much!
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