Distance: 2-3 km. Elevation: 40 m. Difficulty: Easy.
If you don’t live in or near Chailey, it’s easy to whizz past Chailey Common and never stop. After all, it straddles the A272, which most of us travel if we’re busy bustling from one place to another. But it’s worth a diversion.
The common is one of the largest in the south of England at over 400 acres, and is divided into a number of different areas or enclosures. It’s also a Local Nature Reserve as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. In spring, you immediately notice the bluebells and gorse, but it is also home to heather, orchids, and lots of other wildlife. Of particular interest are Chailey Windmill (more of that anon) and the original premises of Chailey Heritage (next to the windmill). It also has its own Society which organises regular walks, talks, and activities and the common is the source of the water used by local gin producer Generation Distillers. But apart from all that, it’s a fabulous spot for a gentle walk.
Red House Common
Red House Common is the part of the common north of the A272 and you’ll find parking off Warrs Hill Lane (off the A275). If you want to take a map, it’s Ordnance Survey Explorer 135 but you don’t really need it. If you walk the entire circumference of Red House Common, it’s less than 4 km and although there are lots of little paths, it’s quite hard to get lost. From the car park, head southwest towards the windmill.
There are a couple of different ways to get to the windmill, but you’ll soon see the old Heritage building and the mill sails. There has been a windmill on this site since 1590 although this one was built in West Hoathly in 1830. She is sometimes known as Beard’s Mill or Heritage Mill. In 1844 she was moved from West Hoathley to Newhaven to act as a “navigation mark” for ships, and then, 20 years later, she was moved again to Chailey by bull cart. That must have been some sight to behold! She was working up until 1911 and my book on windmills suggests that the miller of the day would have been able to see the sweeps of Nutley, Argos Hill, Cross in Hand and Clayton from her fanstage!
There is a website about the windmill which says it’s open to visitors on the last Sunday of each month from April to September, 3-5 pm. But I turned up on the second Sunday of the month and it was open. You can climb up the first two floors, and see the wheel and various other interesting artefacts. The volunteers who run it are helpful and informative.
Exploring the common
If you want to carry on south west past the windmill, you’ll enjoy pleasant heathland but you’ll also hear the roar of the traffic. As you reach the most south western corner of this part of Chailey Common (as you near the road), there’s a footpath that takes you back north east, around the edge of the common. It gets boggy in places but you slowly leave the sound of the traffic behind you and on a sunny Sunday, I met no one, as I enjoyed the silence and the last of the bluebells.
You don’t need to follow a set route at this point because this is a meander of a walk, but as you progress, you’ll notice footpaths to your right leading up a reasonably steep incline. It’s worth the climb up here because the views are spectacular and a reminder that despite our concerns about the over-development of Sussex, there are still large areas under forest. There are various benches at the top here and when you’re ready, just potter your way back to the car.
If you’ve enjoyed this East Sussex walk on Chailey Common, you may also like: