During the various lockdowns, the Knepp Castle walk became a very popular walk, and as a result, heavy footfall and parking started to cause damage as well as concern. But now the crowds have now abated, I felt it was time to visit this stunning, local estate.
The Knepp Estate has been owned by the Burrell family since 1787. Anyone who knows Ockendon Manor in Cuckfield, may also know that in 1658, John Burrell bought Ockendon Manor having made his money in the Sussex iron industry, and the Knepp Burrell family and the Cuckfield Burrells are related. William Burrell who was given the Knepp Estate by his father-in-law, was also a famous historian. His significant collection of 1,300 watercolour views of Sussex (with a particular focus on historic buildings) is in the British Library and include details and paintings from various tours of Sussex. William’s son Charles commissioned the well-known architect, John Nash, to build the Knepp mansion.
Like so many of our great estates, Knepp and its contents were ravaged by fire in 1904 but fortunately, the family commissioned an identical rebuild and the current incumbent is Charlie Burrell. The house is not open to the public but the gardens can be visited as part of the National Gardens Scheme.
Knepp Castle ruins
Anyone who lives in the area will also be familiar with the Knepp ruins, visible from the A24. They are now no more than a single tower but they date back to the 12th century when a castle was built here by William de Braose. Following the Norman conquest, de Braose was granted lands by William the Conqueror and became the first feudal baron of the Rape of Bramber. He built Bramber Castle as well as Knepp which was his hunting lodge. Braose also owned lands elsewhere including the castle in the grounds of where Sedgewick Park House now stands on the other side of Horsham. King John, Henry III, Edward II and Richard II all stayed at Knepp. Sadly, the castle was destroyed by Parliamentary troops during the English Civil War.
The Knepp estate
There are 3,500 acres of estate and it’s quite literally teeming with wildlife. On my recent visit, I saw deer (including three stags), Tamworth pigs, Exmoor ponies, and storks. It’s all part of the Knepp Estate rewilding work which is a type of nature conservation.
Although the land is still farmed they produce organic, pasture-fed meat from their free-roaming herds. There is always lots going on at the estate and you can stay on the estate either in a treehouse, a shepherd’s hut, or in a tent or yurt. They also run wildlife Safaris, or, if you don’t fancy any of that, you could just do what I did, and go for a jolly good walk.
When choosing a Knepp castle walk, bear in mind that there are different routes of varying lengths around the estate and they are named: white, red, yellow and blue. There are also maps available from a box hung on a gate near the car park or you can download them from the website. There is an estate car park which you’ll find just outside Dial Post, although beware, SatNav takes you elsewhere. You are invited to make a voluntary contribution in return for parking which seems fair enough. You are also asked to follow the Countryside Code. In particular, shut gates, stick to the paths, be respectful of the wildlife, and don’t leave any litter.
I walked the blue route and although there are some muddy bits, the paths are mainly made up and flat. The blue route takes you roughly north west and is a 10 km walk through beautiful, well maintained, and unspoilt countryside. It also takes you past The Countryman Inn just outside Shipley. They have a restaurant, a little shop, and seating outside with much of their produce sourced from Knepp. It’s a great halfway replenishing point.
Having completed the blue route, I didn’t want to leave Knepp without a visit to the ruins. They are on the red route and about 1.5 km from the car park. The landscape changes as you get nearer and it starts to feel like the approach to somewhere special. Although only a solitary tower remains, the ruins are strangely evocative when you get up close and personal particularly when you know some of their back story and can picture those giants of English history who have walked here before you.
The drive up to the car park is through a fantastic arch of autumn leaves, but besides these, I’d recommend Knepp for a walk at any time of the year.
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