Distance 13.6 km. Elevation 285 m. Ordnance Survey Explorer 133
Back in the summer (oh how that feels a long time ago), I did this Tillington to Cowdray Park walk / run with Gerald Gresham Cooke. Gerald is an experienced Petworth Town Walk leader. He’s lived in the area for over 15 years and is a wealth of knowledge about both Petworth and the surrounding area. We saw so much of interest on this walk, and I am not sure I can do it full justice. So, if you want to know more, one of Gerald’s guided walks is for you.
Tillington to Pitshill
The start point is What3Words: sleepers.graceful.sleeper. There is street parking but it’s limited.
Tillington is easy to whizz past as you make your way along the A272 but it’s well worth a visit. As you drive up the hill (with gorgeous views of the Downs behind you) you come to a church and a pub. A church was first built on the site in 1180 and the current building has a font that dates back to the 12th century. The church also has a distinctive bell tower and a really interesting stained glass window. Gerald is your expert here if you want to know more.
Opposite the church, the very pretty Horse Guards Inn is worth a stop for a drink or lunch after your walk. They have a back courtyard garden and a great menu. The walk sets off down Cemetery Lane and through the cemetery. It’s a really charming cemetery with a lime tree-lined path and an unusual gate at the far end. The gate is dated 1863 and is in memory of the Mitford family. If you don’t know of the Mitfords, they were a well-known aristocratic family, particularly known in the 20th century for the six Mitford sisters. More of the Mitfords anon.
From here, you follow the footpath which crosses the lane and then leads to the Roebuck Estate and vineyards. Turn right up the hill as you enter the vines, looking behind you at the views of the South Downs Way. Follow the path as it wiggles along (you turn right onto a quiet lane and then bear left shortly afterward) and along to the edge of Upperton Common.
Pitshill House then comes into view. This is a Grade II listed house built in the neoclassical style. It was built between 1760 and 1794 by William Mitford and his son. Yes, the same Mitfords. It’s considered a really important Sussex building and has a number of notable ancillary buildings, gardens, and parklands (also Grade II listed).
It was owned by the Mitfords until 1959 when it was sold to Sir Colville Barclay. Thereafter, it gradually fell into a sorry state of disrepair. In about 1998, it was bought by the Hon Charles Pearson and his wife Lila. Mr Pearson is the second son of the 3rd Viscount Cowdray and he embarked on an ambitious and lengthy restoration. In 2017 Pitshill House won the Georgian Group top Architectural Award and second prize in the Historic Houses Association Restoration Awards. Having seen some photos of the inside, it looks magnificent.
Pitshill House to River to Lodsworth
From Pitshill, follow the narrow footpath through the woods to the little hamlet of River. As you walk, you can see Black Down through the trees in the distance. Gerald tells me this path would have been used by servants and you can’t help but imagine them trudging through the wind and the mud to get to the house and work. From River, you can take either the bridlepath or the footpath west. You walk through River Wood and cross the River Lod via Eel Bridge and then gradually start the climb and approach to Lodsworth which you can see ahead.
Lodsworth to Benbow Pond
Lodsworth is home to an excellent village store (the Lodworth Larder), a holy spring that you’ll pass on your way into the village, and a blue plaque in honour of Ernest H. Shepard (illustrator of the Winnie the Pooh stories and The Wind in the Willows).
It’s perfectly acceptable to head home from here, but it’s equally worth pushing on. As you face the (now shut) Hollist Arms, bear left and follow the lane uphill until you reach Heath End Farm when you take the bridlepath track off to your right. You walk into the woods and along the north side of Heathend Copse before the path takes you into a large open field and the landscape starts to change.
On the map, you are heading east towards Steward’s Pond and Broomshill Plantation and as you walk around the field, you’ll come to a little gate. This takes you into Cowdray Park and you will see a little sign that says you are passing through an avenue of lime trees planted to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Towards the end of this avenue and off to your right is the Queen Elizabeth I Oak, one of 50 Great British Trees and thought to be 800 to 1,000 years old. Legend has it that Queen Elizabeth I sat underneath it. The tree is gorgeous.
Turn your feet south now to Benbow Pond. If you’ve ever driven the A272, you’ll recognise this. There is parking at the pond, lots of bird life, the 16-acre John Cowdray Arboretum, and a domed memorial temple built in 2000 in memory of the late Viscount Cowdray the Third.
The Ordnance Survey map is not very helpful when it comes to showing the various footpaths here, but paths are reasonably well-signed and there are lots of Cowdray Park walks for another day. From here, retrace your steps home. You can see from the map above that we came back a slightly different way from River, along River Lane until we met up with our original route in the vineyards (where they host tours and tastings).
Gerald does a guided Tillingotn to Cowdray Park walk and on to Midhurst, particularly on Sussex Day in June. You can contact him for details of this and other tours and walks here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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