Petworth walk. Distance: 4.5 km. Elevation: 134 m. Difficulty: Easy.
The Friends of the South Downs is a membership charity with the aim of “campaigning, protecting and conserving the landscape of the South Downs so that it can be enjoyed by everyone for future generations”. As part of this, they organise over 200 walks a year. This week, I joined one such walk to explore this small corner of West Sussex on the outskirts of Petworth. Our guide was the very erudite Gerald Gresham Cooke, of nearby Tillington who was kind enough to share not just his knowledge but also his notes (below). My fellow walkers were warm, welcoming and very interesting.
This walk is an absolute classic. It has the ingredients of great views and wonderful woodland. It is hugely rewarding, especially for those who want to go somewhere other than Petworth Park. This walk is perfect for dogs too.
Start at the Round the Hills path east of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church off Angel Street. Take the steps down into the Shimmings Valley (passing Withy Copse on your right). Keep straight ahead across the Rectory Fields and over the small concrete bridge spanning the Haslingbourne stream.
Walk straight ahead gradually climbing for 100 yards until you reach a few scattered trees where you bear left towards the hedge. Follow the hedge on the left and keep climbing. At the top of the field, go through a gate and continue uphill, eventually passing between two copses of trees, reaching the summit of delightfully named Sugar Knob Hill. In front, you will see a field gate that leads to a barn. Ignore that way, head towards the gap in the hedge, and pass through a kissing gate and the entrance to Lovers Lane. At each stage of the climb, stop and look back for ever-increasingly impressive views of Petworth, the South Downs and Black Down.
Follow the lovely lane uphill until you reach the top which then becomes Brinksole Heath. Here there is the best notice in Sussex, “…you are welcome to walk in these woodlands” (signed Leconfield Estate). Such an excellent notice, given that most notices say, “Keep Out” or “Private”. In fact, it was recently the subject of the correspondence pages of The Times newspaper.
Gog and Magog
At the start of the Heath (mostly a wood), turn right onto a track, and after 200 yards turn right through a metal gate. Follow the track until you reach the back of the Goanah (pron. Gonner) Lodges on Gog and Magog Hill. In 1700, two large sculptures, nicknamed Gog and Magog, were made for the 6th Duke of Somerset (of Petworth House). They were giant warriors/horsemen, Gog the man and Magog the wife, of the Old Testament. Hence Gog & Magog Hill.
This grand entrance and pair of lodges that appear to be in the middle of nowhere was originally designed to be the main entrance for visitors to Petworth House which you can see across the valley but didn’t prove to be a practical choice for the poor horses who had to traverse the boggy valley and climb up to the house. In 1750, Gog and Magog were moved up here by Capability Brown, and then in 1870s moved back to the main entrance of Petworth House in Park Road where they are today. They are on the crest of both the Egremont family and the Petworth Town Council.
A pilgrimage spring
Continue downhill on the track and bear right for the back of the Petworth Cottage Nursing Home. There are more views as you descend to the A283, where you turn left on the footpath, until you cross the road to Byworth. 100 yards on (well before the Black Horse) is a footpath on your right, go down this and cross the Haslingbourne again via a small bridge and turn right. For a slight detour: turn left for 25 yards to visit the Virgin Mary Spring. The Spring was a site of pilgrimage for people with eye problems. The rare Marsh Penny Wort plant grows around it and the water is refreshingly clean.
Follow the path east towards Petworth, don’t divert left, and climb the steep slope to the top and at the back of Sheepdown Drive houses. Pass the lovely Georgian-styled Dinton House (previously home of Hon. Carlyn Wyndham) on the right. Continue on the drive/track and come out onto the A283 at Angel Street, crossing the road for where you started, or straight on for the town centre.
While you’re in Petworth and enjoyed this Petworth walk, you may also be interested in: