Distance 6 km. Elevation 120 m. Difficulty: easy to medium
In some parts of France, the Randonnée Gourmande is a very popular pastime whereby you totter from one eatery to another (be it a local farm, vineyard or producer) sampling their wares in the name of exercise. I’ve long since harboured an ambition to organise some such events here in Sussex, but in the meantime, this 6 km offers excellent “gourmand” opportunities for the hungry walker.
It takes you via three Sussex villages and you can choose to start this route in any one of them, either before or after eating! I started in Handcross where there is a car park at the north end of the village.
Nymans and Cow Wood
The start point for this route is just opposite the Red Lion or from Nyman’s car park, where you take the Sussex Ouse Valley Way east through Nymans woods (the Sussex Ouse Valley Way is a 68 km trail from Lower Beeding to Seaford). If you get no further than this, you’ll still enjoy a fantastic walk. This is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there is in fact a National Trust 4 km trail walk around these woods from Nymans which takes in rocky outcrops, giant redwoods, trackside sculptures, and a lake. This is also where Jack Riddins the highwayman hid in a cave before he was hung.
I was running this route and the first 1.5 km is downhill which is always a pleasure. This stretch of woodland along the Ouse Valley Way is enchanting. It will eventually bring you to a small bridge and out of the woods. There was talk of the repairs to the bridge although it was open when I passed through. From the bridge, skirt right around the field (it’s signed) and bear right at the cattle grid onto a small lane which you follow all the way to Staplefield.
Victory at Staplefield
You emerge in the middle of Staplefield village with The Victory ahead to your left and this is where you part company with the Sussex Ouse Valley Way. The Victory is also your first watering hole and a great place for lunch but as you’ve only travelled about 2.5 km you might not be hungry yet, so perhaps just a light bite or some coffee.
If you want to keep walking (or running), aim for the cricket pavilion, and at the little crossroads take the middle lane to Slaugham. You have to walk along the lane here for just over 1.5 km. It’s a quiet lane but do watch out for traffic just in case. You’ll pass under the M23 (not the best bit of the walk) and as you head towards Slaugham, you’ll also pass what was Slaugham Place and is now luxury apartments. This was once a Tudor mansion with a late 16th to early 17th century walled enclosure, sadly demolished in the mid-18th century, but the ruins now form part of the garden landscape. Lord Nelson’s lawyer lived here for a while and in later years, it was a police training facility.
The rich Heritage of Slaugham
If you’re not from these parts, the first thing to know about Slaugham is that it’s not pronounced as you might think, and wow betide you if you pronounce it incorrectly. But this is a pretty village and it’s worth a detour into the graveyard. There’s a magnificent old yew tree here along with the sort of tomb boxes that might have been used by smugglers to hide their bounty.
Slaugham is also home to my earliest memory (of little interest to you) and The Heritage … the highlight of your gourmand tour. The Heritage is owned by Matt Gillan who has held a Michelin star and four AA rosettes, has appeared on Saturday Kitchen, Yes Chef and the Great British Menu, and who founded Random Precision Restaurants which “create dining experiences that are conceived outside of the box, with creativity and ingenuity but delivered precisely and professionally”. With each room offering a different experience, you can expect culinary excellence here!
Replete and ready to move on, and with the church behind you, head up through the centre of the village past the white phonebox and onto the High Weald Landscape Trail. It’s a straight run back to Handcross now but although it’s only about 2 km, it is mainly uphill.
Linger in Handcross
As you arrive back in Handcross, you’ll see the motorway to your right and you turn left and then right back to your starting point. You’ll re-cross the motorway and as you look south, you’ll get a sense of how far you’ve come and can see the road wind its way up to the Warninglid crossing.
If you haven’t eaten already you now might want to stop at the recently refurbished Red Lion or stock up at the traditional butcher’s opposite. You could of course also visit Nymans whilst here and if it’s of any interest to you, Handcross has a most excellent hardware shop!