Distance: 5.25 km. Elevation: 178 m. Difficulty: Easy to Medium
If you ever find yourself on the road from Wisborough Green to Petworth, you’ll have passed the hidden gem that is The Mens Nature Reserve. It’s a large area of ancient woodland and the name is apparently Anglo Saxon (and means common land). Managed (on a low intervention basis) by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, you can park at the Crimbourne Lane car park (a narrow lane to Hawkhurst Court off the A272). The area is covered by Ordnance Survey 34, although the map is of little use as it doesn’t show any footpath leading away from the car park. But there is one.
Through the woods
Despite my determination to follow the map, which fell flat straight away, we just took the main path from the car park. This is a wonderful stretch of woodland trail and it feels wild and unkempt, winding its way through a tunnel of vast trees. The best advice I can give you at this stage is to just follow the path for a kilometre or so until it bends round and crosses a small stream. With beech trees and steep embankments, The Mens Nature Reserve is ideal for an autumn walk when the colours are in full swing!
Once you’ve crossed the stream, you’ll be able to make out Hawkhurst Court to the left and then the path leads you down until you reach another stream (or perhaps it’s the same one) where there are the remains of an old broken bridge. We followed the path along the edge of the river until we reached a narrow lane, where we turned right and then right again back into the woods. You’re on a section of the Sussex Diamond Way here (a 97 km footpath that goes from Midhurst to Heathfield).
Once back into the woods, a long straight path takes you to Bedham, and you’ll know you’re nearly there when you reach houses and a pretty garden, where you turn right onto another little lane. At this point, we had very little idea where we were, so we just followed the lane uphill past various houses until we reached Wakestone Lane. It’s quite a climb.
Bedham church ruins
If you turn right onto the lane, the ruins of Bedham church are a short distance along and hard to miss. Built as a church and school in 1880 for families and children living in the community of Bedham, it was abandoned in 1959. Sadly, it was vandalised during the pandemic but it’s still a very evocative spot. From here, there’s a footpath to your right (and then take another right) and it will bring you back in a loop to the path you walked to get here.
I am never a fan of a “there and back” route ( I prefer a loop) but with the light fading, we didn’t have time to explore alternative ways of getting back to the car. In the end, it didn’t matter. This is such a delightful and undulating bit of woodland with great diversity of trees and wildlife, and a slightly magical feel. But better still, even with little idea of where we were, it was pretty hard to get lost. I can’t wait to get back there and explore some more!
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