A walk in the Weald

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:22 am

View of the Weald, East SussexThe Weald is an area of outstanding natural beauty in South East England that, broadly speaking, stretches through the counties of Surrey, Sussex and Kent, between the chalk of the North and South Downs.  It is characterised by small farms and fields, sunken lanes, gentle hills, deep deciduous woods, pretty picture-box ridge-top villages and attractive pubs.  On the downside, my word, the roads can get busy; and drivers, high on testosterone and low on courtesy, sometimes do not take prisoners. To be fair, this can be a feature of many parts of modern Britain, not only the relatively affluent South East.  Fortunately, these people appear to stay away from the many footpaths that cross the Weald – though, it is noticeable (and, normally, I avoid generalisations) that walkers in the south of England are less prone to spontaneous friendly greetings than those in the north; maybe it’s a cultural trait.

Walk in the WealdWe were meeting Son and Daughter of Britain with their respective partners. It was a particularly joyous reunion because – like millions of others – we had not seen each other for more than a year due to Covid restrictions. Illness had added the cold hand of anxiety to the separation.  So, in short, the occasion was happy and precious.  Son of Britain had planned a series of walks to help celebrate the reunion, the first of which was a gentle 50-mile (it may have been less than that) route march through the Sussex and Kent countryside.

A holloway in the WealdThe Weald is an ancient and unique area.  To the Saxons, it was part of the dense forest of Anderida, Andredesweald, Anderida being the name of the Roman fort at Pevensey and weald (modern German Wald) meaning forest or woodland.  However, human presence in the Weald goes much further back, to the end of the last Ice Age, and it has an industrial history of ironworking and pottery dating from prehistoric times.  In the Roman period and again in the 16th and early 17th centuries, long before the Industrial Revolution, the Weald was Britain’s main iron producing region.  Echoes of the old industry can be found in coppices that were managed to grow the wood for charcoal, in the remains of furnace ponds and in place names; our walk began not far from the hamlet of Hammerwood, for example.  The sunken lanes, droveways, are evidence of transhumance farming that took place over many centuries, the regular movement of beasts along the same routes to summer pastures and back again inexorably wearing down the ground into beguiling holloways.  Unusually for England, Wealden settlements grew around smallholdings; there was no communal open-field agriculture. It is also an area of large houses, grand old estates and, these days, more than its fair share of vineyards. The Weald is also where Winnie-the-Pooh lived: no, not the Disney version – the real one.

The Roman road between London and LewesWhat can I tell you about our walk?  We were instructed to assemble in a lay-by near the hamlet (or golf club) of Holtye.  Following a quick briefing and boot donning ceremony, we plunged straight away into light woodland. Dappled light flitted across the undergrowth and a warm, wet earthy, smell wafted up from the path.  After a short while, Our Leader paused to introduce us to a segment of the Roman road that once led from London to Lewes (and back, presumably).  We stood on its route, facing a fenced-off nettle-covered corridor.  The road was built sometime early in the second century and much of it has been destroyed by ploughing, but this section was excavated in 1939. The surface was found to be layers of iron cinder, well-rammed and rusted together.  In this leafy glade, it was hard to imagine the tramping of soldiers’ boots (“sinister dexter, sinister dexter etc…”), but the road’s primary use is thought to have been by commercial traffic, so if you close your eyes you may hear the rattle of waggon wheels, clopping of hooves and the nattering of traders.  Oddly, the metal sign telling us a bit about the road had what looked like half a dozen bullet holes in it; perhaps the Romans were more technically advanced than I realised.

Deer in the WealdDonkeysWe emerged from the woods into a small field, planted with crops. And this was the pattern of the walk: woodland, often via an old holloway, small field, farm or some sort of impressive dwelling; repeat. It was easy going, and I found it particularly relaxing because someone else was doing the map reading.  A herd of small deer watched us warily from the edge of a wood.  They sniffed the air.  I tried to take a photograph of them at maximum zoom, but all my shots were out of focus. This is a metaphor for life, I thought; the way ahead is unclear.  In recompense, we came across a couple of friendly donkeys and spent a few pointless minutes passing the time of day with them.  We picnicked in a field festooned with wild flowers, chatting and munching happily (us, not the flowers).  Later, an impressive, Tudor-looking, house came into view through the trees. Then, behind a wall, loomed a large, brick, tower. This was the gatehouse to Bolebroke (or Bolebrook) Castle, a 16th century hunting lodge allegedly used by Henry VIII when stalking boar, deer – and young Anne Boleyn, who lived about 5 miles to the north at Hever Castle.  Bolebroke is currently privately owned, though some websites suggest it may be open to the public.  In any event, it looks pretty swanky and is (of course) meant to be haunted.  An inquisitive grey squirrel paused to eye our passing and we watched him (or her) to see what it would do next.  It didn’t do anything.  Non-native North American grey squirrels are two a penny in urban parks, where they will often eat from your hand; but in the wild they’re less dependent, and more bashful.

Bolebroke CastleGrey squirrelAfter all this excitement, I have to mention a pit-stop at Perryhill Farm Shop and Tearoom, which I am happy to say is one of the most wonderful emporia I have ever been introduced to. Son of Britain and his delightful soon-to-be missus know it well.  In addition to basic foodstuffs, it is a source of a whole range of imaginative and tempting condiments, as well as a wide selection of ciders.  I don’t know about you, but I find part of the temptation with ciders is in the quaint names often bestowed upon them by their makers.  Well, who could resist a flagon of Rosie’s Knee Trembler, or a couple of pints of Owd Cox Armpit?  The trouble comes later.  Cider invariably tastes so innocuous and then you discover it’s done strange things to your legs and vision.  At Perryhill, you can taste before you buy and draw off your choice into a handy take-away carton.  We had ice creams and coffee, but couldn’t resist purchasing a couple of ciders to savour later, when safely home and in a controlled environment.

Oast house in the WealdWealden houseOur leader took us on a loop north of Hartfield (once home to Winnie-the-Pooh – did we mention him?), with views of its church spire.  We turned north through Basset’s Manor, where (as you can imagine), all sorts were expected.  Horses grazed in neat meadows and a variety of businesses, equestrian and not, were based there. One calling itself ‘Mechanical Horses’ conjured up alarming images; on investigation, it turned out to be a form of training – like aircraft simulators for prospective riders. Another business seemed to be doing up old cars. With a faint whiff of nostalgia, I spotted a Ford Escort, circa 1968, and remembered convincing school-chums I was getting a bright orange one of those because I was sure to win a competition on the back of a breakfast cereal box.

View of Hartfield

Horses grazing in the East Sussex WealdAnd that’s all I have to say about a walk in the Weald (AONB), for the moment.

56 thoughts on “A walk in the Weald”

  1. I enjoyed seeing all of your photographs, what a lovely part of the UK this is.

    So pleased you were able to meet up with your son, daughter and their partners again.

    My good wishes.

    All the best Jan

  2. I am so pleased you have been able to see your son, daughter and their partners again. The Weald is such a beautiful part of the country and your photographs are lovely as always (even the fuzzy deer). I am sure I have said before that I have numerous cousins living in that part of the world; the eldest son of one of my cousins even lives in the grounds of Hever Castle. His wife works there. I hope you have now fully recovered from your illness last year.

  3. Cider tends to make my knees wobble a bit too.
    I’ve never been to this area, it looks gorgeous, perhaps next time I visit England….. if travel ever becomes possible again.

  4. Thanks Mike – you’ve done lots of justice to this part of the world … I used to use that road through Hartfield a lot … going from E/b to Oxted, or east Kent to see relatives. Beautiful photos … delightful post – nostalgia for me by the Ocean waves!!
    So glad you had time with the family – looks a great time together – fun memories … cheers Hilary

      1. My uncle lived at Limpsfield Chart and his daughter married and moved to West Malling … so it’s an area I know reasonably well … I didn’t know the business side or Oxted really for that matter – no need to visit, except to skirt by if not visiting LC. Mostly visiting their homes … cheers Hilary

  5. A lovely walk, and so good to be able to see your family again.
    This is a part of the south I don’t know, so it was interesting to read about it.
    Talking of cider, just outside of Eastbourne, near where I live, is the English Cider Centre at a farm shop called Middle Farm.
    We don’t go there very often because of the reasons you mention. Too tempting, then the wobbly legs and strange vision, not to mention the sudden inability to say certain words.
    Since it’s not very far away from here, I think we should go and have a walk there.

  6. What a beautiful walk but made all the more special by the reunion of your family. Did you walk the full 50 miles? Ah, that would definitely be out of my wheelhouse! But the tea room emporium sounds like a perfect stop! I loved seeing the deer (even if fuzzy) and the donkeys too. Eeyore, perhaps?

  7. I enjoyed reading about this area which I do not know at all, Mike. I read that AA Milne’s son, Christopher was estranged from him because of his inclusion of his son in Winne the Pooh. I wonder if Christopher turned his nose up at the royalties from the books and movies.

    1. It’s a favourite part of the world, Robbie. Yes, I’d read similar things about Christopher – it must have been hard, being defined in that way. Good question about the royalties!

  8. I had an inspection by a squirrel yesterday. He – presumably – leaped out of the tree opposite, enthusiasically and forcefully inspected the security arrangements of the shower room (an open porthole, fortunately not open wide enough for a squirrel to get through…), ran along the gunwales tut-tutting, leapt onto the bow and sat atop my mooring rope knitting, and very eventually scurried along the towpath. He paused on the towpath just long enough to award me a bras d’honneur with two extra marks for the look of “huh?” on my face.

    I don’t think he’d been to the Weald though. It’s been a year or fifty since I was last there too.

  9. How lovely to see the family again.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the walk in the Weald and I thank you for taking me along.

  10. Actually I thought it was, “sinster (pause), sinister (pause), sinister, dexter, sinister (pause). At least that is what I hear when I close my eyes and listen very carefully when out a wandrin’ in the Weald. I hope the donkey’s weren’t put out that you thought the few minutes spent with them were pointless.

  11. So many beautiful photos, Mike! You mentioned the people in the north being more friendly. Funny thing is that Ive been in Las Vegas form 9 years now, the people here are just not as friendly as those in the north where I am from. It must be the cold climate!

    1. I don’t think northerners are more friendly, John, but I do think southerners can be more reserved. But then I’m a southerner! Also, there’s something about walking in wilder parts of the country that seems to encourage greetings.

      1. I assure you, the folks in Michigan are indeed more friendly than these people in the southwest. It’s so obvious to me.

  12. I love this journey. Wish I could join you. As for grey squirrels, I’m not so sure I’d feed them. Maybe they don’t carry rabies in the UK (I know rabies is “supposed” to be non-existent there), but grey squirrels carry rabies in the US and if they’re imports, I’d worry that they brought rabies with them. It’s good to remember that you can dress a rat up in a fur coat, but it’s still a rat. That said, lovely posting. I look forward to resuming my own posts soon. I’ve been busy writing a novel, which is almost done (this round, anyway), and ready for my editor.

    1. I’m grateful that you join virtually, Aline! Squirrels are generally considered to be ‘cuddly’ over here – though they can of course be real pests. Frankly, I don’t understand why people feed pigeons (rats of the skies) in towns – but that’s another story!

  13. Thank you for this post. My family on my paternal grandfather’s side came from this area. Beautiful photos!

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