Originally published 1st November in www.urbanescapist.wordpress.com
Walking along the upper reaches of the River Adur I looked south towards the crown of Beech trees that form Chanctonbury Ring and realised what a good feeling my only worry this weekend was where to walk on Sunday. The clocks were due to go back in the early hours and the day of the year I least looked forward to was fast approaching. This year, though, I was determined to view Winter differently and not as a few cold months of darkness that delays the arrival of Spring. Instead I am intent to find the hidden beauty of winter many people speak about but has so far eluded me. As I walked back to the car and the last rays of the Autumn sun did their best to recapture their lost strength of mid summer I knew that to get me on course for the next few months I needed to visit my favourite spot in West Sussex and perhaps the south of England – Black Down.
Before I left on Sunday I decided on a change from my normal walk which started at one of the National Trust car parks off Tennyson Lane at the top of Black Down. Instead I would walk to the top starting from Haslemere. A quick look at the map and I noticed that some of my route would venture onto the Serpent Trail. I had heard of this walk and a few minutes later with the help of Google I learnt the path was 64 miles long winding its way between Haslemere and Petersfield. The two towns are only 11 miles apart so this snake shaped path sounded very intriguing. Maybe walking the length of the path in stages is a project I can look at another time but today I guess I can say I did a few miles at the start and hopefully in time I can fill in the gaps.
It was a pleasant afternoon and definitely not the dark and dreary day I always imagine it will be after we lose the hour of daylight. Just past Petworth House heading towards North Chapel on the A283 the dark slopes of Black Down appear rising from the Low Weald on the left hand side. At 280 m it is the highest point of the South Downs National Park. On arriving at Haslemere there are a couple of car parks located on the left of the High Street as I faced north so parking was easy and with the special bonus of free parking on a Sunday. Time was against me today and I only had a couple of hours walking time so I hastily sped off in search of the start of the Serpent Trail. Nearly failing at the first hurdle I couldn’t find the start but eventually saw a sign on Well Lane marking the Serpent Trail’s beginning. The path took me down towards Swan Barn Farm which is a National Trust owned site and within just a few yards the noise from the town’s High Street had disappeared. Going over a stile there was a notice stating a bull was in the field so please take an alternative route. Already running late, having lost about ten minutes trying to find the start, I could have done without that but thankfully the path I needed veered away from the field with the bull in. Following the path in a south easterly direction I soon came to the B2131 Petworth Road which I crossed and the path carried on but this time now running along the bottom of the north eastern side of Black Down. I noticed it was taking me downhill so that was causing some concern that the uphill stretch maybe steeper than I wanted it to be. The Ordnance Survey map shows a waterfall to the left of the path about half a mile from the road but I couldn’t see it or hear it and time was against me to take any detours so I guess that’s one for another day to explore. There was a stream running down the hill so probably a vantage point a little lower down and looking up would have given me the answer to where the waterfall was. Soon the path started to ascend and this carried on until I reached Tennyson Lane. Turning right into Tennyson Lane the gradient certainly became a lot more challenging and the Serpent Trail headed upwards along the road until I came across the second National Trust car park which is situated on the left hand side. Tennyson Lane is a quiet country road and I was only passed by the odd car and a couple of cyclists. There were plenty of Chestnuts on the ground from the surrounding trees but I didn’t have time to collect them for roasting later as the clock was ticking.
Once in the car park the Serpent Trail enters the National Trust site at Black Down through a gate and the tarmac from the road disappears and is replaced by dusty sandstone paths. As I walked down the path very soon on my right appeared two Dew ponds. From memory I don’t ever seem to remember these running dry even in the hottest of summers. When walking on Black Down my aim is always to visit the Temple of the Winds. This is a magnificent view point at the southern end of Black Down with views across the Weald to Devils Dyke, Chanctonbury Ring and some say on a good day the sea towards Littlehampton. The area has a certain mystical and spiritual feel about it and it’s always such a relaxing feeling admiring the view sitting on the curved stone seat. Unfortunately today I just did not have the time to walk down to this view point but as I visited it earlier in the Summer whilst walking with one of my daughters I wasn’t too upset, there will always be next time and hopefully not too far off. A few hundred yards past the gate I turned off the Serpent Trail and headed westwards along the Sussex Border Path which took me along some attractive heather heathland and I shortly regained the Serpent Trail which had double backed on itself onto the Sussex Border Path after it had travelled to the Temple of the Winds.
The path carries on in a westerly direction where different fungi were growing on the cut timber piled at the side of the path. One of the good points of managed woodland and heathland is that there is always plenty of cut timber for fungi to grow and I just wish I knew more about identifying the different types. After a steady decline the path eventually reaches the bottom of the hill at Stedlands Farm and where it meets the country lane take a right heading north back towards Haslemere. Cross Scotland Lane and then an alley way with playing fields on the left heads back to the Petworth Road B2131 and from there turn left back into the town centre.
Overall it was a pleasant walk and although I was a little disappointed to miss the Temple of the Winds a nice way to spend Sunday afternoon. I am sure I will be back there soon and lets hope Winter won’t be too dreary this year and I do discover its natural beauty over the coming months!