(Refer to OS Explorer Map: Ashdown Forest 135)
This circular countryside walk of approximately 10 km (5.5 miles) starts in the pretty village of West Hoathly and takes in Gravetye Manor, Kingscote Vineyard, the Weir Wood Reservoir and the Bluebell Railway.
The walk starts in the ‘Finche Field’ Public Car Park in Church Road/Hill in West Hoathly. Take the paved footpath at the top left-hand end of the car park. Pass the South Downs viewpoint orientation stone on the left and keep straight ahead following the path parallel with the road. At a crossroads, keep straight ignoring footpaths to the left and right. Join the lane and walk between the houses to the end of Sandy Lane. Turn right and walk with care along the lane to join the pavement on the right in front of the school, then cross across the road to join the pavement on the opposite side of the lane in front of the play fields. (Stop at the public conveniences here if you need them).
Pass the High Weald Landscape Trail finger point sign on the left, carefully cross across the main road and join the lane opposite passing the West Hoathly Garage on your right. Follow the track down the hill as the path becomes a dirt track through a tunnel of trees. At the wooden finger post bear left to continue following the High Weald Landscape Trail cutting straight across the field towards a group of oak trees. Pass under the trees and follow the footpath sign down the hill with Gravetye Manor across the valley in the distance. Follow the path down the steps in the left hand bottom corner of the field. Take care as the path is rocky and uneven and will be slippery and muddy when wet. Ignore the footpath sign to the left and keep straight crossing near a stile into another field and follow the line of trees on the left up a slope, ignoring the footpath to the left and making your way down the hill through a gap in the hedge and crossing through a kissing gate. Gravetye Manor can be reached by crossing a stone bridge across the stream, following the path up the hill, past ornate metal gates and keeping the wall on your left until you reach the driveway with the entrance to Gravetye Manor on the left.
To continue with the walk, retrace your steps back to the bridge over the stream and turn left near a Forestry Commission sign to follow the lakeside path. At the eastern end of the lake join a broader track from the right and follow it downhill. At the bottom cross a small stream and turn immediately right following the public footpath. A kissing gate leads into trees; go straight over a crossing track and on leaving the trees, keep right around the open field ahead towards a wooden fingerpost. On the far side exit the field through a gate and go straight over the tarmac drive and in 25m turn right on a wide track which crosses a stream and passes under a red brick bridge for the Bluebell Railway.
Follow the track towards the buildings of Mill Place Farm and you will see the Kingscote Winery Shop and Visitor Centre on the left and the Mill Place Farmhouse on the right. Keep straight ahead and after crossing a brick bridge over the broad stream continue to the right following the bridleway signs with a fishing lake on the left. The track curves right and begins climbing. Part way up the hill follow the bridleway as it swings left and becomes a more sunken path. The path continues climbing gently and soon the strange shapes of Stone Farm Rocks appear down to your right.
Just as the path begins to descend, at the last of the large rocks, turn right and reverse your direction along the foot of the rocks. In 75m reach a flat, sandy area faced with six large rocks. Take steps down to a lower area and turn left down a narrow, twisting path to a stile leading into an open field. Pass to the right of the electricity pylon and drop over a stile to the public road and turn right.
After crossing a stream cross the road carefully and turn left into Legsheath Lane. In 300m turn right following a fingerpost up a wide track towards a modern building on the hillside. The path follows the hedgeline on the right to pass between school buildings and joins a tarmac drive up to the main road. Turn left past Neylands Farm Cottages and in a further 10m turn right along the Sussex Border Path through a permanent campsite. As the track begins to drop into woods keep left to a bridge over a stream. Climb then to a stile leading into more open countryside and a path enclosed between wire fences (Take care as these fences may be electrified). The path becomes a concrete drive as it passes New Coombe Farm and then crosses a stile and goes under the Bluebell Railway line. There is a pond and New Coombe Houseon the right and eventually you reach a public road with the remains of Sharpthorne Station to your left. At this point turn immediately right into Bluebell Lane and follow the track uphill to the main road. Cross the road and join the footpath opposite. Head up the hill parallel with the lane with the allotments on your right and back to the car park.
Point of Interest
WEST HOATHLY: The village itself is worthy of a detour from the car park to stop for refreshments at the pub or have a wander round the village with its Church, views of the South Downs and Priest’s House all worth a visit.
The CAT INN is a pleasant English country pub serving a large range of beers, wines and spirits in the centre of West Hoathly. The current building dates from the 16th century and had a reputation as a smugglers haunt. It is open from 12noon to 11pm (Sunday 12 – 4:30pm only).
ST. MARGARET’S CHURCH has a prominent position in the village. A Norman baron ordered a church to be built here in 1090 and it was held by Lewes Priory for over 400 years. The building has been gradually enlarged over the centuries and has many delightful features, including an old parish chest and stained glass designed by William Kempe. The churchyard boasts far-reaching views towards the South Downs and the beautiful stone-arched lych gate was given to the church by William Robinson of Gravetye in 1923.
The PRIEST HOUSE is a timber-framed hall house built in the 15th century for the Priory of St. Pancras in Lewes. It was seized by Henry VIII in 1538 and belonged in turn to Thomas Cromwell, Anne of Cleves, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Central chimneys and a Horsham Stone roof were added in the 16th century to create a substantial yeoman farmer’s house.
Now a museum, it contains a varied collection of 17th and 18th century furniture and other domestic bygones. The gardens contain many plants of medicinal and culinary value. Their style was influenced by William Robinson’s concept of the ‘wild garden’ at Gravetye. It is open from 1st March to 31st October daily (except Monday).
GRAVETYE MANOR: The Elizabethan house was built for love in 1598 by Richard Infield, an ironmaster, for his new bride Katherine Compton. However, Gravetye’s most notable owner, William Robinson, one of the greatest gardeners of all time, bought the Manor and the one thousand acres in which it stands in 1885, and it was his home until he died well into his nineties in 1935. It was at Gravetye that he realised many of his ideas for the creation of the English natural garden, the style of which is now admired and copied all over the world, but of which Robinson in the nineteenth century was a pioneer.Gravetye Manor is now a luxury country house hotel and restaurant and continues to maintain and nurture this historically important garden for its guests to enjoy.
KINGSCOTE ESTATE & VINEYARD: Mill Place Farm house, a grade II listed building, is a fine example of a medieval hall house. Built in 1320, it was originally one large open room covered by a vast roof with a fire in the centre. Over the centuries many changes were made, including the creation of a firstfloor and individual bedrooms. The current owner restored the house using traditional methods and materials.
Once part of the property owned by William Robinson at Gravetye, Alison Monge bought the farm house and the 150 acre Kingscote Estate from the Forestry Commission in the late 1990s. This was not always a remote, quiet rural area – The Weald was rich in iron ore and also had an abundance of wood and water needed for its processing; this was a busy industrial landscape. Mill Place Farm house was originally the home of a medieval iron master who ran a foundry in the valley.
Since 2010, 15 acres of vines have been planted. A modern winery has been built with the technology to make still and sparkling wines on site. In addition, a two acre apple orchard was planted in 2011 with 14 varieties of English apples used to make a champagne-style ‘cyder’.
The BLUEBELL RAILWAY. It was originally intended to re-open the entire line from East Grinstead to Lewes and run a commercial service, however,the Lewes and East Grinstead Railway Preservation Society was unable to acquire the whole line so in the Summer of 1960 a 5-mile section opened between Sheffield Park and Horsted Keynes. Trains only ran at weekends but passenger numbers exceeded all expectations and it was proven that the service could be successfully run by volunteers. The railway now runs one of the finest collection of rolling stock on any preserved line. The line has been gradually extended and currently runs 11 miles from Sheffield Park to East Grinstead with regular weekly and weekend services from March to the end of October and special Christmas Santa trains in December.
WEIR WOOD RESERVOIR was created in the mid-1950s by damming the River Medway to meet an ever increasing demand for water. It is owned by Southern Water and the eastern end is used for sailing and fishing. In 1966 the western end was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the range of resident and migrant birds. It is noted for its breeding population of great crested grebes and herons regularly breed in the heronry. Other birds include the kingfisher, tern, osprey, teal and, in Winter, the tufted, pochard and goldeneye ducks. In 1981 this area also became a Local Nature Reserve.