Route for a Sussex walk through the Ashdown Forest

The Ashdown Forest is a glorious mix of heath and woodland (Photo by Deirdre Huston)

The Ashdown Forest is a glorious mix of heath and woodland (Photo by Deirdre Huston) - Credit: Archant

Explore the hidden delights of an Edwardian garden tucked away in Ashdown Forest

Chelwood Vachery and Ashdown Forest

Ashdown Forest never ceases to delight. It offers the largest area of open access land in the south east and is a mixture of heathland and woodland made unique by years of common land usage. The word 'vachery' may come from the French 'vache' for cow and could relate back to the 14th century practice in which cattle were taken to graze in the forest.

In 1905, new owner, banker and MP Sir Stuart Samuel built a large house and spectacular grounds on the site of Vachery Wood. The mansion and ornamental gardens remain in private ownership but the surrounding woodland is owned by the Ashdown Forest Trust and has some interesting features. The Folly Bridge was built in the early 1930s and there's something wonderfully decadent about its lack of functionality. Walk across, and imagine. Depending on water levels, you may spot a couple of small waterfalls decked with ferns and need to use the stepping stones to cross the ford. The four lakes and ponds were built just before 1910 and have been recently restored. Invasive rhododendrons have been cleared with a view to opening up views beneath a canopy of native and ornamental trees.

Where to refuel

A short drive will take you to The Red Lion at Chelwood Gate. It's handy for walkers because food is served from noon until evening.

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- Location: Ashdown Forest

- Distance: Three miles (4.8 km) Easily done in an hour-and-a-half plus stops

- Terrain: Generally easy but if flooded, stepping stones could be tricky

- Where to park: Long Car Park is free

- Sat Nav: RH18 5JN (guide only, off the A22)

- Map: OS Explorer 135

- Navigation: straightforward

- Dog-friendly: Yes. On lead when ground birds nesting

The walk

1 Exit at the south end of the car park to join a grassy ride which runs parallel to the road. At the fork, veer right and stroll on through a heath, where there may be one or two ponds. At the second fork, head left up the hill. Cross a road and walk straight on for a few steps.

2 Turn right along a stony track. Walk through a wooded area. Continue straight on past a wooden sign post.

3 Walk on past the garage and white gates of Home Farmhouse. Walk along the bridleway between a fence and wall. The stony path descends. Carry on down the hill walking alongside the fence and on, down through the wood. Stick to the bridleway.

4 Pass through a stone folly bridge by a stream. Use the stepping stones to cross over the ford if necessary: the footbridge is broken and not recommended. Continue along the wide mud track as it climbs through the woods. The path descends gradually.

5 Turn right at the crossroads in the clearing. Go straight across the stony track and continue on. Start to descend and follow the meandering path down through the woods, staying on the main track. Glimpse the lakes of Braberry Hatch through the trees on your right. Walk over a flat wooden bridge and climb up a bit of a hill.

6 At the fork, turn right along the sandy tree-lined path. Climb a slope and, at the next fork, continue straight ahead up the slope. This wide path runs through the heath, some of which is sadly fire-damaged.

7 Turn right shortly before a pair of dead trees and head along a wide grassy ride towards the Scots pines.

8 Turn left along the track between the Scots pines and the gorse.


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