RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: Verdley Wood, Bexleyhill

There was so much to see in this historic wood that I took three hours to walk the three miles (4.9kms) last week.

I parked roadside at Bexleyhill hamlet which is on a very minor road running a mile east of the A286 between Midhurst and Fernhurst at SU910253. I could more easily have parked at the public house in Henley which is on the route of this walk.

Anyway; I started off through the green metal gate, along a broad forest ride, which is part of the Serpent Trail, on a blue arrow. This square mile of forest was, centuries ago, planted up as a Sweet Chestnut coppice with standard Oaks and Chestnuts. This was used not only as a source of food but timber for ships and iron smelting, more of which later.

Today it has been converted to Douglas firs, which grow mighty well on this damp sand and clay. They are most pleasant to stroll beneath, humming in the breeze and giving a dark and mysterious shade in summer.

The first plant I noticed was Great wood-rush, with tall, spindly stems half a meter high and vivid green bunches of leaves almost like those of bluebells, clustering the edges of the ride. Another flower was wood-sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) which has pale green, shamrock-like root leaves and single white flowers. I also saw lots of wood dog violets, stitchwort, and hard ferns. Some trees had been blown over the path so I had to clamber over these but no problem.

At Henley the path runs between tall hedges around gardens and then I turned right down a track past the pub and a monkey puzzle tree and right again on purple arrow at Whit cottage and through someone’s garden with all its flowers. After a couple of hundred yards I was back into the forest, turning right on a yellow arrow. Here I saw a stand of wood spurge, all bright green and upright in the shade. In wet weather this way through the trees is boggy and soggy, but not in this dry April. I came to a T junction and turned right on a newly bulldozed forest ride and over the stream. Then quickly left on a finger post and on along a damp, narrow ride. This gave a ‘mud photo’ of all the animals which had wandered through the plantation. I saw tracks of fallow, roe, and muntjac deer, badger, fox, grey squirrel dog and horse footprints, with wood pigeon, blackbird and Woodcock as well. In the ditches grew Sphagnum moss. Eventually I came to a yellow arrow marking a right-angled turn left. But I went straight ahead for 30 metres to see the Elizabethan iron foundry with its now much smaller lake. A Grey heron flew off from the murky waters.

I saw hundreds of ancient clinkers, looking like green glass. I retraced my steps and followed the footpath down to the stream, around to the right, where I joined the one mile walk back between the sand-stone walls of the ancient shaw or safe-way through this marshy wood.

At the far end, by the house called Overnoons, I looked back to see the great ramparts of Blackdown, where Tennyson walked to the Temple of the Winds on his daily constitutional.