When I was asked to write a weekly walk for this newspaper six years ago, I thought ‘Oh super, I’ve walked the country from end to end and loved every minute and every metre – and hopefully everybody else will enjoy this superb landscape, too’.
Now, 350 walks later, I have just begun to open all its secrets.
Yes – there were scores of places I did not know about. Secret dells and tracks, ancient trees, stupendous views, hidden ways, seawalls and harbours, rivers and streams, places where the otter slides and the kingfisher nests.
I could not believe how much I had missed and how rich this county is. I am beginning to wonder if it is in the fact the finest county of all in England.
Consider what we’ve got here. We have winding river valleys with flood plains. We have incomparable downland slopes which more than two centuries ago were the majestic mountains to countrymen like Gilbert White.
We have coppice woods planted six centuries ago, wild heathlands where the nightjar croons his eccentric song to the stars. We have remnants of Anderida, the swampy Wealden woodland feared by the Romans.
We have springs and streams flowing in winding rills through the reeds and on to lakes, and we have among the finest salt tide harbours in England, all packed with wildfowl and wetlands plants.
This is as rich a place as it is possible to have in a modern world where food and mineral resources are the main requirements of human life.
All my walks explain where these best places are to be found and how you can enjoy each in just two or three hours every week.
I tell you where to find the woodland birds such as marsh tit and tawny owl, buzzard and red kite. Where to walk to see 2,000 wading birds at high tide, all making magical patterns in the sky as the tide flows, birds from wild geese to black-tailed godwits, kingfishers and egrets.
I can take you into dark secret woodland paths with grotesque old oaks hung with beards of moss and ferns. I track up the steepest slopes into caverns of yew trees, 30,000 of them enveloping you like the underworld of myth.
You can walk with me across the wide open downland fields and find the places where our ancestors lived and farmed as far back as 10,000 years. I point out their camps, their field boundaries where they grew crops and kept their sheep and cattle. I visit all the forts and ramparts on the hilltops and tell you how you can find the flint implements they left behind.
Where possible I have included a Sussex church in my wanderings and explain a little of their history and how they fit into the landscape.
As I walk I look at every tree and every bridge, every oddity and habitat and tell you what I have seen, because over the years I have come to realise many people have never moved out of their little patch and often never been to even the finest viewpoints, never mind the major nature reserves or those unique habitats which are the finest England has to offer.
Kingley Vale, for instance, is the finest yew forest in Europe, an extraordinary place with not just 300 different flowers, but more than a dozen different national monuments. It was this place, with its wonderful view over the Solent and behind into Surrey, that first gave the idea for the nature conservation movement in Europe, if not the world, a century ago.
My 52 walks are put into print and pocketbook form in the hope you will explore all these places and so enrich your life as I have my own.
* 52 Favourite West Sussex Walks will be published on March 5, price £8.99, ISBN 9781 84953 2334. More than 70 people have already ordered advance copies.