RICHARD WILLIAMSON: The Mens And Arun Valley Meadows

Richard Williamson
Richard Williamson
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This is the last opportunity this year for nightingales and cuckoos, both of which will stop singing by the end of next week.

Yes, I know they seem to have only just arrived – even more reason to make the most of this chance. On this five-mile (8kms) walk I heard both last week. This is a very rich natural habitat, but there are many paths, so take extra care.

Park in Sussex Wildlife Trust car park (height restriction) off the A272 near Hawkhurst Court – TQ023237 – in The Mens nature reserve. South-east along road for a few yards then left on muddy path north-east into the woods. Path unsigned.

Holly, oak, ash, hazel, turkey oak, hawthorn with wood spurge, violets, enchanter’s nightshade, stitchwort, bluebells, and song thrushes singing with chiff-chaffs and blackcap warblers. Stay on this path as it wanders to Beeches Brook, in deep gully with footbridge.

Up the other side, soon coming on to track where turn right. This passes a house with wisteria and continues south-east through white banks of stitchwort and wood mellick grass, cranesbill and guilder rose.

You descend again to the brook, cross on a new bridge by large clumps of pendulous sedge. Left on fingerpost with early purple orchids and cuckoo flowers to stile and notice ‘BULL IN FIELD’. He had gone.

Cross this small bushy field with its wild flowers (which included the tiny umbellifer, pignut) for 120 yards and come to another stile into a large meadow of mainly sweet vernal grass.

Walk three sides of a square, finally down Fittleworth Road with its eight horse chestnut trees, and turn left down a farm track with a lot of cinquefoil on its banks. A cuckoo called near Malthouse Lake. Pass Shipbourne Farm, into meadows eastward, the

last of which had a herd

of longhorn cattle and calves. (Dogs on leads and take care.)

Cross the Arun on wooden bridge, over the Arun Canal by the lock gate to Haybarn Farm: keep right past the sweet smell of hay on to the Wey-South path, a loose tarmac road with view of Toat Monument ahead left. Hemlock water dropwort in the ditches here – don’t touch, it is poisonous.

After 600 yards turn right on fingerpost again crossing canal and river.

The track crosses meadows south-west to Furnacepond Cottage where dogs bark. Cross road and continue south-east. After 350 yards dive right on yellow arrow having noted an owl box in an oak tree. Here I heard three nightingales all singing at once in the bramble bushes of the valley: I hope you will be as lucky – enjoy, it is a whole 12 months until the next bursts of joy.

Cross the stream, stay north-east to the far end of the meadow of crosswort, speedwell, cowslips and sweet vernal grass. The path crosses the road and enters the open-access nature reserve woods again.

I got completely lost at this point, trying to navigate the half mile north-west back to the car on unsigned permissive paths. I found myself eventually somewhat to the south at Bedham. So the advice is that although the direct route shown on my map is not so interesting, it is safer and easier.

So keep well to the right

of Lutmans and make north for Crimbourne House and Stud Farm road then west along that.

It’s better underfoot too, and the song thrushes, blackbirds, robins and blackcap warblers sing to you all the way.