We’re looking for ravens and red kites on this new year walk of seven miles (11km).
You never know your luck. So park at Hilltop car park above Cocking on the A286 (SU875166) and make haste westward along the South Downs Way when the views will expand like your lungs – with the Hogsback at Guildford far away to the right and Black Down Hill a bit nearer. What a stretch if you choose a bright day.
Just over 1 km brings you to a crossway: take the left Chalk Balls bridleway southwest. Buzzards and red kites are often astride the scarp slope airflow here. You will pass a teenage yew tree on left who is having her first ‘children’, that is berries.
Her partner is the much older male ahead on right of path: his February flowers are already bulging with fertile intent.
Pass a green metal gate into Venus Wood, with its old hazels on right and Norway spruce on left with cones like dried bananas on the ground. Sometimes the stubble fields up here have small flocks of skylarks and possibly a hen harrier chasing them.
A blue arrow left leads you south-south-east between Venus Wood and Stubbs copse.
Goshawks have been known here so keep a good look-out for the giveaway clue, circles of pigeon feathers. The pine wood leads on downhill to a right turn and 80 yards later a left, east of which is the bridleway taking you eastish to the A286.
Ravens are more often heard than seen here: usually a very deep croak giving the latin name ‘corax’. The firs are also home to firecrests and goldcrests.
Both fallow and roe deer slots in the soft mud which is glacial coombe rock and sometimes bright ginger. Regular banks show the sites of Bronze Age farms – not much forest 3,000 years ago.
You cross the old railway tunnel where Britain’s biggest bat used to live – the mouse-eared bat with wingspan up to 17 inches (42.5 cms). Turn right, south, along main road verge for 200 yads, then left, east, into Singleton forest and Nightingale Wood. This bridleway takes you a mile south-east down to Broadham House and farm.
Some badger activity much of the way, old beech trees, and the view right to Levin Down and Trundle Iron Age Fort beyond that.
Sharp left on to footpath at the farm along field edge, then left on to the bridleway north, right up through the beech woods and pine woods to the SDW.
Up to 15 red kites have been seen in the general area of woods and downs hereabouts in recent years: 12 were fed on meat scraps in one December.
Ahead is Heyshott Down Nature Reserve managed by the Murray Downland Trust, which does need your help: contact John Murray at Heyshott.
You turn left just before reserve on the north-facing slopes, taking the SDW back west downhill over Manorfarm Down with its tremendous views into Hampshire.
Hope you saw those big birds as I did last week. Happy New Year to all and happy walking.