RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: Trundle to Lavant

It is difficult to keep out of the mud at this time of the year but most of this 5.1mile (8.2kms) walk is on the stony path.

I started at a car park on the western edge of The Trundle, which is a beacon hill and ancient Iron Age encampment more or less abandoned just before the Romans landed here.

The car park is reached down a minor road running south at a dangerous bend in the main road between Singleton and Westhampnett, at St. Roche’s Lodge: SU872109. Chalkpit Lane then runs on SSW to East Lavant. There is a wonderful view of the English Channel and the Isle of Wight. With binoculars you can see the Spinnaker Tower.

There is a narrow band of chalk downland grass either side of the path. It is very rich in butterflies and wild flowers and is an absolute treasure. Brown argus, small copper, chalkhill blue and small skipper are at the moment underground in their chambers but will fly like jewels in the early summer. There is also a good collection of downland shrubs such as yew, juniper, dogwood and spindle. Wild orchids in spring include early purple, spotted, pyramid and bee. Wild flowers include carline thistle and stemless thistle, both growing flat on the ground. The open fields support small flocks of skylarks, meadow pipits, yellowhammers, while stone curlews bred here until the 1980s. They would not be successful anymore because badgers and red kites would take the young as they do leverets.

Turn right along the road in East Lavant, where there is a public house, and also St. Mary’s church with its Elizabethan brick tower. Nikolaus Pevsner complained bitterly about the Victorian rebuilding which damaged the Norman architecture with ‘fussy limestone windows’ and ‘ornate pinnacles’. The road crosses the River Lavant which may flow properly in the New Year.

Look for a blue arrow pointing right, showing where the West Sussex Literary Trail takes you north into the soggy meadows of springs and ditches of the river. There are thick hedges of ivy alongside this walk which are excellent hibernaculae for brimstone, peacock, red admiral, and comma butterflies. The fruit feeds blackbirds, wood pigeons and jays, while the flowers in autumn feed various species of hymenoptera and diptera such as drone flies and lacewings.

I have known these wet meadows for half a century and seen some rare birds here, such as yellow wagtails and green sandpipers. Today, the little egret here is no longer so much of a rarity as numbers spread north into Britain from the south.

Follow this bridleway in a right-handed curve up the valley, and uphill over Haye’s Down, back to the car. On the way you will pass some grand old field maple trees and slopes of downland turf with cowslips in spring. These slopes were the site of the famous Lavant Caves, discovered by a shepherd in 1890 when he was using a crow-bar to make a hole for a post.

The iron bar disappeared into the ground. Eventually, archaeologists discovered an underground Neolithic grain storage cave, which had also been used by the Romans.

Happy New Year walking to all my readers.