RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: Centurion Way

Country walk: Centurion Way
Country walk: Centurion Way

Here is a longer walk than I have done before around the lovely arable landscape on Chichester’s western boundary which includes Brandyhole Copse Local Nature Reserve.

Much of the southern area is the subject of a housing development proposal. Two small parking slots are shown on my map. I chose the one on Huntersrace Road SU854077. Distance 3.6 miles (6kms).

South-east into the open space amphitheatre created more than 30 years ago by gravel extraction. Cowslips in spring, and just now wild flowers include autumn hawkbit, wild carrot, wild basil, toadflax, bird’s foot trefoil, marjoram and St John’s wort. There is a small sculpture display as you start along Centurion Way, the old railway line, used until 1991, latterly for transporting sugar beet.

Now it is a cycle route into a tree tunnel of oaks and sycamores. Blackberry bushes line much of the way. Follow path under several road bridges down to the bridge which crosses over Salthill Lane, taking the path down to this lane, then westward along it past New Cottages. After 400 yards, at a metal gate, there is a permissive path north, into the arable fields along the hedges. This is rural Britain at one of its apogees. The fields are surrounded by 100-year-old oaks. It is the timeless landscape of Turner, Constable, or Thomas Bewick.

Follow the field boundary tracks shown on map to the B2178. You will pass a derelict concrete barn, wherein are scenes of more recent art, including one of Alice in Wonderland talking to the caterpillar sitting on a magic mushroom, which was of course Lewis Carrol’s reference to the puss moth caterpillar which resembles the owner of an opium den of Victorian London. Actually this curious-looking caterpillar feeds on willow and poplar leaves and lives in this area coincidentally.

At Whitehouse Farm cross the road and take the left permissive path north into East Broyle Copse, a medieval deer and boar park but now a nature reserve. The line of oaks are sessile, pedunculate, Turkey and hybrids between; truly a spectacular display.

The fields here are famous now among environmentalists as being the site of the first proven breeding grounds

in Britain of the Queen of Spain fritillary butterfly two years ago. They also provide a green byway corridor from the migration route up Fishbourne channel from the continent and on into the Sussex Downs.

On entering the nature reserve there are several paths leading you back east to Centurion Way, when you will see some of the great variety of plants, insects, birds and even archaeological remains from Iron Age ramparts (the Devil’s Ditch) to second world war Dragon’s teeth which were prepared for yet another invasion of these beautiful woods and fields that put our city in its spectacular setting.