THIS walk through the weald is about 4.4 miles (6.9kms) and is mainly on hard tracks and the winding minor roads along which Edward Elgar loved to cycle when he lived at nearby Brinkwells almost a century ago.
This is a backwater, and abuts onto the vast forests of The Mens, Fittleworth, and Flexham Park south of the A272.
The Mens is a nature reserve, and much of the whole forest still has remnants of the sweet chestnut coppice industry in which Elgar enjoyed walking and even working.
Look for turning south to Little Bognor, 3 miles east of Petworth. There is roadside parking at Bedham Copse corner at sharp bend in the road. Then follow the road uphill to Bedham.
There is also roadside parking at this higher point which overlooks the open access woodlands. Past Bedham Farm the Serpent Trail now leaves the road southwards to cross the fields.
This is one route if the going is not too sticky. Otherwise, stay on the road, which circles round to the right, passing the curiously named Mockbeggars, and on to the even stranger place name of Amen.
You will pass Elgar’s house midway between the two. This is where he wrote one of his most famous works, the Cello Concerto. In spring these road verges are a mass of wild flowers, including wood sorrel, which is related to sleeping beauty and Bermuda buttercup.
Keep turning right along the road towards Bognor Common, which is a vast sandpit. Steep banks along the road have more flowers in summer, including red campion, cranesbill, wall lettuce, foxglove, bristly oxtongue, and hard fern.
There is a short-cut back to your car to east of the sand-pit as shown on my map, along a footpath. Yet another footpath 750 yards farther on also goes back.
Otherwise at the sharp, steep, left corner before Riverhill, a footpath goes northwest into the western edge of Flexham Park forest. It can be a bit muddy here, and male ferns grow in profusion with bracken.
The woods are silver birch and sycamore, and great spotted woodpeckers live therein, together with marsh tits. In spring you may hear cole tits which sing from the tops of the Canadian hemlock trees.
After half a mile you reach a crossway. Turn right here onto the Serpent Trail. This is higher ground, and dry enough in places to grow that very pretty grass called silvery hair grass. In spring-time there are bluebells, stitchwort, and enchanter’s nightshade.
There are a few patches of heather as well. In July I generally see some white admiral butterflies here. But at this moment, their caterpillars will be chewing on the leaves of honeysuckle, which is their autumn and winter nursery.
I arrived back at my old Alvis, remembering that Elgar had one too, as did composer Frank Bridge who lived at Seaford, as did Benjamin Britten, his pupil. They sing along, you see, down the lanes and byways, taking you into the far yonder.