RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: Cocking to New Farm Plantation

There is an off-road car-park at the top of Cocking Hill at SU875166, on the west side of the A286 between Chichester and Midhurst for this walk of five miles (8kms).

Friday, 7th July 2017, 1:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 6:20 pm

I took the South Downs Way west, past the concrete barns, up the track which has been graded and smoothed out, and the view broadened to the North Downs as I climbed, and even as far as Lewes in the east.

This was recently cow country but today the Downs are sheep-grazed and the grasslands either side are bringing back the flowers.

One bridleway shoots off to the left after half a mile but I preferred the SDW with its expanding views so took the next blue arrow left after a mile from base at the second crossways. There is a tumulus at both junctions.

By now I was going south, down into Venus Wood, but I turned right into Newfarm Plantation after 400 yards because I wanted to have a look at the massive clearance of fir trees that has taken place here over half a square mile.

The trees were only about 50+ years old and I can remember back then, when this was almost open country with tiny trees and the birds were grasshopper warblers, stonechats and nightjars. Woodland flowers included foxgloves and weld on my walk. I passed the ruin of New Farm and eventually came to the crossways and turned right back to the SDW.

If I had turned left I would have seen the wide, flat tumulus 200 yards down the path on which Cowdray Estate once planted pines.

Anyway, I crossed the SDW, at which point you can if you look left see the trig. point and another tumulus 300 yards away on the top of Linch Down. Through the metal gate I was among the sheep, and headed north-east down the meadow and then into the woods next to the ancient bank.

The path descended along what appears to be an ancient track of the kind the Romans sometimes constructed as B class roads linking their motorways.

This wood is mainly mature scrub from old sheep pasture, with ash and yews, but some infilling of beech. At the bottom, having once or twice stumbled on the sloping ground which has loose stones and chalk balls that roll under your feet like ball bearings, I came to a forest track and turned right, climbing back up the hill again passing wood sanicle and spotted orchids non the way.

This joined a track from Stead Combe where I turned left along a farm track on which had grown masses of cowslips.

At the next T junction I turned right, and so down to that beautiful pale blue pool in the woods which is the Cocking spring. I also had a look at that enormous brick railway bridge which echoes as you walk through to Cocking and its pub and tea rooms.

The track back to your car is south, up the hill before you got to the blue pool, along a narrow hedge-lined path with flowers of nettle-leaved bell-flower and red campion to guide you on your way.