RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: Cowdray Park

I have made a short walk this week, all I could manage with shingles, but extremely pleasant nevertheless and with a view of what must be the most famous tree in Sussex.

Sunday, 16th October 2016, 11:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 12:38 am

This stroll of 1.4 miles (2 kms) starts at Benbow Lake, next to the A272, two miles east of Midhurst at SU915223. People take bread to feed the flock of ravenous black-headed gulls, most of them being juveniles of one or two years of age, but also a couple of Egyptian geese.

If you cast your bread upon the water the Japanese carp may get it first but I also witnessed the extremely rare behaviour of five mallard which were diving and disappearing for ten seconds, contrary to how the species is supposed to behave. Facing you on the far shore is a memorial to the 3rd Viscount in the shape of a small arched building with cupola.

A new arboretum has been established next to you and you can walk about among the young paper-bark birch, snake-bark maple and upland laurel oak. I saw a sapling birch with a fresh growth of mistletoe on its small branch. Or you can take the track around the edge of the arboretum that leads north-west along its edge.

This permissive path takes you to a kissing gate on the right where a footpath crosses, down slope, on yellow arrow, down to Stewards Pond and onwards north-east over the tawny grassland dominated by bent grass (Agrostis stolonifera) which on my visit was being grazed by heifers.

Watch out, because if there are heifers there may be a bull around. Not when I passed that way. Look left after the pond and you will see the mightiest oak in Sussex if not England, even Europe. I seem to remember it has a girth of almost 60 feet (19 metre).

This is the famous Queen Elizabeth Oak by which her majesty stood and slew a deer with her crossbow 400 year ago. It is a sessile, or durmast oak (Quercus petraea) and could be 1,000 year old. There are two or three others of almost this size nearby. The footpath runs between enclosures around trees in a newly planted avenue. I wasn’t sure if these are large-leaved limes.

Over the brow, I reached a rickety stile by a balustrade and a large, much younger oak, where I turned right to return along the edge of a clover field, hoping to see Camberwell beauty butterflies which in autumn are attracted to clover flowers after their immigration from Scandinavia. No such luck, but I did watch three stonechats bouncing ahead of me along the hedgerow, which was almost as good.

All along this track is a prostrate weed looking like a map of the roads radiating out from London. This is knotgrass, and it has masses of flowers like specks of white dust.

Back at the pond we found a seat which was very comfortable, a relief from the bouncy old one in my old Alvis at the moment, with these tender ribs.