RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: West Dean woods
Seen enough of daffodils already? The balmy autumn/early winter brought the hybrids out before Christmas as happened in 1976. That became the drought year. I make no predictions.
This walk of 2.5 miles (4kms) is in a different key. We’ll be looking at real daffodils, not Philip Larkin’s ‘vulgar’ garden bugles blowing their own trumpets, but the ones which set Dorothy Wordsworth all of a-quiver at her brother’s wondrous words.
This walk into West Dean Woods along the bridleway from Staple Ash Farm near Chilgrove is the platform for the three million bulbs of our true native species which grow in this nature reserve. They cover only three acres of the 40 acre reserve, but they are so tightly packed in their colony that precious little else gets a look-in. Parking is roadside on the minor road that connects West Dean village with the hamlet of Chilgrove; itself on the main Chichester-South Harting B2141.
The bridleway runs north from the road, through a recently planted walnut tree grove and after about one kilometre, reaches the daffs. To your right is the reserve, leased from West Dean Estate by The Sussex Wildlife Trust. This is an ancient hazel coppice wood with scattered oaks.
300 species of wild flowers brim over due to the correct management together with 45 species of breeding birds, 300 moths, 30 butterflies, 60 lichens, goodness knows how many beetles and flies. One or two hectares of coppice are cut on rotation about every 7 years. Sculptor Andy Goldsworthy has placed five- tonne chalk balls along the way as way-markers.
Beyond the reserve the bridleway continue up to the SDW. But our turning today to complete the circle is first left on blue arrow, SW downhill through the Cowdray forest called Linchball. There has been a great deal of timber extraction in the area. As you go you cross regular Bronze Age field boundaries every 55 yards built when this whole forest was just a farm.
At Sandy’s Bottom you come back into the West Dean Estate by some tall firs, and follow this vehicle track around to the left back to the farm. Along the road on this last quarter mile keep your eyes peeled for a red-letter bird living here: the hawfinch. These are like big greenfinches. They crack open pips from bird-cherry trees as well as blackthorn and hawthorn trees. There is usually a little owl in the area too.