I am always eager to explore places that I haven’t been to and it must be a tribute to the richness of the Ewhurst area that even after nearly a year of tramping around there are still walks we haven’t done. After walking to Lower Breache Farm we took an inviting-looking path bearing southwards. A narrow route winds down between copses of Birch, Hazel, Bramble and Bracken; in the mild weather birds were singing and several members of the Tit family, including Long-tailed Tits, darted in and out of the bushes. We were never far from fields on either side, where horses were grazing and a flock of starlings flew; the path has something of the character of a causeway. I was interested that the Bracken had taken over quite large areas of ground, making the terrain look like heathland.
At the end of this footpath, over a stile, we came to ground which had been recently cleared, making it look like a forest ride. There appeared to be no access here and it was puzzling what the land might be used for; the path crosses here into thick woodland. This is the northern edge of Buildings Wood, a large remnant of ancient woodland lying along the east side of the parish. At this point we came across extensive work being done on a large house, the name of which I couldn’t see. A lot of land clearance has been done and drainage pipes were being laid and clearly somebody intends to live there and manage the land.
Given the wet conditions in heavy clay, it was extremely difficult to follow the path. Eventually we did make it to the track known as Lowerhouse Lane; this is hard surfaced in parts and was therefore much easier to walk along, although we had to navigate some pretty deep puddles. The track connects Lower Breache Road to Froggetts Lane on the outskirts of Walliswood and passes through the wood. As we made our way down here the shadows deepened as the clouds above darkened, lending the wood a dismal air. The birdsong had also stopped and that feeling of isolation that can creep into cold, winter landscapes caught up with us, in its melancholy way.
When we got into Froggetts Lane the first drops of rain began but we hoped it would only be a shower. We had to go a little way down the Horsham Road to pick up the route, a clump of snowdrops by somebody’s drive cheered us up before plunging into Somersbury Wood. The path passes behind a disused brickworks, the sombre kiln still stands like some ancient monument; I suppose it does act as a memorial to our industrial past. The one thing that Ewhurst clay is good for is making bricks and this still provides employment in the area, though most works have closed. Ewhurst Brickworks opened in 1945, which is surprising as I assumed it had been there much longer and the plant shut down in 1977, so it did not have a long life-span. There are good photos of the derelict site on the internet and it is fascinating to see how nature has reclaimed the abandoned place over the years.
Our path took us into Somersbury Wood, it is a good job we were among trees because it was now raining heavily and showing little sign of easing. To our left the land was fenced off, with notices warning of danger from quarry workings, which must be Weinberger’s Brick Works further up the Horsham Road: I didn’t realise that their land stretched this far and I know that there are local worries about this sensitive ecological area being damaged by the expansion of this firm.
At this point we retreated beneath a clump of Yew trees and warmed ourselves with a cup of coffee from the thermos. It is also here that I made a mistake in the map reading, not good when we were already soaked through! My plan was to go further south, cut across the Horsham Road at Ellen’s Green and head back north across the very large field leading to Coxland. I must admit I was beginning to think this was a bit adventurous, given the conditions; however I took a path leading south and this is where I went wrong. I had taken a track that looped back to Somersbury Lane. I have since discovered that part of this route follows the line of a Roman road, leading from the top of Wykhurst Lane, near to the Roman villa and joining the well-known Stane Street, which carries on south. I didn’t get the feeling that Jackie was in the mood for a history lesson at this point in the walk and was irritated that I had “lost” us yet again.
The line of least resistance had to be adopted and we trudged back down the road, getting wetter and wetter and feeling it was still quite a long way from home. Getting to the footpath in Great Copse gave us more shelter and the rain was passing over at last. We took the path north, which goes round the back of Old House. This is a path I know well, as LEAP have often been tasked with cutting back the hedgerow along here. There are a lot of Blackthorn bushes, which in a month or so will be covered in billowing white blossom; at this time of year they only have their sharp thorns to recommend them. Just as we came along this way, four jays flew out of the trees and crossed the field in front of us: I don’t think I have ever seen this many together at one time. It was a good sight to see at the end of a long walk and we struggled the last bit up towards the village and then home to get dry.
It is never prudent to be complacent; despite the soaking we got on our last walk the weather had made a mild start to February. As Shakespeare well knew, winter has a habit of biting when least expected:
Barren winter with his wrathful nipping cold.William Shakespeare
Henry VI Part 2, Act 2, scene 4.