April

There is one walk that I have been looking forward to for a long time and it seemed a good way to draw my year of rambling to a close with a new route. Crossroads are places endowed with mythology, where choices are made maybe to be regretted or to be hymned later. In Greek Drama the terrible events that begin Oedipus’s downfall take place at a crossroads when he unknowingly slays his own father. Chthonic forces are released and it may be suggested that as Freud took up the theme in his work the ramifications are still felt into our own age. Robert Frost was a man of the twentieth century, the only poet ever to read his work at the inauguration of a president in 1960. His most famous poem, though, is about a crossroad, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then I took the other, just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Robert Frost

He ends by reflecting that in later years, when he has never returned to walk the other path, he may regret his choice:

I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The crossroads in in Great Copse, near Old House, are shadowed by imposing Beech trees, deities who have stood guard for centuries. Their pale new leaves have sunlight streaming through them; in the distance the woods look hazy at this time of year, as the buds break open creating a landscape of greens. S R Badmin (1906-1989) is one of the few landscape painters to capture the tremendous vitality in the spring trees and I remember looking with wonder at the Shell Nature posters he created when I was at school, picking out tiny details when I should have been concentrating on mathematics.

We climbed up through the great grey-green trunks and at the top of the incline broke out into the daylight looking south onto Coxland Farm below. This seems a busy, well managed farm with tidy barns and concreted trackways. The footpath slips through a gate into a copse of trees and here at last I came upon an active and noisy rookery. The birds had occupied several oak trees and it was obvious that they were not used to being disturbed. Their nests were scattered untidily in the upper branches and there was much toing and froing; I would guess the young were reaching independence by now, as Rooks start nesting early. Still, it was gratifying to find a colony after all the searching. Natural History is like that, you come upon things when least expecting them.

The farm obviously runs a side-line in pheasant shooting, there were lots of coups and seed dispensers in among the trees. We got to stiles which were crossed by barbed wire, others were in a bad state of repair: this is, of course, unacceptable and dangerous. This landowner is one of many who wishes to deter walkers, which was further borne out by a near encounter we had with some frisky bullocks who came bellowing across the field through which the path crosses. Luckily we managed to get over a stile and out of harm’s way.

There is a footbridge over Cobbler’s Brook meandering its way towards the Vachery Estate and the path begins crossing an enormous field, covering the land between Somersbury Lane and the Horsham Road. By the path runs a strip of woodland, whose purpose is given away by its name, The Wind Break. This proves to be quite a rich habitat as it is home to a sizeable rabbit warren, the bunnies no doubt enjoying grazing on the succulent new shoots appearing in the field. We also startle a Roe Deer, who winds her way through the trees and I spotted a Speckled Wood, a dark brown butterfly with cream spots on its wings. They are commonly found in woodland glades and along waysides where there is shade. This one will have over-wintered as a chrysalis and emerged recently. Also along the woodland margins a lot of flowers are appearing, Cow Parsley is one that makes a big impression on the countryside in May and June and also the Hawthorn blossom is coming out.

Eventually we reach the main Horsham Road and pick up the path on the other side, a little way down. This takes us across furrowed fields with crops growing and this is new territory to me. We made for Tillhouse Farm, a secluded place and we are only hardly aware of the nearby road. Heading east from here we reach Pollingfold Manor, situated on the outskirts of Ellen’s Green. It is here that we turn back north walking through a succession of small fields with pockets of woodland in between. Set high on a hill we saw Hillhouse Farm, a place lying on the route of an old Roman road. Beyond this lies Nag’s Wood, which we have walked in before: this is quiet, dense wood and even at this time of year there is little light filtering through. Soon we come out onto Somersbury Lane and here walk back to Great Copse Wood. In the wood the bluebells are glorious and seem to have few competitors, which means we enjoy vistas of blue on blue, as we wearily plod back to last leg of a long walk.

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