RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country Walk: Colworth Down

Country walk: Colworth Down
Country walk: Colworth Down

This agricultural and forest scenery of the wild and lonely places is among the best I know in England.

The walk is 5.2 miles (8.3 kms). The way is mainly along farm and forest tracks. Take your binoculars as this is kite country. Be warned before you attempt the walk that 500 yards is along the grass verge of the busy A286. This means single file and sure-footedness. Roadside parking at Hylters Lane junction on minor road to Chilgrove SU846147.

Northeast through the gate along the straight field and forest track, known as the Cindertrack after hundreds of tons of cinders were brought as ballast by rail and then horse and cart from Wales so that King Edward V11 could get about in his carriage for the pheasant shooting he enjoyed here every year.

The wide fields often have a kite or buzzard soaring overhead. The fields too have flocks of finches, buntings and larks. The woods have about 45 species of birds commonly breeding, one of the specialities being firecrests, usually to be seen and maybe heard in the tops of the tallest firs in West Dean woods. The essential landscape character of the fields is greatly enhanced by hedgerow trees.

Straight ahead on blue into the forest at junction, along the main vehicle track. This can be muddy in winter. You will pass the charcoal-burners’ encampment under old Douglas firs , reminding one of New Zealand rain forest with all the ferns growing. As you walk uphill you cross several Bronze Age field boundaries when all this area was farmland.

Wood mellick grass grows by the wayside under beeches. Sharp right at top on blue arrow along main vehicle track but in 100 yards half right on blue onto smaller path which follows the Cowdray boundary bank more or less downhill. Note wild angelica, a tall umbellifer growing on the right of the path.

In summer, fly and birdsnest orchids grow under the beeches. On crossing the bridge over deep railway cutting turn right on blue down to the A286. Turn right along main road grass verge taking great care to keep off the tarmac. After 500 yards right on yellow arrow at National Trust sign and Littlewood farm.

Follow this farm track west and southwest through the fields. Please note this is shooting country and dogs must be under strict control. Ravens feed here among the pheasants. I saw one last week. Middle barn which you pass, has an owl nesting box in the rafters. Elder and bracken hedge leads you on to Downley cottage which you keep on your left, then uphill past some good hazel coppice management in Puttock’s copse. At NT Drovers Estate sign turn right on yellow and then right along the minor road passing Colworth farm as you continue northwest back into Colworth Down. Good view of Bow Hill and Kingley Vale nature reserve on the left. The farm track takes you back to your outgoing track to the left. I would eat my hat if you do not see a kite or at least a buzzard here. After all, Puttock was the ancient name for buzzard.