FREE West Sussex Walk: Mannings Heath & St Leonard’s Forest (4.5 miles)
Although suitable for any time of the year, this West Sussex walk is especially good in winter as for most of the way it is virtually mud-free.
The walk below appears exactly as it does in our book, Cheshire Year Round Walks, complete with map, pictures and step-by-step directions. You can even click here to download it and take it with you.
This lovely woodland circuit begins by following a wonderful forestry track alongside Inholms Gill, where a woodland stream tumbles between banks lined by pine trees, and arrives at an area of forest that abounds in legend and is known as Mick Mill’s Race. The way continues through majestic woodland before turning and passing a small hamlet to Grouse Road, a quiet country lane. After enjoying pastoral views for ¾ mile the way turns through pretty Frenchbridge Gill to rejoin the outward path, where an easy stroll brings this good circuit to an end.
- Terrain: Undulating.
- How to get there/parking: Mannings Heath is on the A281 between Cowfold and Horsham. At the southern end of the village follow Church Road signed to Mannings Heath Golf Club. Later it becomes Golding Lane and finally ends at a T-junction with Hammerpond Road. Turn left here to find the car park on your right in 250 yards.
- Refreshments: The Dun Horse pub that faces the A281 north of Church Road.
1 From the car park, follow a wide hard surfaced forestry track for ½ mile to reach a T-junction. Turn left, pass a junction of tracks known as Mick’s Cross and continue along the High Weald Landscape Trail. This straight track is known as Mick Mill’s Race.
There are differing stories of how this track gained its name. One is that a local smuggler of that name was told by the Devil that he had come to collect his soul. Mick struck a deal that involved racing him through the forest with the winner claiming Mick’s soul. Mick won! Another and more likely version is that a Michael Mills planted a long avenue of trees here in 1720.
2 In ½ mile, when the High Weald Landscape Trail is signed to the left, turn right and soon ignore a small path forking right. Continue down a slope to meet a T-junction.
3 Turn left here and in 100 yards go right on a signed footpath, ignoring a forestry track 20 yards beyond it. Now follow this path and soon pass to the right of Old Springfield Stud. Cross a stile and continue along the left side of a field to cross a second stile. Follow an indistinct grassy path rightwards, cross a footbridge over a brook and continue through woodland on the well-trodden path. Keep ahead, later continuing along a cart track to meet a tarmac drive.
4 Cross the drive and soon pass through a fi eld gate ahead of you. Now go ahead along the left field edge to cross a stile and meet Grouse Road, a quiet country lane. Turn right along this lane and follow it for ¾ mile enjoying the wonderful pastoral views it offers.
5 About 120 yards after woodland begins on your right, turn right on a well signed public footpath through Old Copse. The path leads you down into pretty Frenchbridge Gill where you cross a bridge over a stream and continue up the far side to meet a T-junction.
6 Turn left here to meet Mick’s Cross in 40 yards and your outward path. Turn left again and then right in 30 yards and now make your way back along the hard surfaced forestry track you walked earlier to return to the car park.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR - BIRCH BURR
After crossing the stream in Frenchbridge Gill in point 5 of the circuit you may notice a silver birch tree on your left with a huge burr on its trunk – quite the largest I have seen on a birch. A burr, bur or burl in American English, is an overgrowth of the tree’s own grain that looks rather like a large wart. Differing theories abound regarding the cause of this deformed growth; some believe it is due to damage caused by deer or fencing while another train of thought is that it is because of an insect infestation. Burrs can occur on almost any species of tree and are highly prized by wood turners or sculptors, while furniture makers use their sometimes spectacular veneers in their trade.
- Alex Batho