This walk has beautiful views over rolling countryside, and the chance to visit two interesting Sussex churches.
We start at the car park by Thakeham village hall, and use the track and footpath to skirt the building site that will become Abingworth Meadows. Left over the first stile and follow the footpath along the hedge. The bank below the hedge is riddled with rabbit holes, luckily the spaniel does no more than push her head into each one, leaving a view of inverted backside and enthusiastically wagging tail.
At the end of the hedge turn left to climb steps and stile, and walk along the headland of a field that is usually planted with maize. Another stile and turn right down the hill, where the cows walk from meadows to milking parlour. At the end there are gates, turn left along the path. Through the gate and cross to the next field and footpath opposite, passing the cattlegrid on your left.
If you have never visited Thakeham church, some parts of which (nave and transept) are almost 900 years old, this is a good moment for a detour. Inside the church much of the woodwork is over 500 years old, look at the door to the tower. The font is even older. It is awe-inspiring to stand and sit where people have come to pray for so long. If you sit at the front and see a Tudor rose on your pew, you know that you are sitting on an Elizabethan pew that has been in continuous use since the time of Drake and Raleigh, Shakespeare and Spenser.
Back on track we cross a small meadow to another gate and stile. Then down into a dingle and swing to the right to cross on a footbridge. Up the other side and into a bluebell wood, and pheasant haunt. The path up through the copse leads to another stile, where the route lies along the top of a pasture that slopes down steeply to your left. The grass is cropped short at all times of year – if you walk this way at either end of the day you will disturb the rabbits as they graze.
It is a steep drop to the gate and stile that leads into the lane from Warminghurst church, and it can be very muddy. The track is a continuation of Park Lane, for many years there has been an occupied caravan beside this pretty path, I love the idea that the address would sound like an expensive property on the Monopoly board. The track crosses and re-crosses a stream, and there are small pools to either side. In one pool, catching the sunlight I see the first kingcups (marsh marigolds) of the year. Their bright yellow, appearing like the celandines before the buttercups and dandelions of later spring remind me a mistake I made nearly 50 years ago.
One early spring on our farm, our herdsman left, and I agreed to help out by feeding the young calves. They were fed with buckets of reconstituted milk, and most needed help to learn to drink from a bucket, you had to hold your hand in the milk and they would suck the liquid through your fingers. Their soft warm muzzles would push into your hand, the smell of milk, calf and clean straw was all around, it was a good start to the day. In those days Farmers’ Weekly had a magazine section at the back for farmers’ wives, with a letters page. I thought I’d earn some money by sending in a letter (Cleopatra kept her skin soft by bathing in asses’ milk, so why after feeding the calves for a week or two are my hands rough, red and raw?). I made two mistakes. One – they did not pay for published letters. Two – they published the author’s name. So at the next few Young Farmers’ meetings I had a lot of interest in my rough, red hands. But what shamed me were the letters forwarded from the magazine from several kind ladies, who told me various recipes with which to make hand cream. The one I remember involved heating up Vaseline and pressing buttercup petals into it. And now when I see a buttercup or kingcup’s bright gold I still feel guilt that my frivolous story was believed and brought such a generous kind response from these ladies.
Back in the present, after passing through another pheasant copse we reach Clay’s lane and turn left. This is a very quiet road, leading back to Thakeham Church, but after a few hundred yards, after passing buildings converted for commercial use we see a large white house on the right. The footpath gate leads us into the grounds where we turn left between the garden and the stables. For several years this part of the walk was even more charming, and sometimes exciting. Donkeys who liked to be greeted lived in the stable, the path then passed through a field of curious goats and ferocious geese. And while you were distracted by the donkeys three huge (were they St Bernard’s or Pyrenean mountain dogs?), immensely friendly dogs would rush up and put their paws on your shoulders. Sadly the family have moved away, so crossing what was the goose enclosure we pass through another gate and into the field beyond.
Up the slope to a curious small enclosure, stiles to enter and leave it. There is quite a deep pond (excellent for cleaning a very muddy spaniel, who jumps in and swims round) on your left – maybe that is why it is fenced. Up the next pasture, to the gate on the right of the recently restored building. Follow the track between the hedge and the copse but do not turn left, keep straight and turn right to cross the school playing field. Keep the hedge to your left and at the end walk down the steps into Thakeham Street. As we are not stopping at the White Lion pub we turn right and walk along the road until the footpath sign on our left, and follow the path that leads high above the B2139 initially, down to the road, and then back to the turn for the Village Hall.
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