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     This 19 mile circular walk celebrates the landscape of the recently created South Downs National Park at the far western edge of Sussex. Parking is easy in Rowlands Castle and the train station is accessible as it sits near the start of the walk by the green. Anyone interested in following this walk can download a printable route description and route-finder map at the end of this article. This is not a short walk so is probably better suited to the season of longer daylight hours rather than the winter months unless you are prepared for an early start. The climbs are not too strenuous but very rewarding. This is a walk I heartily recommend. You begin by heading east of the village green, claimed to be the largest in Hampshire, and go under the railway bridge to pass one of the village’s three pubs. The ‘Castle Inn’ was built on the site of the White Hart, a notorious centre for smuggling and murder during the 1700’s. The castle in the name was a twelfth-century motte and bailey which was used up until the mid fourteenth-century, Henry II stayed there in 1177. When the railway arrived in 1853 what little remained of the decaying fortress was destroyed on its eastern side and by the start of World War One only a mound, bailey bank and ditches remained. Today they are within the private grounds of Deerleap House.




    On April Fool’s Day 2011 the South Downs became our ninth national park and third largest. The 627 square miles from Twyford Down in the west to the edge of Eastbourne in East Sussex contains over 2,000 miles of rights of way and 9 nature reserves. With 120,000 people living there it is also the most populated. It annually attracts 39 million visitors who bring in over £330 million to the local economy which helps to fund 8,000 jobs. For the South Downs the designation of National Park status comes sixty years after the original proposal was scuppered in the 1950’s as the area was deemed to be too cultivated, it was a decision that left southern England with no National Park for over half a century. With 85% of it used as farmland this has long been one of the most vulnerable areas of countryside in the UK, now at least its rolling chalk uplands, wide river valleys and acres of ancient woodland can be afforded much needed protection. National Park status for the South Downs has been long overdue.




     As you begin through Stansted Forest, part of the 1,700 acre Stansted Park Estate, the 1st mile marks where a Spitfire crashed on the 19th August 1942 killing Norwegian pilot Sigurd Gerhardt Jenssen after returning in bad weather from the ill fated Dieppe Raid. The walk continues north past Christ Church in Forestside (above left), then through woodland and fields to the enchanted Hale Wood. Through these aeriated trees bluebells thrive in April/May and your endorphins run riot. From there it is a gradual ascent to the north facing scarp of Harting Down. There is no finer place to stop for lunch than this viewing platform over the Weald. A few feet down from the bench look left to the folly on Tower Hill then spanning right you will see Butser Hill, Torberry hillfort behind South Harting and then beyond East Harting is the distant Black Down, highest point of the South Downs National Park. If you are lucky you may see a red kite gliding in the thermals or even the odd paraglider hurling themselves off the hill.


     The start of part deux leads down into Bramshott Bottom, the loveliest chalk valley anywhere in my opinion, it is just so peaceful and serene. My first introduction to walking was on a glorious spring morning into this valley, it's easy to see how I got hooked. A stiff climb up Beacon Hill to the left can bring its own rewards if you have the energy. All routes from the valley lead from a multi signpost of five fingers which I have always called the Stone Dalek because of its base. This is where the route leaves the South Downs way and heads deeper into Bramshott Bottom. At the 13th mile the walk reaches Up Marden where there is an opportunity to divert left to visit the thirteenth-century St. Michael’s Church via a shingle path just behind the beautifully restored Up Marden Cart Shed. It’s well worth a sniff. Even if you don’t, you can see the church tower across a field along the footpath.




     After a succession of woodland climbs you eventually follow a quiet country road back into the estate of Stansted House where there are several opportunities to view its impressive frontage. The best of these is from The Avenue, or Lady’s Mile, a wide grassy opening through trees running down from the house. The Avenue is reached beyond the four pillared portico front of Middle Lodge. On the side of this building is a barely readable inscription in stone saying the new plantation of The Avenue was commenced on the last day of the reign of George III, Saturday January 29th MDCCCXX (1820). The history of Stansted Forest dates back to Roman times. An eleventh-century hunting lodge for the first Earl of Arundel originally stood on the site of the house. Stansted was the country seat of the Earls of Bessborough after they bought it in 1924 and the tenth earl donated the estate, house and park to the Stansted Park Foundation in 1983. The current house dates from 1901 after the previous one built in 1688 for Richard Lumley, 1st Earl of Scarborough, was destroyed by a fire.

     

     Roughly halfway down The Avenue is the recently restored Claremont Memorial which has been moved from its original position at the far western end. The wooden cross was dedicated to Canadian RAF pilot RCAF F/O Justin Gerard Clermonts from Toronto aged 23. Just five minutes after taking off from nearby Tangmere Airfield his Hawker Typhoon dived, levelled out and then crashed into flames near this spot at 8:15pm on 7th May 1944. A smaller plaque on the memorial dated '7/5/1944' said that it was put there by Graham Alderson. That someone went to this spot on the day of that fateful crash and immediately put up this memorial made it all the more poignant. Clermonts is buried in Brookwood, Surrey. This replacement was erected by The Friends of Stansted Park and commemorated on Friday 6th May 2016.




     As promised, a 6 page route description can be downloaded as well as a pdf version of the route-finder map below, both or either can be used along with the OS Landranger 185 map. Enjoy!

 



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