If you’re thinking Sussex, a few things come to mind more than others. Brighton, for one, is an unavoidable thought – as are soaring white cliffs, beautiful beaches and incredible coastline. What you might not realise, however, is how much good woodland Sussex has to offer. It is actually one of the most wooded areas in the country. So whether you’re solo voyaging, heading down as a couple, bringing the kids or going as a group of friends, there’s something for everyone. Wild space seekers and forest bathers alike would do well to check out our top 5:
Five Hundred Acre Wood, in Ashdown Forest, might sitr vague childhood memories, and that’ll be because it was the inspiration for A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books. Milne owned Cotchford Farm on the edge of the forest, and spent his days exploring the woods, eventually coming up with the iconic characters, but not all of the elements of the story were fiction. Gill’s Lap, Wren’s Warren Valley and the North Pole are all findable within its bounds. If you head down to the woods today, you can still wander the paths and even find the ‘Pooh sticks’ bridge to play the game in its original setting. Amazingly, the woods are mostly made up of heath, which is technically rarer than rainforest! Which thankfully means it's protected and funded to keep the area in good health. There are a range of walks, and a choice between shorter and longer ones, so you can tailor it to your party’s needs.
They call High Weald ‘the lungs of the Southeast’, as it’s the most wooded part of England, with almost 28% woodland cover (three times the national average). This one’s a bit of a cheat, as it’s not really one forest, it’s a few! So you could head to Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, Prinkle Wood, Hemstead Forest or many of the others. The High Weald AONB is packed full of forests, alongside its undulating hills, deep valleys and chocolate box villages. The woods themselves are diverse and beautiful, with oak, beech and ash, to name a few of its many species, making it a technicolour tapestry in autumn. Thanks to this diversity, you’ll also see an abundance of wildlife, from deer and foxes to a rich variety of bird species. Everywhere and anywhere you pick, you’ll find a network of footpaths and bridleways that meander through, with opportunities for peaceful walks at every turn.
An SSSI, Worth Forest is a West Sussex treat, with 43.8 acres of ancient woodland near Crawley. But it’s also back-to-back with other forest, making it a touch larger. Managed by The Forestry Commission, it’s a mix of coniferous and broadleaf trees, including oak, birch, and beech, making it wonderfully diverse, and representative of English woodland. There’s also a wealth of creatures here – hence the SSSI status, so keep your eyes peeled for creatures great and small. There’s a wonderfully peaceful ambiance, and if you’ve the time, you should try the 6.1km circular trail that runs through the forest and along the border of Crawley. It should take about an hour and half, at a leisurely pace.
Another SSSI, Chailey Common is a nature reserve near Lewes in East Sussex, and is one of the largest commons in the south of England – at a massive 450 acres. With heather covered heathland, mixed woodland, and ponds dotted throughout, it’s an incredibly diverse area. You can spot Exmoor ponies, cattle and Hebridean sheep wandering throughout – helping to keep the plants manageable! As for other wildlife, birds are aplenty, there’s stonechat, yellowhammer, linnet, nightjars and hobby. There’s even a strong turnout from the reptiles, with adders (watch out!) and common lizards waddling about. Even the plants are rare, and beyond the abundant heather, you’ll spot marsh gentian, bog asphodel and sundew.
The trails are well-maintained, and it’s easy to get about, picking walks that are within your needs, whether it’s a shorter one (for those with shorter legs), or longer more challenging routes. You can even bring dogs! Just be sure to lead up when appropriate.
Here’s one for you if you’re around Brighton way. Immediately west of the University of Wessex, it’s right on the outskirts of the city. A public park, sprawling across 480 acres, it’s pretty big, and a mix of various features. It’s a little more manicured than some on the list, but it’s massive, with a big green common, formal gardens and plenty of woodland to explore. There are also cycle trails, walking trails, picnic spots and even a playground if you’ve the little ones with you.
It's particularly worth visiting in combination with another activity, and thankfully there’s some great options. The most obvious of course, pairing it with your visit to Brighton, if you’re going. But there’s also Stanmer House to on site, where you can pop in for some incredible food at the restaurant, or simply for a pit stop at the café.