Lickfold

I admit I mainly wanted to walk in the Lickfold area because it’s got a funny name, but it also turns out to be in a really beautiful, rural part of Sussex.

Sitting in that bit of the county between Midhurst and Haslemere, it is comfortably within the boundary of the South Downs National Park, but this is not Downland. The bones of the earth, where they break through around here, are not white chalk, but sandstones that are far older than that. The great dark lump of Black Down looms in the distance, itself an outlier of the sandstone Surrey Hills, despite being the highest point in Sussex. The ground is spongy, sweet chestnut abounds in the woods and there are vast areas of commercial pine forest, while bracken fringes the edges of the woods and lanes. In fact this area, with its acid soils and rolling, thickly wooded hills, has much more in common with the High Weald than it does with the South Downs.

The villages are few and scattered and the houses often built out of the local stone, glowing honey-coloured in the weak December sun. This is one of the less-visited parts of the National Park and this is a big part of its glory. The paths are a little harder to follow in places, but still not difficult and there were some real moments of delicious solitude, while the surroundings alternated between deep, dark, secret woodland and wide open pastures.

There may be something in this business of choosing walks based on funny names after all. As a bonus the area also glories in the names “Dirty Bridge Barn” and “Dirty Bridge Field” (which is a wood, oddly). There didn’t seem to be an actual “Dirty Bridge”, though. Perhaps it’s too ashamed to bring attention to itself.

 

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A wood bank on the edge of Bexleyhill Common, with coppiced beech on the corner. Wood banks are ancient boundaries between properties and often have coppiced, stumped and pollarded trees on them to make them more obvious.

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Although this might look like a stand of dead trees, in fact it’s a plantation of larch – the only deciduous conifer – in its winter plumage.

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Definite signs of man-made channels in this meadow, silted up and barely discernible now, but the shallow, linear depressions in the deep grass show that this was once a water meadow and deliberately flooded to encourage lush growth. Just needs a lovely old red poll cow called Ermintrude to stand in the middle of it all and chew on a buttercup. A red poll? In Sussex? Sorry, that’s the Suffolk in me coming out.

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If you see a row of big old trees in a field like this, it’s very likely a sign that there used to be a hedgerow here. The rest of it’s been grubbed up for one reason or an other and only the big old oaks, too expensive and valuable to remove, remain to show us what once was.

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Although it looked quite scary in the gathering gloom and it was a bit slippery in the ice, this bridge doesn’t even make the top five Scariest Sussex Footbridges

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Coldwaltham

IMG_4274-2The River Arun in West Sussex is crossed by several ancient bridges, including Greatham Bridge near Coldwaltham, which was originally built in the 13th Century, rebuilt in the 18th, adapted with a new span in the 19th and restored in the 21st.

In the 17th Century it was the scene of a minor battle during the English Civil War: the Parliamentarians seeking to wrest control of the strategic river crossing from the local Royalists. The graves of the dead from this skirmish can be found in the local churchyard.

The river itself was navigable in the 11th Century and by the 19th it connected to the Wey & Arun Canal, providing a link to London. As with all the inland waterways; demand fell away with the coming of the railways and maintenance of the navigation ceased in the 1890s.

The common along the western shore of the river is known as Waltham Brooks and is owned by Sussex Wildlife Trust. The line of the old navigation which here straightened a bend in the river can still be seen and still contains water. The remains of Coldwaltham Lock with its attendant keeper’s cottage are also present.

Stane Street

If you turn at the beautiful old farm at Bignor and drive up the narrow road onto the Downs, you will find a lane so steep and winding that you will be forced to change down into first gear to get the car up there. I have made this climb many times, both by car and on foot, but what I didn’t realise until yesterday was that as you make the second steep turn, you join Stane Street, the Roman Road from London Bridge to the East Gate of Chichester.

Not only that, but the “agger” of the old road itself can be clearly seen at the top of the hill, where the tarmac gives out, but the ancient route continues.

Now, I’ve been up to Bignor Hill dozens of times and I’d noticed this long, linear earthwork and, in my ignorance, had assumed that it must be some kind of medieval boundary marker. It was only a bit of idle map-perusal that led me to realise that this bank of earth was, in fact, built by Roman engineers nearly 2000 years ago!

So, of course, armed with this new knowledge I set off for a proper look. Eschewing my usual route along the edge of the scarp (which is beautiful), the old Road was easy to follow and, as it emerged from some trees it stretched so obviously ahead of me, towards Chichester I could scarcely believe it. As I walked back along the bank I’d seen before I couldn’t get over how clearly this was a road, now I’d seen it in the right way.

What a wonderful thing that a place one knows so well can turn out to have something so completely unexpected and exciting as this!

Gravetye Estate

What a find! The estate of the Elizabethan former manor house of 1598, the whole lot was left to the Forestry Commission on the death of former owner William Robinson, who also created renowned gardens around the house, which are now open under restrictions. The house became a hotel and Michelin starred restaurant.

Because the estate is managed by the Forestry Commission, the whole lot is designated as Access Land and the public have the right to roam across all of it. Unlike most Forestry Commission properties it is far from being uniform pine plantation, but is in fact a wonderful extensive patchwork of woods, fields, lakes and streams laid over rolling hills and with the old manor house still set at its heart.

Hot Men from History presents: The Top Five Hottest European Monarchs!

You’d be surprised how often in life I get asked the question I am here going to set out to answer. “Dan” people ask. “Who were the hottest European Monarchs of history?”. Well, they can wonder no more, because the results are in. The votes have been cast. The panel has debated. The ballots have been totted up and I can finally reveal the answer we’ve all been waiting for. I mean, technically there was only one voter and only one panel member and both of those people were me, but whatever.

It should be noted that I am entirely reliant in this quest upon  painted portraits and that before the Renaissance, portraiture was more representative than it was accurate. The earliest vaguely accurate picture of a European monarch we have is of Richard II of England and he was never hot. Various members of the Plantagenet dynasty were described as handsome, but bear in mind that the Plantagenets were a spiky lot and liable to cut the heads off those that offended them. Without accurate portraits, we can only wonder how true these descriptions are.

All that aside, let’s get on with it!

5. Henry IV of France

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Also a contender for Best King of Anywhere Ever, the man who promised to rule with “A sword in the hand and [his] arse in the saddle”, It’s Henry IV of France and III of Navarre, shown here having a vanquish over the Lernaean Hydra. I’m not usually one for the greying daddy type, but He’s so marvellously camp as tits in this picture, I can’t help but love him. Henry was the first Bourbon king and sadly his looks and charm were somewhat lacking in his descendants. Got done in by a knife-wielding assassin in a traffic jam for not being catholic enough. Such is the way of things.

4. Alfonso XII of Spain

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Ruling only from 1874 – 1885 before dying of dysentery and tuberculosis at the age of 27, I’ve mainly included Alfonso for having probably the most outrageous facial topiary of any European monarch. He doesn’t seem to have been a bad man, as kings go, but died too soon to really know. His son, unborn at his death, was an out and out git of the highest order, though.

3. Frederick III of Germany

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OK, I take it back. Maybe Frederick’s whiskers were more prodigious than Alfonso’s. Another one who contrived to die only a few months after ascending the throne (of cancer this time) *and* to sire a complete arse in the form of his son Wilhelm II, Frederick was a liberal, who looked set to clash with his highly conservative chancellor; Bismarck. In the end he died before making much of an impression, Wilhelm dismissed Bismarck and all hell was let loose. Just goes to show. Quite what I’m not sure. In the above portrait, I am fairly convinced that Frederick is on his way to apply for a job producing coffee art in an ironic Berlin cafe.

2. William the Silent, Prince of Orange

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Also known as William the Taciturn or William of Orange (not to be confused with the other William of Orange, who was his great-grandson), William was not, in fact, entirely silent, which would have made his rule considerably less interesting, I suspect. An adversary of certified hottie John of Austria (who  gets no mention in this list purely by dint of never actually being a monarch of anywhere, much to his chagrin) and his masters Charles V (of amusing jaw fame) and Philip II (of marrying Bloody Mary and Armada fame), he founded the house of Orange-Nassau, brought independence to parts of the Netherlands and was the progenitor of that country’s entire royal family, before being assassinated.

1. Nicholas II of Russia

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Becoming Tsar at the age of 26 without the faintest idea of how to do it, Nicky is our hottest of the hot. He seems to have been a nice enough man, if a bit of a twit. He refused to allow greater freedom and a constitutional monarchy in Russia on the grounds that he had taken an oath to be an autocrat at his coronation and, therefore, an autocrat he would be. Unfortunately, being an autocrat was never really in his nature, so he was never very good at it. His father declined to teach him anything of statecraft before he was thirty, which is all well and good, but he died when Nicholas was still only 26. Seemingly impressed by the machinery of democracy, he nevertheless stuck fast to the idea that Russia could only ever be an autocracy, before famously succumbing to the guns of the Russian revolutionaries in 1917. Probably not such a bad man, if he hadn’t been such an idiot. Pretty, though. Let’s have another pic to celebrate.

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Honourable Mentions

I simply cannot leave this without mentioning a couple of other contenders: William II of Orange. Bit of a weak face, this one. He looks like a china doll, but look at his lovely hair. Henry III of France. Bit pasty, perhaps, and a dreadful king. His brother Charles IX was kind of hot as well. And last but not least. Or maybe least, actually, James V of Scotland. I can never quite make my mind up about James. Hot or not? Perhaps we will never know.

Wester Ross

I have been to many beautiful places and there are those that equal, but none that surpass Wester Ross in the Scottish West Highlands for sheer beauty and grandeur. There may be bigger mountains in the world, the weather may be a bit tricky and the midges can be a challenge, but there’s nowhere quite like it. If you love walking in the hills, dramatic mountain and coastal scenery and some of the best seafood in the world, I urge you to go there.

Bedham Church

Now, I don’t know how you spend your evenings, but I spend quite a lot of mine looking at Ordnance Survey maps. Mostly, of course, I’m looking for places with rude names (Wellcombe Bottom being a particular favourite), but also I’m looking for places that might be nice for a walk. One such place is an area of open access woodland I noticed to the north of Fittleworth in West Sussex (Fittleworth of course is not a rude name, exactly, but it’s still an awesome one). Today being a nice day, I decided to go and have a look… And found this! Built as a church and a school in 1880, it stopped being used for education in 1925 and for worship in 1959.