walks along the water, forests and delicious food stops

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Centennial oaks pass quickly by the train windows. There are sweeping views of a medieval patchwork of farmland and hills dotted with conical houses and tiled brick cottages. The railway line to Hastings passes directly through the High Weald, England’s fourth largest Area of ​​Outstanding Natural Beauty. Unlike Cornwall or the Cotswolds, this pastoral landscape sometimes goes unnoticed. But it’s easy to get to by train and is ideal walking country: quaint half-timbered villages with cheerful pubs and cafes set among gentle wooded hills with a variety of walking trails.


From Wadhurst station the newly renamed 1066 bus takes me to Wadhurst village. I buy some tasty bread with olives and a warm apple crumble at Delicatus and start heading across the country towards Bewl Water, the largest lake in the south-east of England. Storing water from the River Medway, this reservoir on the Kent border stretches between numerous tree-lined streams. Thirteen miles of trails surround its shores scattered through forests and waterside meadows. I follow them today to Downash Wood, an imaginative collection of isolated cabins and treehouses near Bewl Water. Downash is a lovely afternoon walk from Wadhurst or a few minutes walk from Tinkers Lane bus stop in neighboring Ticehurst.

Magically revived, I set out early through dew-covered cobwebs and birdsong to complete the Bewl Water circuit.

Aromas of campfires, leaf mold, fermented crab apples, and faded ferns waft across the paths as I walk. The sky is full of rooks and rooks, and the squirrels, busy in the hazel branches, have left a heap of shells. Rose hips, hawthorn berries, holly and twining bryonies have turned the hedges blood red. The sloping orchards are full of fruit and the cottage gardens are full of hanging yellow pumpkins and branching fennel.

I follow a sunken path, a typical feature of the Wealden landscape, between moss-covered mazes of tree roots and ivy. After nine hilly miles, my backpack feels heavy and my feet hurt. Finally arriving at Daisy Chain Cabin, I find sweet and tangy apple juice from nearby Ringden Farm in the refrigerator and a huge roll-out bath on the deck with plenty of hot water from the tap. I dip my aching shoulders, watch the last sunlight filter through the oak leaves, and listen to the cooing of wood pigeons. Somewhere in the nearby trees, a thin, high-pitched call suggests a wren, Britain’s smallest bird.

Almost magically revived the next morning, I set off early through dew-covered cobwebs and birdsong to complete the Bewl Water circuit. I stop for a coffee at the reservoir’s Waterfront cafe, near a 6,000-foot-long dam built in the 1970s.

Herons stand sentinel along the coast and a rabbit strolls along the path. The banks of wild mint and chamomile near the water are extremely evocative underfoot. A grebe emerges a few meters away and dives again. Nearby, on the mud lie bleached fish bones: remains of some cormorant’s dinner.

I cross a stile near Bewl Water wood and walk the last kilometer across fields to Wadhurst, passing rustic houses, vineyards and a field of hop posts to reach the churchyard of St Peter and St Paul. Unusually, within the church there are more than 30 cast iron funerary slabs, the largest collection in England. The Wealden iron industry, which flourished here in the 17th and 18th centuries, used ironstone from local clay deposits and charcoal from forests.

It’s easy to spend a happy afternoon browsing cafes and pubs around Wadhurst and Ticehurst (a hurst was a hill or clearing in Wealden Forest). I start with curried root vegetable soup at Artful Grocers in Wadhurst, among mounds of purple kohlrabi, and finish with half a Sussex Best at The Bell in Ticehurst. This characterful pub, with its antique beams and flowers in silver teapots, has shelves of eccentric decorations, such as a stuffed squirrel with a pipe and hat in a miniature rocking chair.

The 1066 bus passes by pubs and churches, green areas of the town with linden trees and honest stalls selling homemade jam.

“There are talking points everywhere,” says Daniel Courtney, Bell’s general manager, who frames the quirky decor as part of the pub’s emphasis on storytelling, connection and community. Standing near the hop-festooned fireplace, he waxes lyrical about the riches of the area, from the walkable countryside to the variety of food producers. A half-mile path through fields at dusk back to my cabin begins almost next door, through a narrow alley between The Old Haberdashery and a model train shop.

I meet friends at nearby Stonegate the next day for a walk from station to station. Last autumn we used this railway to walk the 31 mile 1066 Country Walk from Pevensey to Rye, both with good transport links from Hastings. The route, which runs along a beautiful stretch of the High Weald, is packed with memorable views, from the teal of the reed tiers to the deep indigo and turquoise stained glass windows of St Thomas’ Church in Winchelsea. Spike Milligan is buried in the cemetery with “I told you I was sick” written in Gaelic on his grave. We stopped for a picnic in the rolling fields near six intricate wood carvings around young yellow-leaved hawthorn trees. This work, called Farbanks Henge, is one of 10 new sculptures unveiled for the 2021 relaunch of 1066 Country Walk. East Sussex sculptor Keith Pettit, inspired by scenes from the Bayeux Tapestry, also installed an image of Halley’s Comet near Herstmonceux Castle and a wreath in Battle Great Wood. A ten-minute walk from the train station, Battle Abbey and the nearby battlefield are now offering a 20% discount to people arriving by train, bus or bike.

Today we arrive at Stonegate station via Robertsbridge, a medieval village with half-timbered and clapboard cottages lining the hilly main street. The 1066 bus passes by pubs and churches, green areas of the town with linden trees and honest stalls selling homemade jam. Like most buses in England, the 1066 will not charge more than £2 for single tickets until December 2024. At Judges Bakery, opposite the bus stop and wrapped in a crimson vine, I buy a vegan sausage roll and a salad to eat later in the forest.

Batt’s Wood, a couple of miles from Stonegate Station, has been transformed from a storm-damaged conifer plantation into a wildlife-rich copse. There are bluebells in spring and golden avenues of elegant autumn hornbeams. Some forest animal has been truffling in the mossy grass beside the road. Coming out of the trees we took in views of Wadhurst Park with its lake and meadows. The estate has a network of permissive public roads and we followed them through the wooded hills to reach Wadhurst, with its regular trains and abundance of cafes, just in time for tea.

Accommodation was provided by Downash Wood (cottages £295 for two nights). More information at highweald.org and visit1066country.com

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