Breaths of Fresh Air
Walking Local Green And Pleasant Lands
We all know exercise is important, but six weeks into lockdown your customary trek around the block might be becoming boring? On calm days the seafront beckons, but is increasingly crowded.
Fortunately, Hastings and St Leonards is blessed with plenty of nearby alternatives; some accessible on foot from the centre of town, others a 10-minute drive – or better yet, cycle – away. And, now rules have been relaxed, you may drive further afield to begin your exercise.
Aside from the popular Alexandra and Hastings Country parks, the area also has lovely, lesser-known green spaces. Take a map, ideally the OS Explorer range, preferably in paper format. An A-Z will do at a pinch while some of the larger areas have an online listing with a printable map. Navigation by smartphone is frankly not that reliable and small screens can prove hard to read in sunlight.
1. St Helens Woods
Over 100 acres, tended by the St Helens Park Preservation Society. Blankets of seasonal wildflowers, trees – look out for non-indigenous specimen varieties – lakes and meadows. Wonderful vistas; great for bird and butterfly spotting. Multiple entry points including the Ridge (B2093) and Hillside road.
2. Summerfield Woods
A steeply sloped 7.5-acre nature reserve with two ponds, rhododendron in season and a big badger population. Accessible from Bohemia Road and Briscoe’s Walk (running between Horntye Road and Holmesdale). Includes – currently closed – Bohemia Walled Garden.
3. Church /Robsack Wood
Remnant of large ancient woodland that once covered Hollington. Enter from Churchwood Drive. Nature reserve with Grade 2 listed, C13th St Leonards Church in the middle.
4. Maplehurst Wood
Picturesque site of special scientific interest – access
via Beany’s Lane (off the Ridge Close to Conquest Hospital). Traces of former Wealden industries; brickworks, hops, quarrying.
5. Marline Valley Nature Reserve/Wood
Mix of semi-natural woodland, unimproved meadows and a Sussex gill stream; access from various points on Queensway.
6. Combe Valley Country Park/Filsham Reedbeds
Nearly 1,500 acres in extent, mix of land use and ownership, extending to Bulverhythe beach with a large network of paths. Central valley tends to flood in winter. Important wildlife habitat with wide diversity of insects (currently many butterflies) and plants. Look out for ducks, geese, heron, egrets, raptors and many smaller species.
7. Old Roar Gill
Hidden in the middle of Hastings – you may have driven over it without knowing. Directly north of Alexandra Park above Coronation Wood (planted in 1937 to celebrate George VI). Deep, narrow sandstone valley full of mosses and lichens culminating in a waterfall; paths can be very slippery. You may spot kingfishers and woodpeckers.
8. Speckled Wood
Only significant green space adjacent to Ore. Includes remains of old allotments used by injured WW1 soldiers. The Community Land Trust campaigns to keep this area in public use.
Habitat to a wide range of wildlife and plants.
OS Explorer map 124 (Hastings, Bexhill, Battle and Robertsbridge) shows several long distance footpaths crossing East Sussex:
National Cycle Route 2:
When complete will link Dover to St Austell. Easiest route for rookie riders runs from Rock-a-Nore to the western end of Bexhill esplanade, (passing the
De La Warr pavilion). Also a section east along Barley Lane becoming a bridleway as far as Fairlight Place where it joins Fairlight road and arguably too dangerous to traverse. Safely cycle (and walk) from Pett Level towards Rye via the harbour bird reserve, or detour up the Royal Military Canal towards Winchelsea then on to Rye on an off-road route close to Camber Castle.
Saxon Shore Way
Hastings to Gravesend (part of the E9 European coastal path) Local section runs from Old Town to Rye via Country Park.
1066 Country Walk
Pevensey Castle to Rye via Herstmonceaux Castle, Catsfield, Battle, Westfield, Icklesham and Winchelsea. Long, winding 50km off-road trail, best attempted in instalments.
High Weald Landscape Trail
Horsham – Rye; eastern section from Flackley Ash crosses a landscape of rivers and marshes.
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