RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Country walk: The West Dean estate

This seven-mile (11km) walk takes you through many of the woods mentioned in Michael Boxall’s new book which I have reviewed in Nature Trails this week.

Grass verge parking in Hylter’s Lane at the crossways above the Chilgrove valley, SU840140 is one of the places to start.

This is the spot to see red kites, with a total of 12 one day this winter.

There are also two kestrels and two buzzards over nearby Stapleash Down.

Walk SE down the stony track, passing the site of a Roman station on the right, and in Warren Bottom, cross the Roman road that ran from Chichester – Silchester.

Keep left to stay on Monarch’s Way footpath as it tracks to the south of Lodge Hill Farm.

All this area is used for pheasant and partridge shooting, which is why red kites congregate.

This also makes seed crops for flocks of finches. Entering Whitedown Plantation while descending to the road, you pass through a coppice and standards which has 40 species of breeding birds.

This used to be one of the last strongholds for the wood warbler, but due to global warming the species has moved north of Sussex.

Now take the minor road down to West Dean where a pub and a village shop await you near the River Lavant.

Follow the river along the minor road and you will come to St Andrew’s church with its 1912 bronze effigy of William Dodge James, and pre-Conquest nave walls.

A door in the cemetery wall takes you into the grounds of West Dean College, its restaurant and garden shops.

There is a magnificent vista up towards the arboretum on the Trundle Hill.

Returning to the A286, via the garden centre (entry fee but well worth it) you will find a minor road running north among the cottages, which takes you to Colworth farm.

This is a lovely quiet lane among ivy-grown trees where in spring you will hear blackcap warblers, nuthatches and marsh tits, with bluebells and wood anemones amongst the rich ground flora.

Over the hill and past the farm, you enter a wide plain where again the buzzard and the kite glide high above.

Past Colworth Barn, along a rue with field maple trees, into West Dean Woods.

Turn right along bridle way into Venus Wood. Again, wild woodland flowers and birds abound beneath the oaks and firs.

Keep left, and left again, now travelling NW and crossing into the Cowdray fir woods.

Again keep left and again left, passing above the Severals Wood.

This name referred to ‘several beech trees’ in times of yore.

Soon you re-enter West Dean estate land by a large chalk ball which was part of the trails of such objects laid down by sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Keep left on to the blue arrow.

This bridleway takes you south, past West Dean Woods nature reserve which the Sussex Wildlife Trust leases from the estate.

In mid- March, three million wild daffodils bloom here and again the breeding bird population numbers more than 40 species, with 360 wild flower species.

The path comes very close to the minor road, where turn left.

This takes you down to the end of Hylters Lane and the turn right back to your car.

By now, Michael’s book will be even more readable with its personal story of this fine countryside that you have just walked through.