Woolbeding Countryside - River Rother circular trail
Woolbeding Estate is a hidden countryside gem, situated in the South Downs National Park near historic Midhurst. The walk starts in the heart of Midhurst and takes in the beauty of Woolbeding Parkland. Follow the River Rother, edged with ancient trees. Pass a plantation of whispering poplars and hear the sounds of the weir before returning to Midhurst's main street. If you are starting the walk at the Woolbeding Parkland car park, go through the gate and follow the track heading towards the gate in the fence ahead. Pass through the gate and continue along the track in the next field. From here you will pick up the trail just after point 2.
This walk was laid out and signposted in conjunction with the South Downs National Park
Wheatsheaf Inn, GU29 9BX or Half Moon Inn, GU29 9LL
From the Wheatsheaf head down Midhurst High Street and take the immediate left turn up June Lane. Follow this residential lane uphill for about 1 mile, past a bowls club & a tennis club, then down past a large black barn to your right, until you reach the main road and Half Moon pub. Take care as there is no footpath. Unusual for this region is an exposure of stone which you can see on the right hand side just before the peak of the rise, where tree roots grow over and between the layers of rock.
Midhurst High Street
Looking East from beside the Wheatsheaf along the splendidly individual buildings lining Midhurst High Street - many are still small family-run businesses, and you can smell the bakeries, and the cafés. This walk starts with the Wheatsheaf pub beside us, turning left just after the brick building with yellow-painted windows.
As June Lane reaches the busy A272, you will have the Half Moon pub to your left. Looking west along this side of the A272 you will see a bus-stop; take the tarmac path towards it by a lamp post and sign to Stedham, then bear right into a narrow footpath through a bracken and bramble thicket, which bears right and leads you over a wooden footbridge to a stile. Cross over the stile and head down the path, keeping the tall trees to your right. After the National Trust access gate, continue along the track until you see a 4-way fingerpost to your right, by a large farm gate. Turn right here into the Parkland.
Take the narrow trail beside an evergreen
You are now in the heart of Woolbeding Parkland with the meandering Rother down below. These fields are grazed by Sussex cows and Herdwick sheep. Follow the path up into Whiphill Wood. Embrace the finest views of the Rother valley with the picturesque Woolbeding church, and a lake ringed by rushes, shrubs and reeds. You may see some geese and swans and possibly the quick flash of a kingfisher. The lake is nestled within old pasture punctuated by mighty oaks.
Grazing in Woolbeding Parkland
Keeping pasture naturally rich needs skilled helpers, so you may find Belted Galloway here - a small, hardy, traditional breed of cow who will happily graze rough and tough vegetation as well as grass. They are part of the team carrying out essential conservation work at many National Trust South Downs countryside places, along with other traditional breeds of cattle and sheep.
Leave Whiphill Wood and the quirky folly in its shadows, and continue diagonally down across the field to its far left corner. Follow the Rother walk signposts. You will have a strip of streamside woodland on your left and fields on your right. About three-quarters of the way along the edge of the second field, turn left at the waymarker post that leads you into the woods and nearer the river. This opens into a lovely wetland full of reedmace, willow and rushes.
Enjoy the elevated views from the boardwalk as it crosses the insect-rich vegetated wetland, then continue along the riverside. Watch out for dancing banded demoiselles in summer. These are a type of damselfly which live and breed along flowing water. The males have characteristic dark blue wings.
By the edge of the River Rother flood plain there's a raised boardwalk over a boggy area, rich with rushes, willowherb, marsh marigold and other wet loving plants.
The river to the left is lined with alder trees, which thrive in wet ground, while to the right of the path are tall spare poplars. Silvery and bare in winter, in other seasons they are alive with crisp, olive and grey leaves, that move and rustle together in the slightest wind. Continue here along the path, as the trembling leaves of poplars whisper to one another with a sound like rain.
Alders and Poplars
The river is lined with alder trees, which thrive in wet ground. Like members of the pea family, the alders roots contain bacteria which can utilise nitrogen from the air. This compensates for the lack of nitrogen in water logged soil. Its leaves are rounded and it bears catkins in spring. The dark brown corky capsules or cones you may see hanging from its branches can float on water and contain the seed. Along the floodplain is a poplar plantation with rows of tall trees, some not too healthy. They are a hybrid poplar - a cross between the black poplar and Populus inter Americana - planted in 1996. The grey poplar is our native which flourishes on damp water meadows and river valleys. It grows a straight white upper trunk.
Leaving the floodplain behind, you follow a narrow riverside path, in cool shade and hearing ever more clearly the river. The music of the flow changes as it narrows, bends, and goes over at least one weir; then, as it nears Midhurst High Street, it loops beside gravel banks and discharges into a swirling pool. This vigorous stretch is a fine habitat for dace, barbel, and brown trout.
The inset shows - momentarily perched mid-river on the plank edge, above the square stone - a female Grey Wagtail. These shy residents search for insects along fast-flowing rivers, and can be seen here all year.
Turn right onto North Street. Having trod the riverside way, you can now enjoy the experience of Midhurst market town. You will see Cowdray Ruins opposite and the Rother academy with the plaque commemorating HG Wells. Yellow window frames on local buildings show they belong to the Cowdray estate. There are plenty of cafés and small shops to savour and enjoy. Public toilets are near the bus stop and car park. Continue along the high street until you return to the Wheatsheaf pub. Turn right at June Lane and continue up the hill if you are finishing at the Half Moon. You deserve another drink . . .
Wheatsheaf Inn, GU29 9BX or Half Moon Inn, GU29 9LL
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