Weekend rambles: Shipley to Knepp and back (2½ miles; easy)

Hammer Pond, one of the features seen on this gentle walk around West Sussex

Our non-resident rambler, WALKER DUNELM has made a welcome return from his travels, carrying notes from an expedition into West Sussex, with tales of Hilaire Beloc and sightings of rare wildlife

Shipley is a small village south-west of Horsham in West Sussex. From Croydon, you can get there by train from East Croydon (buses run from Horsham Station), or it is about a 50-minute drive down the A24.

Shipley was the home of the author Hilaire Belloc, the prolific writer at the turn of the 20th Century who may best be known for his Cautionary Tales for Children‘ such as “Matilda who told lies”, or his satire of the battles of the British Empire:

Whatever happens
We have got
The Gatling gun
And they have not

Knepp Castle and the surrounding estate lies close to the River Adur, just to the east of Shipley and is the scene of an interesting experiment in “re-wilding”.

For the last 20 years the land on the estate has not been ploughed and no fertilisers have been applied. The animals have been allowed to roam free, with no fences and the land has been allowed to develop naturally, so what you see on the walk has aspects of a stone age landscape. But instead of aurochs, tarpans and wild boar, you will see longhorn cattle, Exmoor ponies and Tamworth pigs. The red deer, however, are the same as you will have seen here thousands of years ago.

Fallow deer, which are seen at Knepp reasonably often, were introduced by the Romans.

In a pre-industrial Britain the animals would have prevented the trees from taking over, giving rise to a patchwork of woods, clearings, water meadows and marshland.

The walk

Shipley Mill, the starting point for this walk

1, If driving, park in the parking bays near to Shipley Windmill.

The windmill is dedicated to the memory of Hilaire Belloc but is only open occasionally. Turn left (west) down the road away from the village, and after about 40 yards turn left (south) down a bridle path.

The bridle path is an old droving road and so has a stone walk way down the edge next to a small stream.

Make sure you have the right footwear for this muddy section

Cross another stream via a footbridge and continue up a gentle hill. When we walked it in February, the track became progressively muddier, churned up by horses. Wellington boots would probably be a good idea in the winter at least.

2. On reaching the road, turn left (west) and walk for about 500 yards to the crossroads down Swallows Lane.

3. After about 200 yards, turn off the road through a high wooden gate marked with a public footpath sign. The gate tells walkers to beware of free-roaming animals.

4. Walk into the paddock and make for an old oak tree. Just after the tree, you will see a gate on the far side of the field. When we were there, longhorn cattle were grazing in the field, but taking no interest in us walkers whatsoever.

Knepp’s longhorns showed no interest in ramblers walking through their field

5. Go through the gate and across the River Adur on a series of footbridges. This is a good place to look at how the Knepp Estate are trying to return the river to a more natural state, by reversing the straightening of the watercourse and planting trees.

6. Walk up from the river keeping a line of trees to your right making for a timber cottage. A good place to view the fields returning to rough pasture and scrub.

It’s this kind of re-wilded habitat that has encouraged breeding populations of purple emperor butterflies, the endangered turtle dove and nightingales.

Take this walk in the summer, and there’s a chance you’ll see a rare purple emperor

7. At the cottage, turn left on to a well-made estate road.

If you wish you can turn right to look at the Hammer Pond, which is really more of a lake and at one time was one of the largest bodies of water in the county. The water was used to power hammer mills as part of the Wealden iron industry.

8. Return to the cottage and continue on the estate road, with woods on the left. Knepp Castle was built in the 12th Century by one of King John’s barons, and took its name from the mound upon which it was built. Little of the Norman castle remains. In 1809, an ancestor of the current estate owners, the Burrells, built a Gothic revival “castle”, Knepp House, to the designs of John Nash. It is this Knepp “castle” which you will glimpse now on the walk.

The Nash-designed Knepp House dates back more than 200 years

9. At a second lodge house a finger post directs you left across an area of cropped grass to the estate road again.

10. Proceed on the estate road for about 100 yards before taking a 45-degree turn at the finger post across the paddock. More cattle here, again peacefully grazing.

11. The footpath takes you to the road, cross over and take another footpath back to Shipley.

Distance: 2½ miles   Time: an leisurely 2 hours     Grade: Easy
Terrain: Mainly flat parkland and farmland. Can get very muddy
Start/Parking: Shipley Mill Grid ref: TQ 143 219
Nearest towns: Horsham, West Grinstead
Refreshments: No pub in Shipley but the George and Dragon in nearby Dragons Green is nice
Maps: OS OL 34 1:25,000 Crawley and Horsham

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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