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Moonlight Cottage Cocking and Westdean Woods Trail

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Moonlight Cottage Cocking and Westdean Woods Trail
Author: clairesharpuk, Published: 23 Feb 2014 Walk rating : Rating:star1 iFootpath - walking guides and directions for the UKstar1 iFootpath - walking guides and directions for the UKstar1 iFootpath - walking guides and directions for the UKstar1 iFootpath - walking guides and directions for the UKstar0 iFootpath - walking guides and directions for the UK
West Sussex, Midhurst
Walk Type: Hills, valleys and dales
Moonlight Cottage Cocking and Westdean Woods Trail
Length: 8 miles,  Difficulty: boot iFootpath - walking guides and directions for the UK boot iFootpath - walking guides and directions for the UK boot iFootpath - walking guides and directions for the UK
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A 7.5 mile circular walk from Moonlight Cottage in Cocking, West Sussex in the heart of the South Downs. Moonlight Cottage is a wonderful B&B (open all year) and tea room (open March to September) offering walkers a perfect base for weekends away or simply some delicious refreshments after a day of walking. The walking route heads south, climbing steeply to reach the South Downs Way and then follows this ridge-top path west to perform a circuit of Westdean Woods before returning down the ridge and along old farm tracks. There are beautiful views across the surrounding hills throughout the walk and plenty of wildlife within the woodland which is a mixture of majestic pines and coppiced hazel.

The route consists of long steady ascents and descents throughout, a couple of sections being fairly steep. There are some gates plus two stiles to negotiate (both stiles have open fencing alongside for dogs). The chalk paths on the climbs/descents can become slippery when wet and the farm tracks can be very muddy in winter and after periods of rain, so good boots are a must. You may come across sheep and cattle grazing the fenced fields adjacent to the South Downs Way so take care with dogs. Approximate time 3 to 3.5 hours.

Cocking is located on the A286, just 3 miles south of Midhurst in West Sussex. The walk starts and finishes from Moonlight Cottage B&B and Tea Room, which is located on the main A286 road, on the left-hand side if you are travelling south from Midhurst. Moonlight Cottage has its own small car park alongside which day walkers are welcome to use if they are visiting the tea room before or after their walk. If this car park is full, there are additional spaces behind The Malthouse (on the opposite side of the road – turn down the lane marked public footpath and History Column) which is also managed by the owners of Moonlight Cottage. Approximate post code GU29 0HN.

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Walk Sections

Start to South Downs Way
Start to South Downs Way

Start point: 50.9497 lat, -0.7524 long
End point: 50.9432 lat, -0.758 long

Standing on the A286 facing Moonlight Cottage, turn right. Ignore the signed footpath off to the right and, just a few paces later, turn right down the small lane marked as a no-through road. Follow this quiet residential lane winding between properties and then on with a pretty river down to the left. Continue as the lane leads you under a pretty arched bridge which carries a disused railway overhead.

After passing the walled majestic white property on the right and its triple garage block on the left you’ll see a signed junction of paths. Turn sharp left here onto the restricted byway signed to the South Downs Way. Follow the track (taking care as the chalk surface can be slippery when wet) for some distance uphill, gently at first and then more steeply. Eventually you will emerge out to a T-junction with a tarmac lane, part of the South Downs Way.

South Downs Way to Venus Wood
South Downs Way to Venus Wood

Start point: 50.9432 lat, -0.758 long
End point: 50.9429 lat, -0.7798 long

Turn right along the tarmac lane, passing between a property on the right and farm buildings on the left. The yellow paintwork on the windows and doors signifies this as one of the working farms of the Cowdray Estate, Cocking Hill Dairy. The dairy was established in 1999 by Lord Cowdray and houses 200-300 cows which graze 250 hectares of the surrounding chalk downland. Lamb, beef and venison raised on the estate are sold at the Cowdray Farm Shop just north of Midhurst.

Follow the South Downs Way steadily climbing. At the first signed fork take the right hand branch (which is practically straight on) still signed for the South Downs Way. Further along you’ll come to a signed staggered crossroads of paths, turn left here (leaving the South Downs Way) onto the public bridleway at about 11 o’clock.

On the right you’ll pass a giant chalk ball (you will notice more of these on your way round). These are chalk sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy. The sculptor created 14 of these balls, each with a 6ft diameter. They were installed in 2002 and mark a five mile trail from West Dean Gardens to Cocking Hill. At the time of installation the team believed they would weather and disintegrate fairly quickly in these exposed positions, but judging from current weathering rates some of them could last as long as 200 years.

Follow this grass track and it will lead you past a vehicle barrier into woodland. A little way in you’ll come to a junction of paths (with a bridleway off to the left) marking the corner of Venus Wood.

Venus Wood to Colworth Down
Venus Wood to Colworth Down

Start point: 50.9429 lat, -0.7798 long
End point: 50.9295 lat, -0.7877 long

Turn left here onto the bridleway heading steadily downhill. When you come to the first junction of multiple paths, continue straight ahead (ignoring two paths off each left and right). At the second junction, keep ahead once again. A few yards later ignore the track off to the right, simply keep ahead on the main track.

The track swings right to merge with another track coming in from the left. A few yards later you’ll come to a signed crossroads. Go straight ahead here, leaving the wide tracks to take the narrower bridleway ahead into the trees. After a few paces you’ll pass the first of many signs for Westdean Estate.

Follow the path winding steadily downhill. Towards the bottom you’ll see a small clearing on the left. This is used to house much of the woodland management equipment, including that of the charcoal burners. There are four log benches surrounding a large tree which make a great place for a short break. Stay on the main stony path which levels off, climbs a little, then emerges from the trees to a small clearing and path junction at the corner of Colworth Down.

Colworth Down to Staple Ash Gate
Colworth Down to Staple Ash Gate

Start point: 50.9295 lat, -0.7877 long
End point: 50.9286 lat, -0.8035 long

Keep right at this junction on the public bridleway, a fairly level track, with the woodland to the right and open views across the down to the left. Keep your eyes peeled for red kites and skylarks which can often be seen soaring here.

The track leads you down to double gates. Pass through the gap alongside these to reach the road junction. Turn right along the road edge, taking care of any occasional traffic. Follow the road as it swings left and then, at the right-hand bend, leave the road to go straight ahead on the track climbing uphill.

At the top of the slope cross the stile and then keep straight ahead on the grass track between open fields, crossing Staple Ash Down. Once over the brow of the hill, you’ll be rewarded with more stunning views ahead. Cross the stile at the far side and come down the short slope to reach the road. Keep ahead along the road edge for just 100 yards to reach a gate on the right marked as a public bridleway.

Staple Ash Gate to Harepath Wood
Staple Ash Gate to Harepath Wood

Start point: 50.9286 lat, -0.8035 long
End point: 50.9459 lat, -0.7833 long

Turn right through this gate to join the bridleway. Follow the grass track uphill and continue as it enters a belt of trees and then on into woodland, with a beautiful woven fence on the right.

Westdean Woods are managed by Sussex Wildlife Woods and the woodland is considered to be one of the finest examples of hazel coppice in the country. Coppicing provides many benefits including encouraging the growth of wild flowers, extending the life of the trees and providing a continuous supply of wood (for charcoal and fencing). Wild orchids flourish alongside the bridleway in spring and forty different species of birds regularly breed within the reserve. The site is also home to a large colony of wild daffodils.

Follow the bridleway heading straight through the centre of the woodland, climbing steadily all the way. Some way along, ignore the bridleway off to the right, simply keep ahead on the main track. At the next signposted crossroads keep ahead again. Continue ahead and pass through the gap alongside a vehicle barrier to leave the woodland. A little further along you’ll come to the crossroads with the South Downs Way.

Turn right, heading east, walking between fenced fields. From this high point of the South Downs Way you’ll be able to enjoy expansive views on clear days. To the north the views extend over the Sussex Weald and to the south you may even be able to see the sea. Continue just as far as the next crossroads, marking the start of Harepath Woods down to the left.

Harepath Wood to End
Harepath Wood to End

Start point: 50.9459 lat, -0.7833 long
End point: 50.9499 lat, -0.7521 long

Turn left here onto the restricted byway. This track soon leads you into the edge of the woodland. To the right you’ll notice several ancient yew trees. The track swings right and begins its steep descent. Take extra care as the chalk surface can be very slippery when wet. Eventually you’ll come to a junction of paths, go straight ahead here (ignoring the byway off to the left).

The track soon emerges from the woodland and continues its descent between hedgerows. This long farm track can be quite muddy and slippery in winter/wet weather so take care. Eventually you will reach a T-junction, turn right here. As you reach private grounds ahead, follow the path as it swings right and then left around the grounds to reach a T-junction with the track for Crypt Farm.

Turn left and, after a few paces, keep left again passing the impressive indoor swimming pool of Crypt Farm on the left. At the next junction keep left again on the restricted byway signed to Cocking (0.5 miles).

You may recognise this section from the outward leg, and now it is simply a matter of retracing your steps to the start point. Follow the lane under the impressive brick arch and continue with the river running to the right. This will lead you between cottages and out to the main road in Cocking. Keep left for a few paces and you’ll come to Moonlight Cottage on the right for some well deserved tea and cake.

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Text and images for this walk are Copyright © 2014 by the author clairesharpuk and may not be reproduced without permission.


1 responses to "Moonlight Cottage Cocking and Westdean Woods Trail"

Beautiful walk but definitely a good pair of boots required! And some of the uphills can be QUITE uphill.

By angela18xh on 2016-03-25 16:20:39

The information in this guide has been provided in good faith and is intended only as a guide, not a statement of fact. You are advised to check the accuracy of the information provided and should not use this guide for navigational directions nor should you rely on the accuracy of the weather forecast. You are advised to take appropriate clothing, footwear, equipment and navigational materials with you according to the current and possible weather and nature of the terrain. Always follow the country code and follow any additional warnings or instructions that may be available. Some walks may be very strenuous and you are advised to seek medical advice if you have any doubts as to your capability to complete the walk.

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