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Ashdown Forest Walks for 2022

Ashdown Forest Walks for 2022

From its history as a Norman deer hunting forest to its renaissance as ‘home’ of beloved British bear Winnie-the-Pooh, Ashdown Forest is one of England’s favourite wildernesses. It’s one of the largest free public access spaces in South East England, with a diverse landscape ranging from sun-dappled woodland and flower-filled meadows to vast stretches of lowland heath and valley bogs. In addition, the views over the Sussex countryside are incredible, and thanks to The Conservators of Ashdown Forest there are plenty of trails to explore. As well as trails that will everyone from kids to grandparents, Ashdown Forest is laced with some challenging tracks and even a couple of long-distance footpaths that will get your pulse up. Read on for our definitive list of Ashdown Forest Walks for 2021.



Vanguard Way 


Ever feel like packing your backpack and hot tailing it out of London? The Vanguard Way allows you to do just this, stretching from East Croydon Station in Outer London to New Haven in East Sussex. Over the next 66 miles you’ll quickly forget the crowds and traffic of the big smoke and find yourself melting into the countryside. 


You could easily complete the entire track in a week or less at a leisurely pace or walk the Vanguard Way in shorter sections. As well as passing through Ashdown Forest the track also takes in South Downs National Park, the Surrey Hills and High Weald Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the heritage-listed Sussex Coast. Not to mention a slew of spectacular views, including the chalky white cliffs of the Seven Sisters and also the Cuckmere Meanders. Now that’s a long-distance trail with some backbone. 


Almost the entire route meanders across public rights of way, taking you through a mix of coastal, countryside and woodland scenery. Planning to complete the entire walk from end to end? Don’t forget to apply for your free certificate through the Vanguards Rambling Club. Also, according to the original Vanguard Way ramblers who founded the trail back in the 1960s, a bottle of Drambuie played a healthy role in the formation of the club. If you can fit one into your backpack for a few drams along the way you’d be doing the Vanguards proud. 


Length: 66 miles

Average time to complete: 5 – 7 days

Starting point: East Croydon Station or New Haven





Sharing a friendly rivalry with the Vanguard Way, the Wealdway meanders for 83 miles from Gravesend in Kent to Eastbourne in East Sussex. Hiking the trail from end to end takes you through three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a patchwork of chalky downloads, wooded farmland and picturesque wooded valleys. It claims to showcase some of the most beautiful countryside England has to offer and we’re definitely not arguing otherwise. Therefore, throw in a few Neolithic megaliths and a handful of excellent pubs and the Wealdway really does have it all. 


The section that passes through Ashdown Forest is a highlight, with the trail winding through Five Hundred Acre Wood and taking you into the territory of A. A. Milne and of course, Winnie-the-Pooh. Whether you’re a fan of the loveable bear, impartial or can’t stand the sight of the honey-obsessed teddy, there’s no denying Five Hundred Acre Wood is a magical place and the Wealdway is a great way to see it. However, if you’re going to take on the daunting 83 mile hike, you’ll need a map, which you can find here.


Length: 83 miles

Average time to complete: 5 – 7 days

Starting point: Gravesend or Eastbourne



Secret Garden Walk 


Starting at Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club, this enchanting walk takes you from the manor down to the East Lodge Gate. After passing through the gate, you’ll skirt the top of the field and follow a track down into the Secret Garden, a hidden oasis surrounded by woodland. When you’ve enjoyed a spell in the garden continue down the track to the eastern side of the golf course. Keep your eyes peeled for deer grazing on the fairways. Check for golfers and if the coast is clear stroll towards the 10th hole for postcard-perfect views of the manor, with the lake and fountains in the foreground. 


After working up an appetite on the trail head to the Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club for a well-deserved lunch. This isn’t just any old pub. The luxury establishment occupies a magnificent 19th-century mansion set in 186 acres of manicured gardens and wild woodland. On a sunny day there’s no better place to be than the al fresco terrace overlooking the parklands. Alternatively, pre-book a picnic basket filled with local goodies and enjoy lunch in the gardens. There’s also a scrumptious afternoon tea for sweet tooths.  


Length: 1 mile

Average time to complete: 25 minutes

Starting point: Ashdown Park Hotel & Country Club



Friends Clump & Nutley Windmill


Definitely more of a leisurely stroll than a hike, the Friends Clump & Nutley Windmill trail is short and sweet. You’ll start by passing through Friends Clump, a grove of Scots pines planted by the Friends of Ashdown Forest in the 1970s. Today they’re grown to impressive heights. Next you’ll follow the trail down to Nutley Windmill, which is around 300 years old and has been restored to full working order. It’s one of the best-kept open trestle windmills in England and is open to the public so allow time to duck inside and check it out. 


A steep descent takes you down to open heathland, where you’ll pass by a quintet of holly trees. The final leg sees you walk along the bottom of Millbrook Valley before heading back up to Friends Clump Car Park. While you could easily power through this walk, we recommend taking your time and enjoying the scenery along the way. 


Length: 1.7 miles

Average time to complete: 1 hour

Starting point: Friends Clump Car Park



Old Lodge Nature Reserve


Bird lovers listen up. Managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust, the Old Lodge Nature Reserve is a haven for feathered friends. An easy to navigate nature trail winds through the 76 hectare reserve, where you can spot nightjars, woodcocks, stonechats, redstarts and other species. So, don’t forget your binoculars! The sunrises over Old Lodge Nature Reserve can be stunning and are definitely worth getting up early for in the right conditions. Early starts also promise the best chances at bird sightings. 


Whilst the reserve is nestled in the heart of Ashdown Forest, the landscapes are completely unique. Furthermore, the extra 500 feet of elevation makes a big difference, with Old Lodge known for its cooler climate, heather-strewn heathlands and Scots pines. Unsurprisingly, you’ll often hear walkers comparing it to Scotland. 


Length: 2.5 miles

Average time to complete: 1.5 hours

Starting point: Old Lodge Nature Reserve Car Park 



Airman’s Grave


Not quite as spooky as it sounds, Airman’s Grave honours the lives of the six men who lost their lives when a Wellington bomber crashed in Ashdown Forest after a WWII air raid on Cologne. Engine troubles and turbulent weather bought the plane down and claimed the lives of all six passengers. The stone-walled memorial is simple and poignant, with a white cross set in a miniature garden of remembrance. We’re pretty sure the lads would approve of the setting, with the memorial commanding sky-high views over Ashdown Forest and South Downs. Moreover, on a clear day the vistas stretch across the Low Weald and all the way to Firle Beacon, some 16 miles away. 


The landscapes are suitably pretty, with the hills blanketed in heather, gorse and purple moor grass. In autumn this is one of our favourite places to admire fall foliage. The trail is dog friendly, however it’s best to keep Fido leashed as it’s likely you’ll pass by grazing sheep and cattle. 


Length: 2 miles

Average time to complete: 1 hour

Starting point: Hollies Car Park 



Chelwood Vachery Forest Garden Walk


Laid out in 1925 by famed landscape architect Col. Gavin Jones, Chelwood Vachery Forest Garden was “lost” for decades until being rediscovered in the 1990s. The garden is nestled on the side of a remote valley and has been lovingly restored by conservationists. You’ll start at Long Car Park, then ascend across a heathland before joining a wooded track. Subsequently, you’ll reach a series of streams and ponds. You’ll then pass through an impressive gorge built using enormous limestone boulders transported from Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. 


Chances are you’ve built up an appetite, so we’d recommend heading straight to the Duddleswell Tea Rooms for a fresh-baked scone served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. If it’s a hearty lunch and a cold pint you’re craving, the Red Lion at Chelwood Gate is always a winner. Furthermore, there’s a great outdoor garden for enjoying the sunshine and some seriously good food on the menu, including a truffled macaroni cheese you’ll be dreaming about for days.  


Length: 3 miles

Average time to complete: 1.5 hours

Starting point: Long Car Park



Pooh Walks from Gill’s Lap


If you can’t get enough of everyone’s favourite bear, don’t miss the Pooh Walks from Gill’s Lap route. Taking in a string of locations from the much-loved Pooh stories, the walk winds past the Lone Pine, Heffalump Trap, Galleon’s Lap and Eeyore’s Sad and Gloomy Place to name a few. Kids love it, however it’s also a great opportunity for adults to dive a little deeper into the famous A. A. Milne series. For example, theories that Winnie-the-Pooh is addicted to honey and shows clear signs of impulse-control disorder. Or that Eeyore suffers from major depressive disorder and Piglet has generalised anxiety disorder. 


Whatever your take on Winnie-the-Pooh, don’t forget to pick up a free leaflet from the Ashdown Forest Centre before you set off. The shorter option covers less than a mile of ground and is great if you’re visiting Ashdown Forest with young kids. The longer version is 2 miles and takes in more landmarks, including a touching memorial to A. A. Milne and EH Shepard, who illustrated the books. 


Length: .6 – 2 miles

Average time to complete: 30 minutes to 1 hour

Starting point: Long Car Park



Tabell Ghyll


Starting from Lintons Car Park, the walk to Tabell Ghyll takes you past some of the most impressive beech trees in Ashdown Forest. After soaking in views over the northern section of the park, you’ll descend down to a stretch of heathland and into a wooded valley. In addition to majestic beech trees, the trail also winds past some of the only sweet chestnut coppice woodland in the park. 


Tabell Ghyll is a great hike at any time of the year, though it’s especially beautiful in spring when the stream is lined with pale yellow wild daffodils. In summer birdwatchers head to Tabell Ghyll to listen to the loud songs of male redstarts perched high in the beech trees. While not too strenuous, this walk does feature some gentle slopes which makes it great if you’re looking to get in some real exercise.  


Length: 2.5 miles

Average time to complete: 1.5 hours

Starting point: Lintons Car Park



Naming Ashdown Forest 


Want a fun fact to recite to your friend while you’re hiking? The name “Ashdown Forest” doesn’t actually refer to the tree. In fact, you won’t find any ash trees in Ashdown Forest as the soil just isn’t suitable for the deciduous trees. Instead, Ashdown takes its roots from Anglo-Saxon times. Historians muse the name stemmed from the word “Aesca” referring to an individual living in the local area and “dun” which means hillfort. Therefore, the name Ashdown actually translates to the Hill of Aesca in medieval English. 


Want to know more about walks in Ashdown Forest? The Ashdown Forest Centre occupies a trio of renovated barns and features some excellent displays on the history of the forest and the flora and fauna it protects. There’s also plenty of information on trails in the area, as well as free maps. In addition, the staff are always friendly and knowledgeable so don’t be afraid to have a chat and get the skinny on the latest trail conditions. 


Have you spent much time exploring Ashdown Forest? We’d love to hear about your experiences on the trails and always love suggestions if we missed one of your favourite hikes (or pubs!)