Pitlands Farm is a family run farm that's been in the same family for more than 85 years. An…
Views at Kingley Vale
Discover a magical ancient forest and allow your imagination to run riot on this exhilarating walk high up on the South Downs.
You might not expect to find the largest yew forest in Europe tucked away in the South Downs, but that’s exactly where it is. This remote downland landscape, covering more than 200 acres (81ha) is cloaked with 30,000 yew trees. Once a wartime artillery range, Kingley Vale became one of Britain’s first nature reserves in 1952. Today, it is managed by Natural England.
Silent, isolated and inaccessible by car, the grove of ancient yew trees at Kingley Vale is a haven for ramblers and naturalists. The walk skirts the forest, but if you have the time to explore, the effort is certainly worthwhile. The yew is one of the UK’s finest trees and can live up to 2,000 years. It is usually a large but squat tree, its branches and dark green needles conspiring to create a dense evergreen canopy which allows little light to filter through to the forest floor. With their deep red trunks, branches and shallow roots twisted into monstrous shapes and gargoyle faces, some of the yews at Kingley Vale are thought to be over 500 years old.
Even on the sunniest summer’s day, the scene amid the tangle of boughs is eerily dark, strange and mystical. The yew has always featured strongly in folklore and, according to legend, this place was a meeting point for witches who engaged in pagan rites and wove magic spells here. Danes and druids are also believed to haunt the vale.
Various theories about the origin of the forest have been suggested, but it is thought that the site marks the spot where a 9th-century battle against the Vikings took place. Some sources suggest the trees were planted here to guide pilgrims travelling across the South Downs to Canterbury. Long before the yews began to grow, Bronze Age kings were buried here.
The trees may be the dominant feature at Kingley Vale but the grove is teeming with wildlife. The delightful green woodpecker, noted for its distinctive colouring, inhabits the reserve, one of 57 species of breeding bird found here. The bee orchid blooms in June, while mountain sheep and wild fallow deer keep the turf short for 200 other species of flower. If you’re lucky, you might spot a fox or a kestrel.
Beginning just outside the village of Stoughton, the walk immediately makes for dense woodland before climbing quite steeply to the spectacular viewpoint overlooking Kingley Vale. The reserve covers the southern chalk slopes of high Bow Hill, and from here the views are tremendous.
Take the bridleway (signposted from the car park entrance), leading away from the road and through a metal barrier, skirting dense woodland. There are striking views on the left over well-wooded countryside. Keep right at a fork and follow the stony path as it curves to the right. Veer slightly right as signposted at the next waymarked fork, and begin a gradual ascent beneath the boughs of beech and oak trees.
Eventually break cover from the trees at a major junction of waymarked tracks. Go straight on, looking to the right for spectacular views. After 125yds (41m), fork left at the next bridleway sign and join a path running parallel to the track. Cut between trees and keep going for 0.25 miles (400m) until you reach a waymarker post. Fork right here. Keep to the waymarked path as it runs down the slope. Rejoin the stony track, turning left to follow it up the slope towards Bow Hill.
About 30 yards (27m) after the Devil’s Humps, veer left off the path by a sign for Kingley Vale Nature Reserve to enjoy the magnificent vistas across the downland countryside. The view to the north, over remote woodland and downland, is impressive enough, but the panorama to the south is particularly outstanding. Immediately below you are the trees of Kingley Vale. Return to the path near the nature reserve sign, and continue the previous direction along the route, keeping to the right of the Devil’s Humps and re-entering the forest.
Bear right at the next main junction and follow the bridle track alongside a field. On the left are glimpses of Chichester Harbour, with its complex network of watery channels and sprawling mudflats, and the Isle of Wight beyond. Soon enter the trees and ignore a left fork; near here are more ancient burial tumuli. Follow the track down through the woodland and out into the open, Stoughton in view below. Pass a memorial to a young Polish airman whose Hurricane crashed near here after a dog-fight during World War II. Turn right at the road.
Pass the entrance to St Mary’s Church on the left, followed by the Hare & Hounds pub. Continue through the village and on the right is the Monarch’s Way. Follow the road out of Stoughton back to the car park.
Mostly woodland paths and downland tracks
Dense woodland and rolling downland
Under control in Stoughton village; elsewhere off lead unless signs state otherwise
OS Explorer OL8 Chichester
Free car park at Stoughton Down
None on route
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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About the area
Discover West Sussex
Divided from East Sussex back in 1888, West Sussex is so typically English that to walk through its landscape will feel like a walk through the whole country. Within its boundaries lies a wide variety of landscape and coastal scenery, but it is the spacious and open South Downs with which the county is most closely associated.
In terms of walking, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Studying the map reveals a multitude of routes – many of them to be found within the boundaries of the South Downs National Park – and an assortment of scenic long-distance trails leading towards distant horizons; all of them offer a perfect way to get to the heart of ‘Sussex by the sea,’ as it has long been known. If you enjoy cycling with the salty tang of the sea for company, try the ride between Chichester and West Wittering. You can vary the return journey by taking the Itchenor ferry to Bosham.
West Sussex is renowned for its many pretty towns, of course. Notably, there is Arundel, littered with period buildings and dominated by the castle, the family home of the Duke of Norfolk, that dates back nearly 1,000 years.
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