Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs,
(All of a Midsummer morn!)
Surely we sing no little thing,
In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But - we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth-
Good news for cattle and corn-
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
From A Tree Song by Rudyard Kipling
If you’ve ever read Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’, you’ll know that there’s something magical about the Dudwell Valley – especially on Midsummer Day. So, that’s where I’ve decided to go for my evening walk on this, the longest day of the year, to see if I can spot any strange goings-on in the fields and woods around Rudyard Kipling’s old home, Bateman’s. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/batemans/
Bateman’s is nestled in the beautiful Dudwell Valley – one of my favourite areas of the High Weald. The historic village of Burwash stands high on a ridge overlooking the Valley.
My walk route is on two OS Explorer maps: it starts on 136 – ‘The Weald’ and then goes onto 124 – ‘Hastings and Bexhill’ and then back onto 136. It’s probably going to be about 10 miles long. But who’s counting on a beautiful summer evening like this?
From Stonegate Station, I take a footpath going east to Hammerden. The ‘den’ placename ending is very typical of the High Weald and means that there was once a woodland pig pasture here. I wonder whether the ‘Hammer’ part could be commemorating yet another historical High Weald speciality – the iron industry. (More about these two things later!)
After Hammerden, I then find my way onto a winding bridleway that passes through Cock’s Wood and then crosses the railway line. I continue to descend through fields to the River Rother and cross it at Wreckery Bridge. What a great name! But thankfully no sign of any wrecks.
After the bridge, I continue on the bridleway for a short distance. Then, when it bears right, I leave it and continue in the same direction on a footpath, shortly coming to a point where the path splits near a stream - Seller’s Brook. I take the path on the left and soon take yet another path on the left past Honeybrook Wood and a property called Brooksmarle.
I come to a track – Ham Lane, according to the map – leading to this house and turn right onto it to arrive, after an uphill stretch, at pretty Burwash Village, on the top of the ridge.
I’ve done my homework: Burwash was a small hamlet at the time of the Norman conquest slowly growing into the current village of just over 3,000 inhabitants. The origins of the name Burwash are believed to have evolved from Burhercse in the 12th century through various changes over the centuries until arriving in the more familiar form of Burrishe in the 16th century and Burwash in the 17th. In ancient English, Burwash means a “stronghold in a field”.
The High Street includes a number of grand houses including ‘Rampyndene’ on the southern side – a fine country house built in 1699 – and on the northern side, sounding a bit out of place, ‘Chateaubriand’! This is thought to be the oldest house in the village, built in around 1375.
I turn right onto the High Street, and soon turn left into the main car park by the Bear Inn. I now look for my next footpath and spot a finger post to the left of the Scout Hut in the corner of the car park.
There are very good views from here of typical, irregularly-shaped High Weald fields – surrounded by what appear to be very thick hedges. These are not planted hedges at all, but actually the remnants of the woodland that was here before clearings were made and turned into the productive little fields that you see today. You can find out more about the fields.
I follow this path past a garden and then downhill along the field edge. I turn right at the next footpath junction to cross a boardwalk and then continue to follow the yellow footpath waymarks to reach Batemans Lane. Here, I turn right and follow the lane to its junction in front of Batemans House. I always get a thrill when I see this lovely old Ironmaster’s house – Rudyard Kipling’s home for over thirty years – and I’ve visited it many times.
I now turn left along a drive and then look for a right turn immediately after Corner Cottage, with its old oast house, to follow the path around Bateman’s mill pond.
I walk along the path beside the gurgling mill stream. After a kissing gate, I continue in roughly the same direction, following the waymarks – with the stream never very far away – through several valley-bottom fields before climbing a steep hill towards a wood.
Now I really am in Kipling Country! I wonder whether one of the fields I’ve just walked through is where the children performed their play on Midsummer’s Eve and, in doing so, conjured up Puck? I sit down at the edge of the wood and get out my copy of ‘Puck of Pook’s Hill’.
The Theatre lay in a meadow called the Long Slip. A little mill-stream, carrying water to a mill two or three fields away, bent round one corner of it, and in the middle of the bend lay a large old Fairy Ring of darkened grass, which was the stage. The millstream banks, overgrown with willow, hazel, and guelder-rose, made convenient places to wait in till your turn came; and a grown-up who had seen it said that Shakespeare himself could not have imagined a more suitable setting for his play… I skip to the part where Puck appears to the children for the first time. The bushes parted. In the very spot where Dan had stood as Puck they saw a small, brown, broad-shouldered, pointy-eared person with a snub nose, slanting blue eyes, and a grin that ran right across his freckled face. He shaded his forehead as though he were watching Quince, Snout, Bottom, and the others rehearsing Pyramus and Thisbe, and, in a voice as deep as Three Cows asking to be milked, he began:
'What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here,
So near the cradle of the fairy Queen?'
He stopped, hollowed one hand round his ear, and, with a wicked twinkle in his eye, went on:
'What, a play toward? I'll be an auditor;
An actor, too, perhaps, if I see cause.'
The children looked and gasped. The small thing—he was no taller than Dan's shoulder—stepped quietly into the Ring.
'I'm rather out of practice,' said he; 'but that's the way my part ought to be played.'
Still the children stared at him—from his dark-blue cap, like a big columbine flower, to his bare, hairy feet. At last he laughed.
'Please don't look like that. It isn't my fault. What else could you expect?' he said.
'We didn't expect any one,' Dan answered slowly. 'This is our field.'
'Is it?' said their visitor, sitting down. 'Then what on Human Earth made you act Midsummer Night's Dream three times over, on Midsummer Eve, in the middle of a Ring, and under—right under one of my oldest hills in Old England? Pook's Hill—Puck's Hill—Puck's Hill—Pook's Hill! It's as plain as the nose on my face.'
He pointed to the bare, fern-covered slope of Pook's Hill that runs up from the far side of the mill-stream to a dark wood. Beyond that wood the ground rises and rises for five hundred feet, till at last you climb out on the bare top of Beacon Hill, to look over the Pevensey Levels and the Channel and half the naked South Downs.
'By Oak, Ash, and Thorn!' he cried, still laughing. 'If this had happened a few hundred years ago you'd have had all the People of the Hills out like bees in June!'
'We didn't know it was wrong,' said Dan.
'Wrong!' The little fellow shook with laughter. 'Indeed, it isn't wrong. You've done something that Kings and Knights and Scholars in old days would have given their crowns and spurs and books to find out. If Merlin himself had helped you, you couldn't have managed better! You've broken the Hills—you've broken the Hills! It hasn't happened in a thousand years.
You can read the rest of the story for yourself online http://www.gutenberg.org/files/557/557-h/557-h.htm
I enter the wood, feeling slightly uneasy. The woods have an extra strangeness about them today. There are definitely things moving about in here and I feel I’m being watched!
I emerge from the wood, for once rather relieved. What a contrast! I’m now in lovely wildflower meadows and they are looking their very best at this time of year. I pause to see how many different wildflower species I can spot, but there are so many I lose count. The orchids are quite spectacular! I follow the field edge path through several of these meadows to reach beautiful, tree-fringed Willingford Lane.
About a mile to the left up Willingford Lane is Perch Hill Farm, named after the hill that is thought to be ‘Pook’s Hill’ in the book.
I cross the lane and now follow blue arrow bridleway waymarks to pass Willingford Farm – in its picturesque setting of the Dudwell Valley – and then bear right onto a footpath that takes me into woodland. Once through the woodland, I continue to follow the yellow footpath arrows, crossing a number of fields to reach a small gate leading onto a woodland path.
I hear a strange, high pitched laugh and turn sharply to see a green woodpecker speeding away, with its distinctive, bouncing flight.
I remember a farm dog I once had – and her dislike of the eerie, laughing call of the ‘yaffle’ – as it’s sometimes called. ‘Whinge’ was a jet black pointer-collie cross and looked very fierce – but was actually a complete coward. For some reason, she was particularly frightened of the noise made by the green woodpecker and if she heard it when out on a walk, she would run straight home with her tail between her legs!
I now follow the well-defined path through the woodland. The low sun streaming into the wood lights up the ferns and brambles growing underneath the trees. Quite magical – but I am just glad it’s not too dark in here!
I reach a path junction and now turn right to follow a bridleway past the houses at Glaziers Forge. I look out for a junction just after the houses and turn right onto a footpath. I now head towards some farm buildings and pass to the right of them to climb a stile. I cross the next field to a gap in the fence and then bear right to reach a large footbridge over the river Dudwell. I can see I’ve now got quite a climb ahead of me, so I’m glad it’s getting cooler as the midsummer sun slowly sinks down behind the hill!
I follow the yellow waymark arrows across two fields, and then along the edge of the next field, continuing straight ahead at the path junction. After another stile, I follow the path through the wood, and arrive at Parkhill Farm.
I follow the path around to the front of the house and then along the drive. There are lovely views from here of the Dudwell valley below – and I can see beyond it to distant ridges of the High Weald.
After passing a barn, I leave the farm drive as it turns to the left and continue ahead to a gate. The field edge path goes steeply downhill – first to a stile and then through the wood. I’m glad I’m not walking in the opposite direction up this steep hill today – though I have dome many times! At the bottom, I arrive at a bridge and look down. The stream water is bright orange! It’s a fairly common sight in these parts, caused by all the iron ore in the ground. But startling, nevertheless. Read the story of Iron in the High Weald.
I cross the bridge and take the path leading uphill to Willingford Lane. Here, I turn left and emerge opposite the Wheel Inn on the main road at Burwash Weald.
I turn right and follow the main road for about 500 yards before turning left onto the signposted bridleway opposite Weald House. I follow this past Green Farm and then turn right at a junction of tracks. According to my map, this is Holton lane - and it’s a very beautiful example of a High Weald sunken routeway - one of my favourite landscape features.
Read the story of how these routes came to be so deeply sunken. I follow Holton Lane for about one and a quarter miles, passing to the rear of Woodlands Farm. I feel as if I’ve stepped back in time.
At the end of the bridleway, I turn left on to Spring Lane and, after a short distance, turn right onto a signposted footpath along a driveway. It’s clear from the map that this is probably a continuation of the ancient droving route along Holton Lane.
At the next signposted path junction, I go straight ahead, continuing on the bridleway. At the next junction, I leave the bridleway and turn right onto a footpath that passes Franchise Manor. This leads to the path junction near Wreckery bridge, where I was just a few hours before. From here, I trace my steps back to Stonegate Station as the sun sets on the longest, most magical, day of the year.
You can follow my Midsummer walk on OS Explorer Maps 136 ‘The Weald’ and 124 ‘Hastings and Bexhill’.
If you are planning a visit to the area from further afield many accommodation providers listed on the High Weald section of the Our Land website are are excellent bases for walking around the Burwash area!
Burwash country houses B&B, High Weald is a historic country house where Rudyard Kipling himself is said to have stayed.
High Weald rural B&B accommodation based in Willingford Lane is ideally situated for walking around this picturesque part of the High Weald.
Burwash Common holiday cottage near Heathfield is hidden away in a woodland estate and is not far from the centre of Burwash and the start of a number of walks.