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Black Down - Green Sussex Fading into Blue

Follow in the footsteps of a distinguished Victorian Poet Laureate on this gloriously wooded, high-level walk in the county's north west corner.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 315ft (95m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Woodland paths and tracks, some minor roads

Landscape Wooded hills on Sussex/Surrey Border

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 133 Haslemere & Petersfield

Start/finish SU 922306

Dog friendliness Off lead away from car park and roads

Parking Free car park off Tennyson's Lane, near Aldworth House to the south east of Haslemere

Public toilets Fernhurst (on Walk 44)

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1 Turn left out of the car park and left again to join the Sussex Border Path. Keep left at the junction, then swing right at the fork.

2 Follow the long distance border trail to a triangular green and veer right here. Keep left at the fork, still on the Sussex Border Path, and pass over a crossroads. Veer left just beyond it at the fork and drop down to some rhododendron bushes. Turn sharp left here and follow the path through a tunnel of trees.

3 Bear left at a drive and when, after a few paces, it curves right, go straight on through the trees to join the road.

4 Turn left towards the entrance to Sheetland. Avoid the turning and follow the lane for about a mile (1.6km), passing the entrance to Cotchet Farm on the left. Continue along Fernden Lane.

5 Make for a signposted bridleway on the left and after a few paces you reach a National Trust sign for Black Down. Keep left here and follow the sunken path as it climbs between trees, steeply in places. On the higher ground, follow the path as it winds pleasantly between bracken and silver birch. Walk along to a seat which takes advantage of a magnificent view, partly obscured by trees. Keep the seat and the view on your right and walk along to a seat at what is known as the Temple of the Winds.

6 Do not retrace your steps but take the path running up behind the seat to a junction. Don't turn left; instead head north on the bridleway. Avoid a path running off sharp right and a flight of steps and veer left or right at the waymarked fork. Both paths soon merge again.

7 Continue ahead and veer right at the next fork. Keep ahead at the next junction, now following part of the Sussex Border Path again. Veer to the right at the fork, still following the long distance trail, and head for the road by the entrance to the car park.

Situated close to the Sussex border with Surrey, Black Down lies in some of the loveliest countryside in southern England. At 917ft (280m), this prominent, pine-clad summit is the highest point in the county, yet for some reason it has never achieved the popular status of other high Sussex landmarks such as Devil's Dyke, Ditchling Beacon or Ashdown Forest. Part of a plateau of nearly 500 acres (202ha), Black Down is owned by the National Trust.

It was the Victorians who made it a popular local destination for walkers and naturalists. Writers and artists loved it too, and parts of Black Down remain much the same now as they were around the end of the 19th century when young ladies walked here in groups, the botanists among them admiring the plants and wild flowers.

One man in particular gave Black Down his personal stamp of approval - Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The Poet Laureate built his second home here in 1868, living at Aldworth House for the last 24 years of his life. Ever the patriot, it is said he laid the foundation stone for his new home on 23rd April - St George's Day and William Shakespeare's birthday.

Tennyson was greatly inspired by the beauty and solitude of the area, so much so that he was moved to write these words in 'Lines to a Friend':

You came, and look'd, and loved the view

Long known and loved by me,

Green Sussex fading into blue

With one grey glimpse of sea.

Black Down is part of the range of sandstone hills which is enclosed by the bowl-shaped perimeter of the North and South Downs. Historic artefacts found in this area indicate there was a settlement here as early as the middle Stone Age, 6000 bc. Although the area has been referred to as south east England's 'Black Country', Black Down's name comes from the firs which rise out of a dark, heathery landscape, and not from the iron industry which once flourished around here. Some of the oldest tracks in Sussex cut across this hill and the area was once a haunt of smugglers who may have used a cave here to hide their contraband, en route to London from the south coast.

Not surprisingly, Black Down was chosen as a beacon site, one of a chain to warn London of the threat of invasion on the south coast. The coming of the Spanish Armada in July 1588 was relayed via the beacon here, which would have been lit on a position high up, overlooking the Sussex Weald. This superb walk explores Black Down and its hidden corners. Not only does it guide you to one of the loveliest viewpoints in Sussex, but it allows you picture its most distinguished resident, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, strolling this glorious plateau and savouring its views.

What to look for

Black Down's plateau was once an extensive heath created by grazing and managed as common pasture with bracken cut and gathered for bedding. Thousands of years of grazing sustained our heathlands, but since 1950 nearly half of it has been lost. Before grazing stopped, much of the site consisted of gorse and heathland plant. Later, Scots pine, birch and rhododendron began to grow. The main summit area is dominated by heather and bell heather, with a variety of wetland plants including cross-leaved heath, round-leaved sundew and common and hare's tail cotton grasses. Pine woodland is prolific here, with rowan, birch, gorse, bramble and bilberry enhancing the flora and fauna. Birds include nuthatch, woodcock, nightjar, linnet and yellowhammer.

While you're there

Take a break at the Temple of the Winds. The views from here are outstanding. The seat here was erected in memory of the wife of Mr E Hunter who gave Black Down to the National Trust in 1944. Tennyson's old summerhouse stood near the memorial seat at the Temple of the Winds.

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