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Classic Cuckfield

This lovely walk heads across country to sprawling Cuckfield Park, offering far-reaching views southwards to the ridge of the South Downs.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 230ft (70m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field, woodland and parkland paths, minor roads, 7 stiles

Landscape Rolling farmland, attractive parkland and bursts of woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 134 Crawley & Horsham, 135 Ashdown Forest

Start/finish TQ 304246 (on Explorer 135)

Dog friendliness Enclosed paths and tracks suitable for dogs off lead. On lead on farmland and busy roads

Parking Free car park in Broad Street, Cuckfield. 4 hour limit between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Saturday

Public toilets At car park

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1 Leave the car park by turning left into Broad Street. Bear left again when you get to the mini-roundabout and walk down to Church Street. Make for the lychgate by the parish church and enter the churchyard. Head for a kissing gate on the far side, turn left and follow the track.

2 Pass Newbury Pond and cross a stile to the right of a galvanised gate. Keep to the field boundary before crossing a stile to join an enclosed path running between clumps of holly trees. Cross another stile and continue on the path until you reach a turning on the right. Follow the path down to the busy A272, cross over to a stile and follow the pretty path through the trees. Walk along to Copyhold Lane and bear right.

3 Pass Lodge Farm and, when the lane swings round to the left, go straight on at the public bridleway sign, ignoring the path on the right by Copyhold Cottage. Walk ahead into the trees and follow the woodland path down to a lane. Go straight on, cross a stream and bear right to join a footpath, quickly crossing a footbridge. Once in the field, keep to the right edge and make for the corner.

4 Avoid the stile here and bear left, following the field boundary. Cross into the next field via a gap in the hedge and make for the stile in the corner. Continue to skirt farmland and soon you reach a footpath sign on the bend of a track. Keep ahead, passing a house on the right, and soon you reach the A272 at Ansty.

5 Cross over and follow Bolney Road, turning right by St John's Church into Deaks Lane. Pass Ansty Farm and head out of the village in a northerly direction. Keep to the lane for over a mile (1.6km) and turn right opposite a house called The Wyllies. Pass through a gate and follow the High Weald Landscape Trail down the field to a footbridge.

6 Climb steeply through the woodland to reach a fence. Turn right and walk along to the fence corner by a gate. Continue ahead, merging with a grassy track to reach a galvanised gate and stile. This is the edge of Cuckfield Park. Cut between trees and carpets of bracken, dropping down to a footbridge. Ascend a steep bank to reach a wrought iron kissing gate and keep the fence on your right. Continue to a kissing gate and head towards Cuckfield's prominent church spire. On reaching South Street, turn left and return to the centre of the village.

Standing 400ft (122m) above sea level, in the shadow of sprawling Haywards Heath, Cuckfield is one of those fortunate places that has largely escaped the threat of urban development, retaining its charm and character. It is generally thought of as a village and yet it has the feel of a classic country town that has stayed small and compact - something of a rarity in Sussex these days. It was the determination of the Sergison family back in the 19th century not to allow a railway to run across their land that saved Cuckfield from becoming yet another commuter town. The line was diverted to the east and provided the impetus for Haywards Heath instead.

Following the Norman Conquest Cuckfield was held by the Earls Warenne and was granted a charter in 1254. The pronunciation, 'Cookfield', unusual in southern England, stems from its meaning, the delightful 'cuckoo-field'. The Clearing where the Cuckoo Came is also the title of a book of poetry about the village.

There are many notable buildings in the High Street and South Street, distinguished by a variety of architectural styles, but it is the famous tower and tall spire of the 15th-century Church of Holy Trinity that stands head and shoulders above the rooftops of Cuckfield. From here you can look towards the Clayton Windmills, known as Jack and Jill, high up on the South Downs.

The church, which has an unusually large churchyard, evolved from a chapel in the 13th and 14th centuries and was restored in the mid 1850s. There are various memorials and brasses inside; but the one feature which never fails to impress is the unique ceiling which boasts a 15th-century framework with moulded bosses. It is thought to have been the gift of the grandson of John of Gaunt who lived in Cuckfield in 1464. It was adorned with painted panels by a local artist in 1865.

Outside in the churchyard, by the Church Street lychgate, is a memorial 'in proud and grateful memory of those men of the 2nd Battalion Post Office Rifles who were billeted and trained in Cuckfield between November 1914 and May 1915 before joining the batallion in France and who never returned.' The memorial was unveiled in 1968. A stone's throw from the church lies Ockenden Manor, now a hotel. The name is Old English, meaning 'Occa's woodland pasture', and for several centuries it was owned by the Burrell family who improved and extended the building.

The walk begins in the centre of Cuckfield and after passing through the churchyard, with its views of the South Downs, heads south-east, then west across country to the little village of Ansty. A narrow lane leads north to Cuckfield Park, its elegant parkland enhancing this very attractive walk.

Where to eat and drink

Cuckfield has several pubs, including the White Heart in South Street, serving hot and cold meals and bar snacks.

What to look for

Cuckfield Park, established by an ironmaster during the reign of Elizabeth I, was the home of the Sergison family. Later, it became a school and was open to the public. Now it is in private ownership. Keep an eye out for the striking gatehouse over to the right as you walk towards Cuckfield. The charming village buildings can be seen huddled round the church as you approach South Street.

While you're there

You will identify several unexpected features in the centre of the village of Ansty. One is the Cuckfield Rural Parish Council map of rights of way in the area which shows the full route of the walk. The Ansty Cross pub sign depicts a scene from the Bayeux Tapestry and the village sign shows a stag watching a horse and its rider trying to climb a hilly path. Not surprisingly that the name Ansty means 'steep path to hilltop'.

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