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History and Science at Herstmonceux

A wooded walk passing a medieval castle and a 20th-century observatory.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 153ft (46m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Woodland and field paths, country lanes, 2 stiles

Landscape Wood, farmland and parkland on edge of Pevensey Levels

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 124 Hastings & Bexhill

Start/finish TQ 654103

Dog friendliness On a lead in woodland. Off lead on 1066 Country Walk

Parking Small lay-by on Wartling Road, south of A271, near entrance to Herstmonceux Science Centre

Public toilets Castle and Science Centre. Seasonal opening

1 Make for the entrance to the Science Centre, cross Wartling Road to a stile and enter the extensive woodland. Go over several tracks and continue on the straight footpath, picking your way through the trees. Eventually you reach a stile. Turn left, then immediately left into Wood Lane.

2 Follow the road alongside trees and cut between houses as you approach the road junction. Cross over to a bridleway sign among the trees and go through a galvanised gate. Walk ahead along the concrete path as it threads its way through the woodland. Pass a reed-clogged lake and begin a gentle ascent between the trees. Keep ahead along the wide footpath, passing beneath the boughs of some fine beech trees and, when you emerge from the woodland, make for a galvanised gate.

3 Head diagonally left across the field to reach a path. Keep left and veer left at a waymark after about 80yds (73m). Cross the field, heading up the slope to a line of trees. Look for an opening in the fence and follow the level path through the woodland. Cross over a path and continue on the bridleway to the road.

4 Turn left and head for Herstmonceux church. Continue along the road to a gateway, joining forces now with the 1066 Country Walk. Bear left and follow the concrete drive to a gate by the entrance to Church Farmhouse. Cross over a tarmac lane serving the study centre and, as you descend the slope, the domes of the old observatory begin to peep into view above the trees, giving these rural surroundings an unexpectedly surreal, almost futuristic quality. Make for the next galvanised gate and here you get an impressive view of Herstmonceux Castle over on the left.

5 Pass over a footpath crossing to another gate. Begin a gradual, though not particularly steep, climb and continue on the 1066 Country Walk as it runs hard by the Science Centre boundary. Follow the woodland path to the road, turn left and return to the lay-by.

A 15th-century moated castle set in beautiful parkland and superb Elizabethan gardens, Herstmonceux captures the essence of medieval England. At the time William, Duke of Normandy marched through Sussex to do battle with Harold and his Saxon army, Herstmonceux was probably no more than a small manor. Herst is a Saxon word meaning clearing and Monceux comes from Drogo de Monceux, a relative of William. The land later passed to the Fiennes family, ancestors of Ralph Fiennes and his brother Joseph, two of Britain's leading modern film actors.

It was in 1441 that Sir Roger de Fiennes, treasurer of the royal household, applied for a royal licence to build a castle here, though he wanted to use it to entertain his friends, not to defend his country. Herstmonceux is perhaps the first example of a sham - a country pile disguised as a castle. Much of the interior was demolished in 1776 to build nearby Herstmonceux Place and, by Victorian times, it was little more than a romantic ruin.

The castle was rebuilt in 1911 and in 1947 it became the home of the Royal Greenwich Observatory. When the Observatory relocated again in 1987, due to increasing light pollution, the castle and grounds were bought by Queen's University, Ontario for use as an international study centre.

In sharp contrast to the castle are the buildings of the Herstmonceux Science Centre next door. These famous green domes originally housed six large equatorial telescopes belonging to the observatory. Between the 1950s and the 1980s, weather permitting, astronomers studied the stars and other night-sky phenomena here.

Where to eat and drink

The Lamb at nearby Wartling is an attractive 17th-century free house and restaurant. There is a tea room in the grounds of Herstmonceux Castle and plenty of picnic space at the Science Centre and Discovery Park.

What to look for

Herstmonceux church, which lies about 2 miles (3.2km) from the village centre, stands on a wooded rise, opposite one of the entrances to Herstmonceux Castle. The church, overlooking the Pevensey Levels, is dedicated to All Saints, indicating it is probably of Saxon origin. As you join the 1066 Country Walk, you can't fail to spot the white-domed satellite laser ranger, which belongs to the Royal Greenwich Observatory.

While you're there

Visit the grounds of Herstmonceux Castle to see the walled garden (from before 1570), a herb garden, woodland sculptures and a folly. Walks take you to the remains of a 300-year-old sweet chestnut avenue, a rhododendron garden and a waterfall. The castle itself is not open to the public, but you can stop off at the Herstmonceux Science Centre and Discovery Park where astronomy exhibitions illustrate the work and history of the Observatory.


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