Autumn is a lovely time of year for walking in the English countryside. There are a great many public footpaths forming an extensive network of trails. One of my favourite Sussex walks is the tree tunnel that leads to the bottom of Halnaker Hill, on top of which the recently restored windmill looks out across the hills with 360-degree views over the South Downs National Park and the Goodwood Estate to Chichester and beyond.
I was recently asked to guide a West Sussex walk for a group of Koreans on a tour of England to the tree tunnel in Halnaker. They had seen a photograph I had taken, the one Sussex Bloggers use as a logo, and thought it would make an excellent walk for the last day of their tour. While I knew a little about the holloway (as such tree tunnels are known) and the windmill, I thought I should find out more. I started to research the area on the internet, chatting to locals, and local historians. I was amazed by what I discovered − secrets dating back over 500,000 years are hidden in the ground here.
Did you know? Rhinoceros once roamed through what is now West Sussex − you’ll have to join me on a guided walk to find out how I know.
I also explored the area’s public footpaths further, finding a particularly lovely alternative route to reach the tunnel of trees.
Finally, the day of the tour arrived, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone − 23 guests from Korea in total. We had a delicious lunch in a Georgian pub and having told the group a little about the pub’s history we set off, passing a vineyard and making our way through fields of barley (all be it now harvested).
Having crossed the A285, formerly Stane Street, the Roman road that linked the nearby town of Chichester to London, we were soon in the tree tunnel. This ancient holloway was formed by the cumulative footfall over the centuries wearing away the ground so that the path sunk down below the adjacent fields. Ancient oak and hazel grow on the banks their branches curving over to meet each other to form the tunnel. I’ve since found out both hazel and oak feature heavily in the mythology of different peoples throughout Europe. The hazel myths I found particularly interesting − it’s said to mark the boundary between the human world and the realm of the gods. The tunnel certainly has an air of magic about it.
Above: The photograph that inspired a group of Koreans to visit West Sussex.
At the end of the tunnel, the path then forks with the right-hand path carrying on following the direction of the Roman road and the left-hand path heading uphill to Halnaker Windmill in the South Downs National Park. In 1905 the mill was struck by lightning and it has never been used as a working mill again. Despite a series of restorations over the years, it always returned to a state of disrepair. It now looks magnificent, however, with its newly hung terracotta tiles and restored cap and balcony. Earlier this year the second stage of its restoration was completed when the sails, known locally as sweeps, were rehung. The final stage will be a new door and a permanent fence around the site, assuming planning permission is granted.
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I’m sure all that knew the mill over the years that it has stood here, would smile to see it looking so fine once again.
My day out with the Koreans was fabulous. I enjoyed it so much that I now offer the same walk through Airbnb Experiences so do check it out if you’d like to know more about the history and natural history of the area, as well as mythology. I’m learning more each day. My first Airbnb walk will be on Friday 12th October with another on Saturday 20th October with plenty more to follow. I’d love you to join me on this lovely Sussex walk.
Photography by Suzanne Jones and Kathryn Burrington
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