List of walks in date order, with links
Date Walk Distance
06 September 2009 Cocking Causeway (Midhurst) to Petersfield 21.2 km (13.3 miles)
05 September 2009 Fittleworth to Cocking Causeway (Midhurst) 21.8 km (13.6 miles)
29 August 2009 Henley to Fittleworth 19.5 km (12.2 miles)
15 August 2009 Liphook to Henley 22.5 km (14.1 miles)
08 August 2009 Haslemere to Liphook 19.6 km (12.3 miles)

I've now completed the Serpent Trail, spread over 5 days of walking. I think it's one of the best walks in the region - and I've probably done it at the best possible time of year. Walking the path is an intensive course in the biology and ecology of heathland. I'm very tempted to re-walk it late one spring, to see the contrast in the vegetation.

The official route length is 64 miles. The distances in the table above add up to 65.5 miles, as I've included the short connecting walks need to reach railway stations and bus stops from the beginning and end of each day's walk.

Waymark
Serpent Trail waymark

08 August 2009: The Serpent Trail, Haslemere to Liphook

19.6 km (12.3 miles)

Well Lane
Start of the Serpent Trail, Well Lane, Haslemere

I first discovered the Serpent Trail when I came across a waymark I didn't recognise. I then seemed to come across Serpent Trail waymarks everywhere I walked in the north-west quarter of West Sussex.

Fungi
Fungi

A search of the web turned up The Serpent Trail Official Guide (though when I went to print off a copy last week, I found the link on the paths page of this site still worked, but there seemed to be no way of navigating to the guide from its parent site, the Visit South Downs website). The official guide is excellent - it includes OS 1:25 000 mapping.

Beech
Beech on Black Down

I took the train to Haslemere. The weather was warm, generally sunny with clouds. The start of the route was new to me, starting from Well Lane in the centre of Haslemere and crossing the National Trust owned Swan Barn Farm. On the route to Black Down I found a surprisingly wide variety of fungi - a sign autumn is on the way. Once on Black Down I was on familiar territory, having walked over it when following the Sussex Border Path, and as part of a series of walks to visit the Marilyns and HuMPs lying to the south of London.

View
View from the Temple of the Winds

The bilberry was in fruit (the taste was rather disappointing), and the heather at it best. The Serpent Trail guide notes that the heathland supports three types of heathers - ling, bell heath and crossed-leaved heath. I could only find the first two on Black Down, but found the crossed-leaved heath further west, from Marley Common onwards. It's the prettiest of the three heathers.

Black Down
Black Down

I made a short detour to visit the trig point on Black Down (280 m), the highest point in Sussex. There are superb views from Black Down, particularly from the Temple of the Winds, looking towards the South Downs. From the top of Black Down westwards, the Serpent Trail is coincident with the Sussex Border Path until it reaches Marley Common. The two routes then separate, rejoining for a couple of kilometres over Stanley Common and Iron Hill.

Logo
Lynchmere Society logo

Lynchmere and Stanley Commons are owned and managed by the Lynchmere Society. The Society is doing good work to restore and conserve areas of heathland and acid grassland. The commons are grazed by Shetland cattle, a very small breed.

Generally, waymarking of the Serpent Trail is excellent - though I missed the waymarked route over the last part of Lynchmere Common (which doesn't quite follow the route shown on the guide, which shows it being coincident with the Sussex Border Path).

Forest
Forest on Iron Hill

The waymarking is essential over the heaths, as there are so many paths criss-crossing them. The last part of today's section, leading to the road into Liphook, was particularly intricate and I had to depend totally on the waymarks.

I followed the road into Liphook to get the train home. The Railway Hotel opposite the station boasts that it is 'Under new management - we have beer'. They didnít have real ale, and they didnít have the lemonade to make a shandy with the keg John Smiths. Industrial grade lager only. One of the worst pubs I've been in for some time.

Ling (Heather) Cross-leaved Heath Bell Heath

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15 August 2009: The Serpent Trail, Liphook to Henley

22.5 km (14.1 miles)

Chapel Common
Path on Chapel Common

I took the train to Liphook and walked the kilometre to rejoin the Serpent Trail on the Hampshire - West Sussex border. The first part of this section of the Serpent Trail is coincident with the Sussex Border Path. The two path diverge shortly after the Black Fox Inn, the Serpent Trail taking a more interesting route over Chapel Common, an area of heathland and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). There is then a short and unpleasant length of the B2070 to reach Rake, where the Serpent Trail briefly rejoins the Sussex Border Path through Rake Hanger, another Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the sessile oaks on it upper slopes, and the alder woodlands on its wetter lower slopes.

Gig-shed
The gig-shed next to Iping Marsh churchyard

Leaving Rake Hanger, the Serpent Trail turns eastwards, the first major change in direction that gives the path its name, reflecting its serpentine route. From here to Henley, much of the route is through woodland, often Chestnut coppice, with patches of heathland and open country. As on the pervious section, I found a large variety of fungi, most of which I couldn't identify. Common earthballs (Scleroderma citrinum) were particularly plentiful. The most striking was a vivid lemon-yellow sponge-like slime mould (not strictly a fungus), growing on moss on the stump of a dead tree.

Chestnut coppice stool
Chestnut coppice stool, with fungi

The Serpent Trail passes Iping Marsh churchyard (for some peculiar reason, it is not marked on the OS 1:25 000 map). A damp and slug-eaten notice from Milland Parish Council advises that they are 'pursuing the idea of restoring the gig-shed as a place of shelter for visitors to the Iping Marsh churchyard and as a shelter for Ramblers walking the Serpent Trail' - a very civilised idea. The church itself, consecrated in 1840, was demolished, according to the notice, 'in about 1978'. The Serpent Trail guide says it was demolished in 1982. A minor example of how easily history becomes lost.

Oak Tree
Old oak tree, Woolbeding Common

The high point of the walk, in both senses, is the section over Woolbeding Common. The views westwards are superb. The path passes a trig point at 183 m above sea level. Nearby is Telegraph Hill, the highest point locally at 206 m. Telegraph Hill is a HuMP, and the only one in the region whose summit I've not been able to reach - it's in someone's garden.

View from Woolbeding Common
View from trig point on Woolbeding Common

Along the lane to Telegraph Hill the National Trust (who own Woolbeding Common) have erected white topped wooden posts to protect the verges, with notices asking people to 'keep off - rare plants'. The posts might deter parking motorists, but the notices invite the curiosity of the walker. I found that the 'rare plants' were a species of Helleborine - which I later identified as Broad-leaved Helleborine. This has been a good year for finding orchids.

Duke of Cumberland Arms
Duke of Cumberland Arms

From Woolbeding Common I walked on to Henley to finish the walk. Henley is a picturesque hamlet on a steep slope, and still retains its pub, the Duke of Cumberland Arms. This is a gem of a pub - small, with a fine view from a beautiful garden and serving real ale. I had a excellent pint of Harveys, which I took my time over, rather than rushing to catch the bus.

The bus stop is on the main A286 road above the village, 5 minutes from the pub. It's an unpleasant place to wait for a bus, but the No 70 arrived on time, to take me to Midhurst, for a ten-minute connection to the No 1 bus to Pulborough, from where I got the train home.

Alltogether, a fine walk. The weather was dull and overcast for most of the day, but dry, improving in the late afternoon.

Broad-leaved Helleborine

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29 August 2009: The Serpent Trail, Henley to Fittleworth

19.5 km (12.2 miles)

View of Black Down
View northwards to Black Down, from near Redlands Farm

It's back to home territory after a break walking in Exmoor, the Wye Valley and Wales. I took the train to Haslemere, then the No 70 bus to Henley, to pick up the Serpent Trail where I had left it on 15 August 2009.

Much of this section of the walk is through woodland, starting with Verdley Wood, a fir plantation. Later sections are more mixed, or chestnut coppice.

Oak Tree
Oak tree, Leggatt Hill

In Lords Wood I came across a couple of walkers following a route from a book, who looked lost. They had missed their turning, and had come too far. I was able to put them on the right track, but I was puzzled by the fact that they relied on the path description, rather than using a map - particularly when they claimed to have one in their rucksack. My habit is to use a description to transfer the route to the map, and then navigate from the map.

Field
Field near Lord's Wood

Upperton is a very picture-book village. There are good views over the South Downs from the road between Upperton and Tillington.

I wasn't planning to stop in Tillington, but it proved to have an interesting church (largely early nineteenth century, with a 'Scots Crown' spire) and a good gastro-pub, the Horse Guards. I stopped for a reasonable pint and a really excellent cheese and ham ploughmanís. Not the usual huge quantity of poor quality cheese, but sensible portions, plenty of good bread and a wonderful plum chutney (at least, I think it was plum).

Folly
Upperton Monument, Petworth Park (a folly)

The official route of the Serpent Trail follows the A272 around the edge of Petworth Park. The guide admits it is possible to walk through the park as an alternative. I chose the alternative. It's a beautiful deer park, full of fallow deer (which are quite used to humans).

Petworth House, owned by the National Trust, feels un-English. There is something autocratic about it, as if it should be somewhere on the continent.

Tillington church
West window, Tillington church

The official route also manages to pick the least interesting possible route through Petworth (otherwise an interesting town), following walled alleyways. The only point of interest it passes is a plain but rather elegant Court House, probably from the 1930's, currently abandoned.

Fallow deer
Fallow deer in Petworth Park

The short section of route between Petworth and Brinkshole Heath is rather beautiful, with fine views. I had walked a route almost identical to the Serpent Trail between Petworth and Bedham when visiting Bedham Hill, a HuMP (though on that occasion, I diverted off the route to pick up the nearby trig point and the summit). The route passes through Flexham Park, an example of actively managed chestnut coppice.

Just beyond the summit of Bedham Hill, in the woods below the road, is the roofless remains of a chapel-like building. High in the east wall is a tablet saying 'For the worship of almighty God in gratitude for many blessings. This building was erected by Wm Townley Mitford, of Pitshill. Anno Domini 1880'.

View
View between Petworth and Brinkshole Heath

The route from Bedham to Fittleworth appears to be used far less frequently that other parts of the Serpent Trail, particularly where it passes Warren Barn. Fortunately, the path had been cleared fairly recently.

Ruin
Chapel-like ruin, Bedham

I arrived at Fittleworth with only 5 minutes to wait for the No 1 bus to Pulborough, otherwise I might have been tempted to walk, allowing me to have a pint in the White Hart, near Stopham, which I had discovered on my walk to visit Bedham Hill. The pub is isolated on the old road where the A283 now crosses the River Arun on a new bridge. From Pulborough, I took the train back home. A good walk, in good weather.

Skullcap

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05 September 2009: The Serpent Trail, Fittleworth to Cocking Causeway (Midhurst)

21.8 km (13.6 miles)

Hesworth Common
Trig point, Hesworth Common

A beautiful September morning. Train to Pulborough, then the No 1 bus to Fittleworth. It was almost not worth waiting the half an hour for the bus, Fittleworth only being three kilometres or so from Pulborough. However, I occupied the time by botanising round the station forecourt and watching the wasps on the ivy flowers, which are very rich in nectar.

Fittleworth itself doesn't look particularly interesting, but Hesworth Common just outside the village is a wonderful small patch of heathland, with views over the South Downs. The information board at the entrance said that there was a patch of bog asphodel growing somewhere on the common (but was vague about the location). I first came across bog asphodel growing in a Welsh ditch at a similar time of year, and it took me a long time to identify it, as it wasn't in flower. On the alert, I spotted a patch of bright orange near the bottom of a small valley, which proved to be a large patch of the asphodel. It's a strangely beautiful plant - a vegetable flame.

Comma butterfly Comma butterfly
Comma butterfly

After Hesworth Common, the serpent Trail follows the B1238 to cross the River Rother, a major tributary of the river Arun. Just before the crossing, the Swan Inn looked very tempting, but even though I had spent a longish time on the common, it was still too early for a pint.

Sweet chestnut tree
Sweet chestnut tree, near Black Pond

Just after the trail leaves the B1238 at Lower Horncroft, I stopped to browse on the blackberries in the hedges, which was the only reason I spotted a Comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album), head down on a blackberry. With its wings folded, the camouflage is nearly perfect - it's just like a flake of tree bark. But the wings open to show a beautiful vivid tortoiseshell on the upper surfaces. The butterfly gets its name from the only white marking on its underside, resembling a comma. The excellent UK Butterflies site says that the Comma is one of the few butterfly species that is thriving - believed to be linked to global warming.

Graffham Common
On Graffham Common

The next area of heathland is Lord's Piece, which claims to have the last remaining population of Field Crickets in the UK, though it was too late it the year to hear them.

The Serpent Trail passes close to Burton and Chingford Ponds Local Nature Reserve, where I stopped for lunch under a huge ancient sweet chestnut tree. There are a number of these great chestnuts, with probably biggest diameter boles I've seen in England.

Ambersham Common
Path on Ambersham Common, approaching trig point

Lavington Common is an area of heathland owned by the National Trust. The Trust is working to restore the neighbouring Lavington Plantation, which was given to them recently. It was formerly open heath that was planted with pine trees in the 1950ís. The restoration appears to be succeeding. I found common sundew in some of the boggier areas, and a white variety of cross-leaved heath, growing with the usual pink variety.

Hayshott Common
Hayshott Common, approaching disused Midhurst to Pulborough railway

From Lavington Common to Cocking Causeway, the serpent trail follows a very zigzag route, covering as much heathland as possible, though there are extensive areas of Scots pine (by far the pleasantest of fir plantations to walk through). I hesitated about the route onto and through Graffham Common, as there a couple of points where the waymarking, which is generally excellent, fails.

Shooting watch tower
Shooting watch tower, near disused Midhurst to Pulborough railway

I diverted to touch the trig point on Ambersham Common, stranded in the middle of a flat lake of heather. It's only 56 m above sea level.

Beyond Hayshott Common the Serpent Trail reaches and then turns away from the disused Midhurst to Pulborough railway line. The line was closed in stages in the mid 1960's. The hourly No 1 bus service now covers the route.

At Cocking Causeway, the Serpent Trail follows the A286 for a short way. Conveniently, there is bus stop for the No 60 bus to Chichester just opposite the Greyhound Inn. I stopped for a pint of Betty Stogs (a long way from its Cornish home), then got the bus, reaching Chichester with just two minutes to wait for the train back home. A really excellent day's walking, with beautiful weather to start with.

Bog Asphodel Common Sundew

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06 September 2009: The Serpent Trail, Cocking Causeway (Midhurst) to Petersfield

21.2 km (13.3 miles)

Midhurst Common
Sand pit, Midhurst Common

I hadn't planned to walk today, but yesterday had been so enjoyable, I decided to neglect the domestic chores and finish the Serpent Trail. Again, train to Pulborough, then the No 1 bus to Midhurst. From Midhurst Bus Station (a rather grand name for a couple of bus stops) I took the No 60 bus to Cocking Causeway, to pick up the route where I had left it yesterday.

Rhododendrons
Rhododendrons, Severals (between Midhurst Common and Woolmer Bridge)

The first kilometre or so out of Cocking Causeway is relatively uninteresting, but things pick up on reaching Midhurst Common. Between Midhurst Common and Woolmer Bridge, the Scots pine plantations are infested with Rhododendrons, making them impassable except on the cleared paths.

Shooting watch tower
Shooting watch tower, Stedham Common

There is then a fine section of heathland with some pine woods across Stedham, Iping and Trotton Commons. I found a good selection of plants, and the heather and dwarf gorse were still at their best. Just before leaving the heathland I found another sample of the vivid yellow slime mould I'd found on 15 August.

Iping Common
Path on Iping Common

As it was lunchtime, I turned right rather than left on Terwick Lane, to have a pint in the Keepers Arms. It's more of a restaurant than a pub, but pleasant all the same.

Flax
Field of flax, approaching Dumpford

From the pub, I returned to the Serpent Trail, which follows Terwick Lane and then Dumpford Lane for a good distance, the lanes becoming progressively less busy and more track-like as they went on. Dumpford Lane joins a bigger road just outside the village of Nyewood. There the route passes under a rather impressive power line, with large pylons. Nyewood itself seems notable for nothing other than Ballard's Brewery (a microbrewery) and being on the route of the disused Midhurst to Petersfield railway line.

View of South Downs
View of South Downs, near Dumpford

From Nyewood, the Serpent Trail works its way across fields to join the route of the Sussex Border Path at Down Park Farm. This has a wonderful jumble of abandoned farm buildings and old vehicles, including a Fordson tractor and the half dismantled remains of '10 Ton Advance Roller No 7886' (a steam powered steam roller made by Wallis & Steevens Ltd), with a boiler plate indicating it had been tested to 260 lbs on May 13th 1926.

Pylon
Pylon, near Nyewood

The section of the route shared with the Sussex Border Path skirts the eastern edge of West Heath Common, largely covered with bracken. The two paths diverge when they met the disused Midhurst to Petersfield railway line. The Serpent Trail turns west, following a narrow ridge between the old railway cutting and a deep sand pit.

Steam roller
10 Ton Advance Roller No 7886

The Serpent Trail then follows an interesting route along the valley of the River Rother (though valley is perhaps too strong a word). It passes the site of Durford Abbey, of which there is nothing to see but the outlines in the earth, and an adjacent old, large, fine house. The fields were occupied by bullocks, but they appeared quite uninterested in my presence.

The last waymark
The last waymark, near Heath Pond

The final stretch of the route into Petersfield first follows a suburban road. This passes some remarkable fluted concrete domes before the houses start, which a passing local said were old chicken sheds. Then onto Petersfield Heath, with a cricket pitch (match in progress), numerous large tumuli, a big boating lake, and the citizens of Petersfield taking a late afternoon promenade.

Disappointingly, the Serpent Trail finishes in a dreary car park, with not even a small notice board to mark the spot. It would have been better if the Serpent Trail had skipped the path around Heath Pond, and taken the road into the market square - a more fitting finish point.

From the car park, I walked into Petersfield (a rather nice, quirky little town) to reach the station and the train home.

Water Mint Dwarf Gorse Wood Sage

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