A fishy tale about cheese
A walk between two attractive Sussex villages through the Low Weald, to recount some of the stories and legends which abound in this area, although some of these may be truer than others.
LENGTH – 7 miles
TIME – 4 hours
START – Cuckoo Trail car park, Station Road, Hellingly, BN27 4EU
PARKING – Cuckoo Trail car park, Station Road, Hellingly, BN27 4EU
TOILETS – No public toilets available.
REFRESHMENTS – Pubs at Chiddingly and Gun Hill and café at Muddles Green.
CAUTION – This walk includes two crossings of the A267 road.
This walk contains stiles.
The Black Swans of Horselunges – On the left through the trees can be glimpsed the medieval manor house of Horselunges. This is a spectacular timber-framed medieval building constructed about 1500 and partially restored in 1925. The visible elevations feature close-studding where the owner displays his wealth by including far more mature timber in the build than is actually needed to hold the house up. It is the remaining portion of what was once a four-sided house around a courtyard and surrounded by a moat. The moat is home to a group of very rare black swans, who, in turn, may have inspired the “Swansong” record label of one of its more recent owners, Peter Grant, the manager of rock group Led Zeppelin
The Celtic Circular Burial Ground – Some guide books have suggested that Hellingly is rare example of a Celtic Ciric – a circular, artificially raised burial ground pre-dating Christianity. Sadly, the limited excavations carried out when the surrounding wall was rebuilt, showed it to be a Christian churchyard on a natural rise in the ground between the two branches of the River Cuckmere. Today the ground stands up to 7 feet above the encircling houses, held in place by tall brick retaining walls and criss-crossed by brick paths, laid by unemployed labourers in 1824. However, the churchyard does feature some rare “Harmer Terracotta” gravestone ornaments, a Sussex speciality made in nearby Heathfield
The Ghost of Pekes Manor – Pekes Manor is a medieval house of about 1470 which was rebuilt in Tudor times and again in Edwardian times. Visitors are now welcome to stay as it is a hotel, but might be scared off by the clanking noise of the armour-clad ghost of Sir Richard Milward, a former owner, said to haunt the house.
The Cheese Legend – Beneath the 130 feet high spire of Chiddingly church is the Jefferay monument. This magnificent alabaster carving shows Sir John Jefferay (d 1578) casually propped on one elbow above his second wife, Alice. Frowning down on them from the sides are his daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Edward Montague. Around the base of the monument are a series of stone drums representing giant round cheeses. You have already passed the remains of a brick, ‘E’ shaped, Elizabethan manor house in which the Jefferay family lived. It was from here that the family is said to have set out to walk on a row of cheeses to the church, which were moved along by their servants as they went, forming a row of “stepping stones”, to keep them out of the dust and mud of the common highway.
The Secret Tunnel – A variation of the story above tells of a secret tunnel linking Chiddingly Place and the church being used by the Jefferay family. The unstable clay soil makes this unlikely and excavations for mains drainage across the proposed line of the tunnel in the 1980s revealed nothing.
Danger at Gun Hill – Despite its name, Gun Hill is quite safe today and the walker can enjoy a drink and meal in the 15th century Gun Inn. The name commemorates the Wealden iron industry and particularly the nearby furnace at Stream Farm where cannons were made between about 1540 and 1700.
Cuckoos on the Railway – The “Cuckoo” line was opened in 1880 between Polegate and Eridge; trains ran from Eastbourne to Tunbridge Wells. The line was named after the tradition that the first cuckoo of spring was always heard at the Heathfield Fair. The nearby bridge is a good example of recycling – clay dug out of the cuttings was fired into bricks to make the structure. The line closed between 1965 and 1968 and has now been converted into a walkway – the Cuckoo Trail.
The Milling Monks – There has been a watermill on this site since at least 1255. We know this because it formed part of a legal dispute between the owner, the Abbot of Battle, and the owners of the next downstream mill, owned by the Prior of Michelham. Following the court case, an agreement was reached to limit the sluice height gate here to “2 feet and a half and 3 inches” to give sufficient flow to the Michelham mill. The present building dates from the mid 18th century. The mill fell out of use in 1924 but a new wheel was installed in 1984/5 and the present owner is hoping to restore the remainder of the machinery to working order.
The Asylum Tramway – The end of the walk is marked by the remains of Hellingly Station, now a private dwelling. The attractive station house was originally half timbered to resemble a country cottage, but has been tile hung to reduce water penetration. Much detail still survives – look for the ornate plasterwork, canopy fretwork and stained glass windows. However, opposite the existing, public platform was once a more sinister, chained platform where “patients” for the nearby East Sussex County Asylum were transferred to a private electric tramway to convey them to the hospital buildings about a mile away.