Ashdown Forest – great even on rainy days

Just a one-hour drive from south-east London or train journey from London to Tunbridge Wells, Crowborough (nearest station), Uckfield or East Grinstead then bus/taxi/cycle. More info on public transport options here

Further afield than the walks on this site, but not inaccessible from London by train/bus/taxi/bike, is the extraordinary Ashdown Forest (map here) in East Sussex. ‘Forest’ is a misnomer; the word did not originally mean just woodland, it referred to areas where deer were kept for hunting – often in a mixed habitat.

The Ashdown Forest lies on the high weald of sandstone between the chalk of the North and South Downs. It’s a great place for walking – you can wander anywhere, there are few fences and loads of paths. There is scots pine, heather, gorse, rare birds like the dartford warbler, lizards and snakes, many varieties of butterfly, moth and dragonflies. There’s also a lot of history – the area was a favourite hunting ground for Henry VIII (useful for nipping into Hever Castle on the way back too or, if Anne wasn’t in, Bolebrooke Castle), and there was a medieval iron industry in the forest too. On a misty, drizzly, murky day like Monday this week it really resembles parts of Scotland (you wouldn’t be able to see any mountains on such a day anyway).

The pictures here were taken around Gills Lap – a place immortalised by AA Milne in Winnie the Pooh – and Wren’s Warren Valley (Eeyore’s gloomy place in Milne’s stories).

Where to go: Parking is easy in the Ashdown Forest. There are many little car parks from which paths meander off. My favourites are King Standing, Gills Lap, (both off the B2026 from Hartfield and great for high level walks between the clumps of pines), Hollies (off the Nutley Rd near Duddeswell), Lintons (ideal for the Tabell Ghyl walk), and Broadstone (close to the excellent visitors’ centre).

• Mapped walks in the Ashdown Forest from the Ashdown Forest Centre
• Guided walks
• Map of walking routes and carparks
Forest Row bike hire

Near the Ashdown Forest is a flat off-road cycle route called the Forest Way running 6 miles from Groombridge to Forest Row (bikes for hire in Forest Row). Groombridge (home of the superb manor house, gardens and woodland, Groombridge Place) is on a steam train line – the Spa Valley Railway – between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge, on the edge of the Forest.

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