Friday, 12 December 2014

A late afternoon stroll along Pitsham Lane

The afternoon sky is a washed out grey, we had a storm last night and it has continued to rain most of the day. But the birds have started to sing, and that means it must be clearing up - they know a thing or two about the weather! 

A brisk walk through the residential estate has led us out onto a public bridal-way, which runs along a farm track between fields, hedges and large oak trees. From here we have a choice; a left turn takes us out into farmland, or a right turn takes us along towards a lake, and out across the road onto Midhurst Common. Let's go right to start with, its not far along to the lake and then we can come back and explore the farm. Watch out for potholes along here! 

To our left a large field stretches, empty pasture at the moment, but sometimes there are cattle grazing here. The edge of the field closest to us is dotted with a few trees, mostly oaks, and a couple of hawthorn bushes. A pheasant was hiding behind that fallen log and runs like a clockwork toy across the field. One of our most recognisable game birds, this was a 'cock' or male pheasant, with a striking bronze plumage separated from a bottle green head by a smart white ring, and ending in a fabulous long tail. Once at a supposedly safe distance, the pheasant stands upright, fluffing out his feathers and with a good flap squawks an alarm call to warn the hen pheasants that are probably crouched down and camouflaged in the long grass and nettles in the margins of the field. 

In the corner of the field, the scattered trees become a small covert, the oaks and hawthorn joined by scrubby willows, tall scott's pines, and slender silver birches. Holly provides denser cover and the grass is longer and coarse, and jostles with bramble, nettles and dock. I saw a treecreeper here earlier in the spring, creeping up one of the pine trees and into a deep crevice with a beakful of insects; food for its chicks. 

A blackbird is tentatively but greedily stealing the berries off the holly, there will be none left by christmas!

We are still close to the housing estate, so there are gardens coming down to our right, but they are hidden behind those large ivy-clad oak trees and bushes. There is a patch of  spiny gorse bushes with yellow flowers, give them a sniff - they smell of coconut! The gorse is said to flower in almost every month with an 'R' in it, so even now on this chilly damp day in December, there are a few bright sunshine coloured flowers. 

The lake comes into view, the track we are following passing right along its edge, whilst the water that flows out of the lake is piped under the track and pours down into a deep gully and flows away through the woodland. The lake is called New Pond and it is used as a fishing lake, but today we have it to ourselves. Well, almost. A small group of five black headed gulls swoop over the water, and another perches on the overhead cables. As it is winter they have lost their black heads, (which are really more chocolate coloured hoods anyway) that are part of their breeding plumage, and just have a few remnant smudges behind their eyes. The gulls are noisy birds, a raucous high cry, their monochrome shades broken by red-ish beak and legs. 

A ripple in the water catches our attention; it is a moorhen making
it's way through the rushes at the edge of the lake, beneath the alder and willow trees. 

At the back of the New Pond a narrow channel leads to a smaller hidden section of the lake, still used for fishing, but quieter and less disturbed. The banks there are thick with rushes and there are water-lilies too, great for dragonflies in the summer, but it is a bit too muddy to get around there today. 

If we carry on along the track just a little way, it comes out onto a road beside some allotments. Across the road is Midhurst Common, which is a large area of wooded heathland and disused sand pits. But I did promise we would explore the farm too so perhaps we will leave that for another day. 

Back past the houses, a smallholding and under a tunnel of trees alongside a small but busy bus depot, the view opens out into farmland, and in the distance the South Downs. On one of the downs is a cliff face that shows up white in the sun, this is the old chalk quarry at Cocking. 

The fields are populated by muddy, curious cattle at this time of year, but in summer are thick with tall rows of maize.  Patchy hedgerows of blackthorn, holly, bramble and dog rose, along with a number of big oak trees, edge the track and the fields. Beyond the furthest field is a small narrow woodland, a rife, or small river, runs through here at the bottom of an embankment. 
The embankment is a steep one and before 1950's would have been the route of the Midhurst branch line railway. 
Our path bends round past a mixture of barns, the centre of the farm where cattle feed and tractors are stored and the young cows are housed. A grey wagtail (badly named, they are more yellow than grey, but then there is another species called a yellow wagtail, and that is more yellow than the yellow-ish grey wagtail, so I suppose it makes sense!) paddles in the puddles ahead, flying away in its characteristic loopy style when it sees us approaching. The grey wagtail's pied cousins strut along the rooftops where plump wood pigeons perch, digesting a crop-full of stolen maize. Ginger and white farm cat blinks sleepily from the top of the straw bales piled high in one of the barns. Does he dream of mice and moonlit nights for hunting? 

Continuing, we pass a row of cottages with chickens in the garden, beside a thriving independent brick works whose history is as long at the railway that used to come through, and between trimmed blackthorn and hawthorn hedges and pasture fields. The big farm house, that I have always called 'the manor house' since a child,  has sparrows chirruping from the guttering of its barn and stables and squabbling in the bushes around the garden. We cross that rife I mentioned earlier, although further up-flow here, it has narrowed to little more than a rushing stream, and under a brick railway bridge, topped with slender trees. A few steps on we come out onto the main road, time to re-trace our steps and head home for a cup of tea. 

Against the sunset, a flock of triangular-winged starlings, crosses the sky heading towards their communal roost somewhere to the west.

The moon, a quarter-past-full, is rising above the rooftops to the east. 


  1. Great blog Sophie - look forward to reading more Sussex tales! Some winter photos of the Downs too perhaps?

  2. Hello! Glad you enjoyed it, and yes, there will be a few photos along the way!


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Hello! Thank you for viewing my blogs and profile. I am passionate about the countryside and british wildlife and I hope that this comes through in my blog. I am a nature writer and have been pursuing photography since early teenage years, whilst building a career in conservation. Helping people to reconnect with the natural world is very important to me, whether through direct hands on interaction, education or literature. Please also visit my website, for more information, my current CV, and further examples of writing and photography. You can contact me or keep up to date with new blog posts via Twitter @SophiEcoWild and/or Feedback, comments and audience participation are always welcome! Sophie May Lewis