Ashdown Forest in the heart of the East Sussex High Weald AONB is just 70km from London and is one of Europe’s few remaining lowland heath. Two thirds of the area is heathland rich in wildlife. Mixed woodland features pine woods, coppice, new birch and mature woodland. Although woodland here saw considerable damage during the 1987 storm, rapid regeneration has already occurred. Look out for the old woodland Alder Carr around Newbridge – here you’ll find the unique and rare Marsh Fern!
Ashdown was a deer hunting forest in the Norman period and today is one of the South East’s great open spaces (still common land) with access for all. Famously associated with Winnie the Pooh, Ashdown Forest has a main Forest Centre – Wych Cross located just off the A22. This is a good place to start your tour where you can pick up guides on attractions and walks including Llama Parks and heritage windmills like Nutley. For the famous Winnie-the-Pooh walks head to the Gills Lap Car Park.
Walking & Riding
More than 81 miles of riding trails criss-cross Ashdown Forest – ask about day riding permits at the main visitor centre. Ashdown Forest is incredibly popular for year round walking weekend breaks and holidays. The freedom to roam on this common land is a big draw for many and walking really is the best way to get up close to precious heathland and wildlife. A series of walking leaflets with each walk around two miles long are available – visit the website for details or get your walking leaflets from the Forest Centre. No need to leave your four legged friend behind – Ashdown Forest is great for dog walking and the perfect weekend break or holiday with dogs in East Sussex!
Ashdown Forest is called a forest not for its coverage of trees, rather a signifier of its designation as a Royal Hunting area! The word ‘forest’ is French Norman for ‘a place of deer’. Ashdown hunting park was presented to John of Gaunt by his father Edward III in 1372, and like all medieval parks it was enclosed by a ditch, bank and deer-proof fence. Called a ‘pale’ in medieval times, the boundary was originally about 23 miles long, featuring 34 gates. Some of the ‘pale’ survives today and this ancient stake-lined ditch and bank was specifically constructed to allow deer to enter Ashdown Forest but not to depart. There was activity in Ashdown Forest before the Norman and Medieval eras. Both the Romans and Saxons mined for iron ore in the High Weald and the famous Lewes to London Roman Road cuts right through Ashdown Forest. Later Armada ships were armed with Wealden cannons made from iron mined in the area.
Batemans (National Trust)
The historic home of the author Rudyard Kipling, Batemans at Burwash is a magnificent Jacobean house dating from 1634. Kipling lived here from 1902 up until his death in 1936. His wife Carrie, who lived on at Batemans until her death in 1939, bequeathed the house to the National Trust. Batemans served as a real retreat for Kipling through the deaths of his son and daughter. In the late 17th century the house is thought to have been owned by a Wealden iron maker John Briteen. The tiles of the house are all of Wealden clay with interior wood features carved from Sussex oak. Extensive gardens surround the house and a watermill sits within the grounds. The interior reveals much on Kipling’s taste for the oriental. Look out for the original illustrated copy of The Jungle Book and Kipling’s 1928 Phantom 1 Rolls Royce! A tea room and gift shop are both onsite.
Fast rail links to popular Ashdown Forest bases Crowborough and Uckfield afford easy access into the area. Ashdown Forest sits between Forest Row, Maresfield and Crowborough. The main A22 passes through it along with the A275. The A26 also sits on the boundary outskirts. Good bus services also operate in the area between Crowborough and Uckfield.
Where to Stay
Accommodation options in Ashdown Forest, Crowborough and Uckfield are extensive, with beautiful character holiday lodges, country cottages and farmhouses (some with swimming pools) all available. A veritable feast of rural attractions are right on your doorstep in the Sussex and Kent High Weald from steam railways to famous gardens.