In this post, I share some photographs and thoughts on a very enjoyable walk through wonderful Friston Forest.
I located myself in the Saltdean suburb of Brighton for several reasons, but one of them was the accessibility of Friston Forest (Forestry England, see link below). A short walk takes me down to the seafront and the regular 12, 12A and 12X buses running along the East Sussex coastline. Yesterday, I took the bus to Friston Pond and then walked five or six miles through the forest and then caught a bus outside the Exceat Park Centre back to Saltdean. Incidentally, there is a very particular pronunciation of ‘Exceat’. Thirty years ago, when I started travelling to Friston Forest bus drivers would correct my pronunciation. Today it is all tap on and tap off and word pronunciations seem to have been lost in this transition.
The forest changes quite dramatically throughout the four seasons of the year. Walking in the same forest is a very different experience during each season. In winter, it can be invigorating walking particularly when it is frosty. All the trees are naked of leaves and you can perceive the structure of the forest. My favourite season is spring just after the trees have come into leaf. There is a verdant vibrancy to the leaves which sadly passes. However, at this time of year, the surge of energy throughout the forest is tangible. A magical transformation takes place as the forest wakes up. Summer is the busiest season for the forest and the time that I am most likely to visit. However, autumn offers a different kind of magic. Woodland decay is the transformative magic that excites me. The forest in shedding leaves goes to sleep for winter. However, the old leaves of yesterday, help to nurture the new growth of tomorrow. This transformation is a wonderful metaphor for life and why autumn has such meaning these days for me.
My walk started at Friston Pond and then straight into the forest and over two way-marked fields, where I met a couple of ponies. Then comes a steep climb initially through forest and then over what used to be horse gallops, which have now been fenced off as part of a conservation initiative. When you reach the top of the climb the views are wonderful and it makes for a good coffee stop. Yesterday, though my quest was searching for fungi, which I enjoy photographing. We have had torrential rain and I had hoped that might have initiated a psychedelic forest floor display. However, I suspect the fungi like myself had been resting up during this wet spell. Thankfully, yesterday was dry and sunny, even if it was very wet underfoot.
It was my first-time walking with trekking poles. I had always resisted as they were for older people, but just like the forest experiences autumn, I need to accept my autumn. Once I got over feeling self-conscious, they were a pleasant revelation. My concern was falling and breaking some part of myself. The ambulance service has enough to cope with, without my recreational self-harm. The good thing with the poles was maintaining balance even when walking on the chalk just beneath the leaf litter. Also, they did take some weight off my old legs, so I will be using them again. What I do not expect to see again (anytime soon) was an eagle. Unfortunately, I was scouring the forest floor for my fun guys. So, I only caught a glimpse of the huge yellow talons and wide wingspan. It is all part of the magic of the forest, you see some fascinating spontaneous sights. In the forest, nothing is scripted.
Concluding my walk I headed straight, avoiding many tempting paths to the left and right until I reached a turning point. I photographed this turning as an aide memoir for next time. I have to concede that I have been happily lost in this forest over the decades. However, as I grow older, I’d rather know where I am going, lest I run out of energy, before the end. Downhill and heading towards the coast, there is a treat. A wide and tempting path leads downhill towards the Exceat Park Centre, however, a sharp turn to the right leads to a special path. This path skirts the edge of the forest on one side and a wide valley on the other side. There are strategically placed wooden seats to take in the view and this tends to be my favourite coffee spot. You have a wonderful view of the Litlington White Horse (see link below) from this spot. It is always a treat to see this large chalk horse cut into the landscape. After resting up a while, I say a few cheerful ‘good mornings’ to random strangers. I am heading downhill, through some lovely parts of the forest, before reaching the Exceat Park Centre and the thoughtfully placed bus stop. I have time to finish my flask of coffee before Brighton Buses (see link below) sends a 12A to take me back to Saltdean.
Brighton Hove Buses (timetables, app and ticket details etc)
Forestry England (includes a useful forest trail map)
Friston Forest | Forestry England
Litlington White Horse
The story behind the giant white horse carved in Litlington’s South Downs cliffs – SussexLive
Seven Sisters Country Park