It’s hard to imagine what the locals must have thought of Bodiam Castle when it appeared on the scene in 1385. Even now, through modern eyes accustomed to epic feats of architectural engineering, it’s a wonderful sight: the round towers rise sheer from the surrounding moat and the stone walls glow pale gold in the sun. And it’s still a surprise to come across it, nestled amid vineyards, hops farms and white-tipped oast houses, looking out across the lush pasture of the Rother valley.
The winter sun sparkles on the frost as we head east from the castle along a farm track, crunching ice beneath our boots. It’s a glorious day under a big, blue sky, and we’re not the only ones outside enjoying it.
To the north, the square tower of St Nicholas church at Sandhurst Cross hoves into view. As the river twists away to our right, we cross Kent Ditch and head uphill, leaving East Sussex behind.
We pick our way across a muddy field and through an even muddier wood. A frantic volley of gunshots erupts close by and, realising it’s a party of duck shooters, I briefly consider turning saboteur. Instead, we push on, appreciating the open views towards Sandhurst with its clock tower and windmill.
At St Nicholas, the congregation is leaving after the Sunday morning service. We sit in the churchyard for a while, drinking in both the view and a thermos of tea, trying to keep warm in the wind.
Inside the church I read about the bells, including the John Bell, which was cast in the late 15th Century, cracked in 1961, then repaired with new technology and re-hung in 2009. We also admire a window constructed of salvaged fragments of old glass and prayer cushions decorated with everything from hovercraft and Boeing jets to badgers and biblical quotes.
From Sandhurst Cross, walkers can take the road straight back to Bodiam, but we venture on to join the Sussex Border Path.
If the first half of the walk was characterised by big things - castles, skies, views, churches - then the joy of the last section lies in the details. The first crocuses are blooming, joining snowdrops and daffodils at the side of the road. We pass a well-used badger sett. Multicoloured lichen adorns a fallen tree and a bright orange jelly-like fungus emerges from a fallen branch.
After weaving our way over the hills, we slip down a narrow path beside a vineyard to emerge back at Bodiam Castle, just in time for lunch at the the National Trust tea rooms.
A version of this article first appeared as "Crossing borders across a rich landscape" in the Battle Observer, Friday 20 February 2015, p46.
A pretty circular walk starting from Bodiam Castle, taking in the views from Sandhurst Cross and returning along the Sussex Border Path.
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