We might not know it but many of us in East Sussex are fortunate enough to live in one of the best surviving medieval landscapes in Northern Europe.

And next month we’ll have a host of chances to pull on our walking boots and get out exploring this unique and outstanding landscape in the High Weald Walking Festival.

Outstanding High Weald

Covering several counties and bordered by Horsham in the West, Tonbridge to the north, Tenterden and Rye in the East, and Hailsham and Hastings to the south, the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is an historic and protected landscape.

Speaking about the area, the writer, poet and historian Hilaire Belloc famously said: “Unless a man understands the Weald, he cannot write about the beginnings of England.”

Poster advertising walking festival

From 10-18 September the walking festival will see dozens of free guided and self-guided walks with something for everyone. It’s the fifth year local walking and ramblers groups have teamed up to hold the celebration festival. This year the start of the High Weald Walking Festival will be marked with a special launch event at the Ashdown Forest Centre in Wych Cross on Saturday 10 September.

Guided walks

Free guided walks will be leaving from the centre throughout the day from 10am, there will be a pop-up café, and the chance to learn more about the 35 Festival Walks taking place. There will be family-friendly craft activities and free I-spy nature spotter booklets packed with information about the area. Meanwhile the Ashdown Woodturners and East Grinstead Spinners will be demonstrating their fascinating traditional crafts.

Medieval landscape

While most of us appreciate the beauty of the East Sussex countryside few probably know how significant the High Weald area is, not just in the UK but across Europe. So what makes it so special? Here are a few things you may not have known about this amazing area:

  • The High Weald was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1983,  ensuring the conservation and enhancement of the landscape is given high priority;
  • The essential character of the area was established by the 14th century which means it is one of the best surviving unspoilt medieval landscapes in Northern Europe;
  • It is criss-crossed by historic sunken “droveways” – ancient sunken lanes and routeways eroded by countless generations of sheep and livestock being driven onto and off the land around them;
  • It was the country’s main iron-producing region during the Roman and Tudor periods;
  • It is home to gills (small, steep-sided streams) with rare plant populations not found anywhere else in eastern/central England;
  • The total area of the High Weald AONB is 146,170 hectares (1,461 square kilometres) making it the largest AONB in South East England and the fourth largest in England and Wales;
  • By Domesday in 1086 the High Weald was the most wooded natural area in England. The total area of woodland in the AONB today is 35,905 hectares, or 24.5% of the total AONB area – compared with the National Average of about 9%. More than half of those woodlands are classified as ancient woodland;
  • There are 50 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) within the AONB and 202 Sites of Nature conservation Importance (SNCI);
  • It also contains 111 Scheduled Ancient Monuments, 64 conservation areas in built-up areas and 92 visitor attractions;
  • Several long-distance paths cross the AONB: High Weald Landscape Trail, Weald Way, 1066 Country Walk, Saxon Shore Way, Vanguard Way and Sussex Border Path. The total length of footpaths is 2063 kilometres and there are numerous promoted walks.

So, all-in-all, as Historic England accurately summed it up, the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is “A landscape chock-a-block with heritage.”

For more information about the Walking Festival visit the Festival website and keep in touch on the High Weald AONB Facebook page.