History Walks, Talks and Books by David Clarke – more than just footsteps on a path. Inspiring, exploring and discovering unique walks with a sense of history. Long walks and short walks, there’s something for everyone.
Hidden away behind the houses in St Leonards on Sea, is a story of a dream to build a New Town – a purpose built resort of regency splendour and Mercatoria and Lavatoria, created to service the grand houses.
There are lots of stories to tell on this History Walk through an invigorated St Leonards on Sea.
SMUGGLER’S GRAVE: Burwash lay on a known smugglers route from Pevensey Bay to Hawkhurst and Groombridge and Burwash was a haven for smugglers.
If caught for this capital crime, the penalty was hanging with further damnation on being refused burial in Church Consecrated Ground. The smugglers were mostly heroes with the local villagers and a compromise was reached with The Revenue that allowed them to be buried in the graveyard with their headstones carved with the skull and cross bones.
No names were allowed but the smugglers emblems are still plain to see.
‘Mad Jack’ Fuller wasn’t mad, just a little colourful but his eccentricities and his legacies are plain for all to see. Without Mad Jack, Sussex and this walk would be poorer for it was he that saved Bodiam Castle from demolition.
Brightling really is Mad Jack Fuller’s village. he inherited the family mansion and estate in 1777, on his 20th birthday. An M.P. for East Sussex, his reputation for being outspoken and eccentric finally put him at loggerheads with the House and he stood down in 1812. His biography ‘Fuller of Sussex, A Georgian Squire’ by Geoff Hutchinson contains much more detail for those interested in Mad Jack’s life.
Although a patron of the arts and a public benefactor (he provided the Belle Tout lighthouse at East Dean) he is best known for the many follies that he built around Brightling after leaving politics.
Fuller died a bachelor in 1834 and is commemorated by a tablet on the south wall of the Nave of St Thomas a Becket Church.
Regrettably, one of Mad Jack’s less favourable actions attributed to him, or so the story goes, was to move the pub, The Green Man, ½ a mile away from the village centre to stop the Vicar’s congregation from holding their own service at a rather different altar. It later became known as Jack Fullers but subsequently closed, much to the chagrin of walkers who now have to walk to Robertsbridge to quench their thirst.
TRANQUIL: The mill pond is still in the sunshine, black and languid except for a black duck, paddling ferociously to keep up on the off chance that there is some bread going – I’ll keep my sandwiches for later thank you.
Nothing less than a flying dragon is said to haunt the pond of Angley Wood but, on certain – or uncertain – nights of the year, it wings its flight over the park and pays a visit to the big lake yonder. But he always returns to the Mill Pond and it is said to pay special attention of a vicious kind to young men and women who have jilted their lovers.
A legend with a moral is this.
But a winged dragon! A dragon of the ordinary kind is bad enough. But a flying dragon! Augh!
‘A Saunter though Kent with Pen and Pencil’:
Sir Charles Igglesden, published in 1906.
Mr Sackett Tomlin, was a tobacco importer who bought Angley Park in 1869 and demolished the mansion to build a new one ‘of no special architectural merit’ (Igglesden). On his death in 1876, the property passed to his son, Edward Locke Tomlin, who lived there until 1929 when the estate was broken up and the dragon finally flew away – or did he?
A walk away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world with four great National Trust properties as its cornerstones, country pubs hidden away and legends galore to feed your imagination.
With no coarse gorse to scratch your legs or towering mountains to sap your strength, Three Castles and an Ironmaster’s House offers step by step instructions for both the beginner and the more experienced walker to enjoy walking the High Weald.
There were arrows everywhere. Long arrows, short arrows, broad and narrow arrows, even red and blue arrows.
I was in the bookshop at Battle Abbey and every map in every book that I looked at about the Battle of Hastings gave a different view of the route that Harold took from London.
There were arrows on a diagonal from London, aiming at Battle, four or five in a row as if a hail of arrows had been fired at William. There was a broad arrow creating a swathe across the south-east as the Saxon army passed over the land. Arrows approached Battle from all the points of the compass – except the south!
So, the seeds of a long distance walk were sown, inspired by King Harold’s march to the Battle of Hastings, an adventure to create a new long-distance walk that would begin in the centre of London at Westminster Abbey and traverse the South-East of England to finish at the site of that famous battle that shaped the future of England.
It was the Scouts that introduced me to proper walking in the 1960’s, with Youth Hostelling expeditions to Ireland and Norway and an exacting entry in the Four Inns, field trips to Alsop en le Dale, and walking Kinder and a very boggy Bleaklow on cold and wet days.
Later, walking became stress relief, completing The Viking Way, Leicestershire Round and other longer local East Midlands walks but always with the thought, reinforced by getting lost, that maybe less experienced walkers would find it difficult to follow those walking guides.
Moving to Hastings opened up a new world of the North and South Downs and the High Weald of Outstanding Natural Beauty, new paths to explore, new walks to follow but that damascene revelation in Battle gave me the opportunity to research, devise and write a walk of my own and, change my life for ever.
I became a writer and an author of walking books and of all things 1066, a project planner, a time manager, researcher and front of house and the books were published.
1066 Harold’s Way is still my ‘magnus opus’ and continues to be a successful and popular long-distance walk for walking groups and walkers, carving a niche footpath from Capital to Coast, Westminster Abbey to Battle Abbey and Hastings Castle, and regularly up dated since publication in 2013.
Those first steps were written down in a notebook, fledgling photographs taken on a smartphone before graduating to a Dictaphone and ‘proper camera’. Digital mapping became the norm and digital drawing took some practice for the ‘hand drawn maps’. Long forgotten rules of grammar were applied to the step by step instructions, the poetic walk reflections and the history of that tumultuous year 1066.
I have walked every step of those 100miles on numerous occasions, following the old Roman roads, through Kent and East Sussex, as closely as I can as King Harold would have done almost 1000 years ago. Now, there is a Pub Guide to go with the walk and if all the pubs had been open when the King and his men passed, there may never have been a battle!
Planning, walking and writing that first book took almost five years from that idea in Battle Abbey. It was hard work balancing teaching and writing, adapting old skills and learning new techniques but, I have to say, very, very rewarding.
David is the author of 1066 Harold’s Way, Walking the High Weald (Three Castles and an Ironmaster’ House), a series of twelve History Walks in 1066 Country, Rye in Pictures and The Saxon Times, all written with the idea of wanting people to imagine, discover and explore whether it is new footpaths or the rich local history. www.1066haroldsway.co.uk