Findon, Clapham Woods & The Long Furlong

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve driven the stretch of the A280 known as ‘The Long Furlong’. The single carriageway road cuts through a beautiful valley and is the most direct route connecting the A24 London to Worthing road with routes to the coast and the A27. Every time I drive past the remote 19th century Toll House, I imagine tales of highwaymen and smugglers and travellers being stopped in the dead of night by a wizened gatekeeper demanding they pay for their right to passage. So, it was about time I explored the valley on foot…

This 12km circular walk began at a handy little parking area in Findon at the top of Honeysuckle Lane (turn off the A24 following signposts to the windmill at High Salvington, keep going and Honeysuckle Lane is on your right). A bridleway runs uphill from here, already rewarding you with views over the Long Furlong valley, and to the east, Cissbury Ring and Chanctonbury Ring.

I made an unintended detour to have a gander at Findon Place, an impressive 18th century manor house that counts Harold II amongst its illustrious owners. It’s recently changed hands and is set to open in 2021 as a venue for private hire. It has also served as a filming location for ITV’s adaptation of Peter James’ D.S. Grace stories.

It is at Findon Place that I joined my old friend, the Monarch’s Way, a hiking trail that keeps popping up on my travels. It led me to the valley of the Long Furlong, across the farmland and a chance to chat with the locals. MOO!!!!!! The cold wind was biting, so I forewent my planned climb to the top of Blackpatch Hill (saved for another day), and retreated to shelter beneath a tree for my lunch stop.

The most precarious part of the hike followed at the junction of Longfurlong Lane and the A280. I could either cross the road and follow the steep footpath up the hill through a field of bulls (*gulp*) or teeter my way along the narrow grass verge of the main road for 200m (also *gulp*) and join the footpath adjacent to the pumping station. I opted for the latter… and have a new appreciation of the hair-raising speed of the traffic on that stretch of road.

This footpath leads to the church at Clapham village, and from there, to the infamous Clapham Wood, supernatural central of West Sussex. There have been reports of UFO sightings and mysterious deaths in these woods since the 1970s, when a report of two dogs going missing and a third almost killed, was hijacked by a group of proponents of things paranormal. They alleged that this was a case of extra-terrestrial dognapping. However, when this rumour failed to gain acceptance, the story changed and the perpetrators became a satanic cult indulging in a bit of canine sacrifice. It was later discovered that the fate of the dogs lay at the hand of a surly gamekeeper, who clubbed to death any dogs he came upon in the woods. Nevertheless, the ghosts of the hounds are still said to haunt the woods. Then there are the dead bodies… all separate incidents, the bodies discovered in them thar woods: a police constable in 1972, a missing pensioner in 1975, a reverend in 1978, and a homeless lady in 1981. These incidents all constitute what is known as ‘The Clapham Woods Mystery’… Of course, I was certain I saw evidence of UFO landing sites and mystic activity…

The rotting example of a fungus called Dryad’s Saddle that I found, certainly looked like an alien lifeform. Cerioporus squamosus earned its name as it was of such a size that the Dryads, little tree nymphs in Greek mythology, could ride upon it. Edible in its prime, this specimen was well past its use-by date!

Having made it out of Clapham Woods in one piece, I emerged up on the crest of the Long Furlong and, wow! What a view. The road looks tiny from up there, as does the farmland over which I had earlier trekked. It was a place I would definitely revisit to take in the vista over the changing seasons. The path leads back onto familiar ground and the track back down to Honeysuckle Lane.