Canute and a Certain Little Woodland Pasture
The popular history of the High Weald has often included references to the supposedly sparsely populated, impenetrable woodland known as the Andredsweald which remained unsettled for centuries. However, this walk explores an area which was the subject of a land grant by the famous King Canute in 1018 in which the places now to be found in the landscape were already well established and thriving.
LENGTH – 4 miles
TIME – 2.5 hours
START – Wadhurst Church, Church Street, Wadhurst, TN5 6AR, NGR 641318.
PARKING – Car parks in Wadhurst village.
TOILETS – Wadhurst village hall.
REFRESHMENTS – Pubs at Wadhurst and Cousley Wood (1 mile off route), cafes at Wadhurst and village shops at Wadhurst.
CAUTION – Some areas can be muddy in wet weather, take care.
This walk contains stiles.
In 1018, Aelfgyfe, the Saxon wife of the Danish king, Canute, persuaded him to grant a part of his lands – “a certain little woodland pasture which is commonly called Haeselric” – to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Aelfstan. To do this, a charter was drawn up, sworn before God and witnessed by no less than 21 leading nobles of the day. The boundaries of the estate were described in terms of contemporary landscape features. The estate formed a small addition to a huge landholding owned by successive Archbishops of Canterbury, stretching from Wadhurst and Lamberhurst in a continuous strip across East Sussex to South Malling and Cliffe at Lewes.
This walk first encounters the boundary outlined in the charter running along what is now the road to Whiligh and Little Whiligh when it is described as “of holanbeames mearce swa on gerihte to wiglege” or from Holbean boundary so straight on to Whiligh. The legal part of the charter is written in Latin by the king’s scribe, but the boundary section is added in Old English by another writer, presumably a local man who knew the landscape and its features.
Most of the extensive Whiligh estate which eventually was enlarged to straddle the Wadhurst and Ticehurst parish boundary was used for timber production. In a remarkable feat of continuity oaks from the estate were used, both to build the roof of the Hall of the Palace of Westminster in the 14th century, and to rebuild it again after bombing raids during World War II.
The walk then follows the exact line of the boundary to modern day Little Whiligh “bufan thaere smiththan to tham geate” or from above the smithy to the gate. This obviously suggests that the track on which the modern footpath runs was already in existence in 1018 and that what is now Little Whiligh may have been the site of the estate blacksmith’s forge with a gate to stop horses running off. It remained as the administration centre for the estate right up to the Second World War.
From the smithy, the walk turns eastwards into the area specified in the charter, whilst the boundary turns west “of tham geate innan thaene sihter” or from the gate to the ditch. The general form of the estate described in the charter is of a small settlement surrounded by a mixture of woodland, in which pigs roamed looking for food, especially beech mast in season, and more open spaces for cattle pastures. The modern landscape of small, irregular fields and woods has hardly changed from this period.
At this point the walk passes back over the charter boundary and leaves the area of the estate. The boundary has now passed “andlang sihtres innan thaene bradan burnan” from the ditch to the broad burn. The footpath passes over the broad burn which is now a fairly small stream feeding into the Bewl Water reservoir. However, this stream is of great importance as a landscape feature and was also the boundary of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s existing estate in 1018. Today, in an example of continuity through the ages, it still forms the boundary between Wadhurst and Ticehurst parishes and Wealden and Rother districts.
Looking back the large area of water covered by the Bewl Water reservoir can be seen. Constructed between 1973 and 1975, this provides 7 million gallons (31 million litres) of drinking water for a large area of East Sussex and Kent. To achieve this some 770 acres of land were submerged along the Bewl River and its tributaries including some of the boundaries and area of the 1018 estate.
Whilst we have taken reasonable endeavours to ensure the information is up to date and correct, you will be using the information strictly at your own risk. If you come across any inaccuracies whilst you are on your walk, please contact Wealden District Council’s Community and Regeneration team.
The self-guided walk descriptions are provided to help you navigate your way, however we recommend that you plan your route prior to walking the route and that you carry an Ordnance Survey map of the area being walked and follow your position on the map as you proceed.
Please note, we cannot be responsible for the conditions of the footpaths and land and you are responsible for your own safety.