Brede High Woods: Bluebells and Spring Walk

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Brede High Woods is one of England’s largest woodlands. This very special place is also a forest full of history, encompassing nine ancient woods. It is home to many rare plants, trees and wildlife, including purple orchids, great crested newts, dormice, glow worms, turtle doves and wild boars. In this article, read about our exploration of Brede High Woods as we follow the paths which criss-cross the forest. Without forgetting the magnificent bluebells that bloom in the woods by the thousands.

Plan your trip to the South-East of England!


The day I heard about Brede High Woods

Since moving to England in the summer of 2019, I have learned that the forests in our area are home to beautiful bluebells in spring.

I had come across some impressive photos of these delicate bluebell flowers lining the woods.

I had never seen anything like it.

After doing some research, I learned that they also grow in France.

In the west of the country to be precise, in regions with a strong oceanic influence.

So I was not familiar with these types of flowers, as I grew up in eastern France and Germany. Besides, we were more used to “coucous” (wild yellow primroses or cowslips).

In French, bluebells are called “jacinthes des bois“.

Depending on the region, they are also called “bleuet des bois” or “martinet” in the Ile-de-France.

Then one day I came across this awesome article by fellow blogger Suzanne describing Where to find the best Sussex bluebell woods.

One site caught my attention: Brede High Woods.

It’s a forest that is a 20-minute drive from Burwash (our village in England).

I waited for a sunny day to explore the forest with my daughter Aimée.

And the sight of these flower carpets did not disappoint us!

So I have selected my best photos for you to discover this beautiful place.

But before we start our walk, let me introduce you to the ancient woodland in more details!

(Just so everyone knows, I took the liberty of retouching some of the photos to give the woods their enchanting look.)


Brede’s woodland: a forest like no other!

Since 2007, Brede High Woods has been owned and managed by The Woodland Trust. This mosaic of ancient and secondary woodland and heathy clearings extends on 262 hectares (647 acres).

Brede High Woods © French Moments

Walking in the woods © French Moments

Brede High Woods consists of dense ancient woodland, open grassland and sandy heaths. It is part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Trees and plants

The ancient woodland of Brede comprises hornbeam and sweet chestnut coppice with majestic oak trees. This is where you can spot wood anemones and stunning carpets of bluebells in the spring.

Brede High Woods © French Moments

Anemones and bluebells © French Moments

There are also exotic pine, spruce and larch that have been extensively planted on former farmland and in some of the ancient woodland areas.

Brede High Heath © French Moments

Overlooking Brede High Heath © French Moments

The forest gathers 55 ancient woodland plants and trees including the famous bluebell, wood anemone, primrose and purple orchid. There are rarer species such as green hellebore and wild service tree.

Purple Orchids, East Sussex © French Moments

A bunch of purple Orchids in Brede High Woods © French Moments

Purple Orchids, East Sussex © French Moments

Purple Orchids in the wood © French Moments

Spring time in East Sussex © French Moments

Spring time – the first leaves! © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A tunnel of foliage © French Moments

Brede High Heath © French Moments

A path bordering Brede High Heath © French Moments

Fauna

Brede High Woods are home to rare green hellebores and wild service trees, as well as badgers, wild boars, dormouse, fallow deer, foxes, glow worms, great crested newts, hobby, and lampreys. On our walk, we’ve seen many squirrels too.

I learnt that during the summer months, you can spot woodland butterflies such as the Silver-washed fritillary and white admiral.

In addition, it is believed that Brede’s woodland is home to beetles (red cardinal and green tiger) thought to be extinct elsewhere in the UK!

As for birds, you can hear buzzards, nightingales and woodcock.

The site of an old farmland

In fact, the woods were originally separated by farmland.

Following the building of the Powdermill reservoir in the 1930s by the Hastings Corporation, the pastures were planted with beech, larch, pine and sycamore.

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A walk in the woods © French Moments

However, under these relatively recent plantations are remains of a typical High Weald landscape: woods and small fields connected by shaws and hedges with evidence of boundary banks, ditches and sunken tracks.

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A sunken lane in the woods (leading to the Reservoir) © French Moments

Indeed, during our walk, we’ve come across some interesting features that are evidence of past uses of the ancient woodland:

  • banks and ditches,
  • iron-ore extraction pits,
  • lumps and bumps
  • ruined buildings,
  • sawpits, and
  • sunken lanes (‘holloways’).

In addition, archaeological excavations uncovered ironworking dating back to the Roman period.

Brede High Woods © French Moments

The old limits of the disappeared fields © French Moments


Our visit to Brede High Woods

We arrived at one of the site’s car parks at 9 am on a sunny day in early May. There were few vehicles parked in the car park on that Friday, which is not the case at the weekend when you can expect it to be full.

Brede High Woods Car park © French Moments

The car park © French Moments

At the entrance, there is an information board with a map of the woods.

The information board at the car park of Brede High Woods © French Moments

The information board at the car park © French Moments

My advice is either to download your map here and to take a photo of the board with your smartphone… so you’ll know where to go!

You can also refer to OS maps (OS Landranger 199, Explorer 124) but these maps give much fewer details than the above.

There are many public and permissive footpaths that criss-cross the woods from the north and south.

You can make your own itinerary prior to visiting the forest. The one I created was 6 km long (3.75 miles).

Brede High Woods © French Moments

The path running from the car park © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A walk in the woods © French Moments

Our quest for the bluebells or where to see the fantastic carpets of bluebells

The last time I mentioned bluebells in this blog was in my article on Wilderness Wood. I wrote that I had never seen so many bluebells. But that was without counting our exploration of Brede High Woods!

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

Bluebells in the woods © French Moments

During our walk, we came across two beautiful bluebells spots:

  • Brede High Wood, between Holman Wood Field and Horse Pond
  • Coneyburow Wood, south of the main car park and east of the powerline.

These places correspond to the ancient woodlands (you won’t find bluebells growing in pine areas)

Walking in the bluebells © French Moments

A woodland walk through the blooming bluebells © French Moments

I’m sure there are many other places to spot the bluebells in Brede High Woods so do open your eyes!

More photos of the bluebells show in the woods!

Here are more photos of the bluebells spots we found in Brede High Woods:

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

Walking in Brede High Woods © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

The woods turn to a purple haze as bluebells bloom

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

By the stream… © French Moments

Aimée in Brede High Woods © French Moments

Our happy girl in the woods! © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

In the woods © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

A carpet of bluebells © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

The delicate bells of the bluebells © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

A carpet of bluebells © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

Bluebells in the woods © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

Bluebells in the woods © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

A bluebell show in the woods © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

Bluebells in the woods © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

Bluebells in the woods © French Moments

Bluebells, East Sussex © French Moments

A bucolic sight in the woods © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A path through the bluebells © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A carpet of bluebells in Brede High Woods © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A path through the bluebells © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A carpet of bluebells © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A path through the bluebells © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A carpet of bluebells © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

A sea of bluebells © French Moments

Brede High Heath © French Moments

Aimée at Brede High Heath © French Moments

Brede High Heath © French Moments

Brede High Heath © French Moments

The mystery of the missing farm

At the bend in a path, Aimée and I discovered a clearing where we decided to have our picnic.

Brede High Woods © French Moments

The clearing where the farmhouse used to stand © French Moments

Brede High Woods © French Moments

The other side of the clearing © French Moments

An information panel gave us an explanation of this mysterious place.

The brede farmhouse information board © French Moments

The information board © French Moments

Here’s what it reads:

In the northeastern part of Brede High Woods lies the site of the former Brede High Farm.

It is thought the farmhouse in from the 17th century and its buildings (including pigsties and an oasthouse) were built in the 18th century.

The earliest map of the farm in 1764 shows a range of buildings that developed over the next 100 years or so.

The 2012 excavations

In 2012, with the help of a team of local archaeologists, more than 25 volunteers took part in The Big Dig.

The team found walls, floors and the cellars of the farmhouse, along with the remains of other buildings.

Pottery, glass and metalwork were also found during the dig, as well as coins of King George III dating to 1772 and 1799.

The pigsties were demolished in 1909, and the remaining buildings were demolished when the local Powdermill Reservoir was built in the 1930s.

It’s not clear exactly when the farmhouse was demolished but a series of letters to the editor of the Hastings and St Leonards Observer suggests that not everyone was happy with the prospect of losing “this wonderful 300-year farmhouse”.

What it looked like

In addition, the information board gives an artist’s reconstruction of Brede High Farm in the 19th century, based on historic maps, photos and evidence from excavations in 2012-13.

The brede farmhouse

View of the old farmhouse (picture from the information board)

The old Brede farmhouse

The old Brede farmhouse circa 1930 (picture from the information board)


Find out more!

Brede High Heath © French Moments

Brede High Heath © French Moments

How to get there?

Brede High Woods are:

  • 10 miles from Hastings,
  • 23 miles from Tunbridge Wells,
  • 8 miles from Rye, and
  • 60 miles from London.

The two main car parks are located south of the B2089 between Cripps Corner and Broad Oak (East Sussex).

How to get there? Here’s the Google Map link or just follow the map below:


 

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

2 Comments

  1. I’m so glad you had a lovely time exploring the bluebell woods at Brede High Woods. The blooms really are stunning. Beautiful images – it’s a shame we can’t capture the scent too!

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