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.
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- 🚕 Book your private transfer from Heathrow, Gatwick or Standsted airports to/from your accommodation in London with Get Your Guide
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- 🚌 Board a superior coach for a Day Trip of Kent, the garden of England with the visit to Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Dover and historic Greenwich.
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- 📚 Read the DK Eyewitness England’s South Coast Travel Guide
- 🤩 Get familiar with the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with our latest discoveries
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 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.
There are also exotic pine, spruce and larch that have been extensively planted on former farmland and in some of the ancient woodland areas.
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.
Brede High Woods are home to 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.
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.
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.
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.
At the entrance, there is an information board with a map of the woods.
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).
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!
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)
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:
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.
An information panel gave us an explanation of this mysterious place.
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.
Find out more!
- Car parks and entrance to the woods are free!
- Check out the official website of Brede High Woods for more information.
- Download the map of the woods that includes the waymarked paths.
- Our bluebells and family walk in Wilderness Wood.
- Discover our beautiful English village of Burwash (12 miles or 20 km from the woods)
- Our popular article: What is England in French: A Little Guide
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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