View from Bow Hill looking towards Portsmouth
The Kingley Vale National Nature Reserve is a few miles north west of Chichester in West Sussex. The Reserve includes ancient woodland on Bow Hill. This reserve contains one of the finest yew forests in western Europe, and includes trees which, at around 2000 years old, represent some of the oldest living things in Britain. In fact the trees at Kingley Vale are probably only beaten in longevity by an even more ancient yew tree in a churchyard in Fortingall, Scotland. The largest of the Kingley Vale yew trees can be found at the foot of the valley. Their shapes are contorted by time and countless storms. Walking through the yew grove has been compared to walking through a cathedral. This is actually an interesting comparison, since yew trees are often found in churchyards, and reflect the worship of trees - particularly long lived yew trees - predating Christianity. The form of trees is also seen inside churches and cathedrals in the form of spreading arches supporting roof structures. So walking through the Kingley Vale yew grove really is like walking through a cathedral.
While most of the walks at Kingley Vale take you through sun dappled yew cathedrals and over open downland, there are some sections where the walk skirts extremely dense yew forest. These areas give some idea of the Wildwood which once covered Britain, and struck fear into the hearts of many settlers who had to live beside and within it. The tree canopy looks so green and bright from above, but look into the depths of the wood and there is an almost lifeless gloom. There are a few lines of Wordsworth's which sum up these woods: "Like leafless underboughs in some thick wood/ All withered by the depth of shade above" (From The Excursion).
The Kingley Vale Nature Trail follows numbered posts around the reserve, and it is requested that visitors stay on paths to protect the unique environment. The complete circular walk takes about an hour and a half, and is steep in some sections. Take water with you.
Directions: Kingley Vale is not well signposted and can be difficult to find. Leave the A286 at Mid Lavant and continue on to West Stoke village. On the west side of West Stoke there is a signposted turning to the National Nature Reserve car park, which you will see about a hundred meters after the turning. The reserve is a ten minute walk along a footpath leading from the car park. At the entrance there is a small, unmanned visitors centre with displays and information. There are no toilets. The reserve is near the Cycle Chichester route of the Sustrans National Cycle Network. Click here for an interactive road and satellite map centred over Kingley Vale.
Access: There is good access between the car park and the visitors centre, but after that the terrain becomes more difficult. The valley area is fairly flat, but paths in the area of Bow Hill are steep.
telephone: 0300 060 6000
Dense woodland at Kingley Vale