It was a grey but dry day, chilly but with little wind to speak of; perfect for a bike ride in the country. I decided to head off toward Rusper – a small village right on the northern border of Sussex, but to get there I needed to cross town before I entered the countryside. So after an uneventful trudge across Crawley I cycled past Ifield mill pond; a relict piece of the area’s history with the original mill building still there and working (on occasion), one can almost imagine it without the housing estate – when Ifield was a village in its own right and surrounded by farmland on all sides. I then had to cross the railway line to join a track that ran along the top of a ridge to the west of Crawley, as soon as you start up the hill you are out of the town and traditional-looking ancient farmland greets you on the left. This part of the track is lined with trees but through the odd gap you can see down the ridge and across the valley towards St. Leonard’s forest, immediately in front are recently ploughed fields edged by very old hedgerows made up of mature trees and varied shrubs. The view is somewhat spoilt by the continuing construction of a new housing estate right on the edge of Crawley (though officially part of Horsham) on what was until recently farmland – I used to see Lapwings on those fields in winter, but I never will again.
The track is straight and passes a farm, I stop for a few minutes when I flush a large flock of Fieldfare ahead of me that were feeding in the hedgerow bushes, this is the first I have seen of these birds this winter and I love their mix of colours and their harsh, foreign calls. I then crossed a road and carried onward down a metalled track that was quite secluded with only a few tucked away but expensive-looking houses along it’s length. I stopped by a gate set into a hedge for through it was revealed an expansive view over the wield, although it was hazy I could see Horsham, the A-road, the forests on the opposite ridge and much further – all the way to the South Downs. I had stopped next to a large house which had in its grounds a small pond, surprisingly I heard and saw a Kingfisher flitting around it, even though the nearest stream was in the bottom of the valley.
At the end of the lane I turned right and downward, cruising along at speed, enjoying the quiet lane and the thick hedgerows over which I could see farmland and woodland. As I climbed up the other side towards Rusper I heard a deep resonating ‘kronk’ overhead and looked up to see a Raven, it flew over a large field and became lost amongst a flock of jackdaws and rooks. The Raven was once confined to the wilds of the west country but in recent decades has made a comeback, it has expanded it’s range and can now be found frequently in Sussex, especially on the Downs and coast. I was also lucky enough to see a passing Sparrowhawk which whizzed along the top of the hedge and then glided down the lane behind me, flying very close to the surface of the road.
I passed through Rusper and headed back towards Ifield, as I sped along down a slope I glimpsed some large fungi on the roadside so I stopped and turned around to get a better look. They turned out to be three large and brown with age parasol toadstools, so I took a picture and was about to carry on when I noticed a strange white substance covering the leaf litter in a clump above the toadstools. Upon closer inspection I recognised it as a slime-mold; a unicellular organism which can clump together into a multi-cellular mass in certain conditions. It is neither an animal or a fungus and can move as one across the substrate (very slowly might I add) consuming algae, fungi, molds or decaying matter.
I then carried on along the Rusper road, enjoying the peace and beauty of the countryside – as well as the fresh air. There were a lot of berries on the holly trees, and seeing this combined with sniffing some wood-smoke as I passed someone’s bonfire made me feel distinctly in the mood for Christmas!