National Walking Month: Visit the Old Lady of Ha’naker Hill

Walk through the Holloway up to Halnaker Windmill

  • A short linear walk, 1mile/ km each way
  • Limited parking available off A285, north-east of Halnaker village
  • Includes two stiles, and a gentle gradual uphill.

To mark National Mills Weekend, half way through both National Walking Month and Local & Community History Month, what better way to celebrate than to take a walk to see a windmill?


Halnaker Mill

Once upon a time, mills were the engines of our society; there was at least one mill for every community, each providing a vital day-to-day commodity such as flour for staple foods, waterpower and drainage, even cotton or paper. Now, many stand forgotten, converted into housing or office, or else derelict. Some have been rescued, maintained, preserved and celebrated, and can be visited by the public. One such mill is Halnaker Windmill, which guards a vista over the coastal plains of Chichester, in West Sussex. High on its downland seat, Halnaker is perfectly positioned to harness the strong south westerly winds that blow in from the coast and are forced up and over the South Downs.

During the spring and summer of 2017, Halnaker Mill is to undergo long awaited restoration. Her tile-hung facing is to be repaired and the sails repainted and re-instated. Another chapter in the Mill’s long history that began back in the 1740’s. (Although it is thought there may have been a mill on the site as far back as the mid 1500’s!)
Originally built as a feudal mill for the Goodwood estate by the Duke of Richmond, Halnaker is a four storey tower mill, with a distinctive sixteen-sided white-painted beehive cap. Halnaker’s primary function was the grinding of corn, which was performed by two pairs of millstones, but the building is now empty with none of the original machinery remaining. A lightning strike in 1905 marked the end of Halnaker’s working life. Restoration projects were undertaken in 1934, 1954, and 2004.


Layers in the Landscape

Halnaker Mill has occupied it’s spot on top of Halnaker Hill for centuries, but there is a more complex story of people and place that can be read across this landscape if one knows how to see the clues. From the hilltop, the views are dramatic, and it is worth standing for a moment and contemplating how the panorama has changed with the marching of time. From the wild woods of pre-history, to iron-age hill forts on neighbouring tops such as the Trundle, to shifting coastlines and the retreating tide that formed to coastal plains of Chichester. Rural folk would have gleaned the hedgerows, before the time of intensification of farming, and gathered in the harvest by hand, horse, and steam, catching rabbits and hares from the last stand of crop. Overhead the buzzards soar high on spiralling thermals, a bird that almost disappeared through persecution and pesticide poisons, but thanks to conservation efforts has reclaimed its skies within the past two decades.

The Holloway you passed through as you followed the path here, is an ancient trackway that has been formed by the passing of countless feet over countless years; as long as people have needed to move from one place to another they have walked. Possibly the most notable group to have used this right of way, were the Romans, who laid their Stane Street over this existing route, forging new connections between the south coast and London.

It is connections between the south coast and London in more recent times, connections of fear and bravery, that define another clearly visible layer of Halnaker’s history. During times of war, London looked to the hills of the south for its defence against invasion and aerial attack from Europe. Right across Sussex and its neighbouring counties, hilltops were fortified with observation posts and anti-aircraft guns. The remains of one of Halnaker’s three installations can easily be explored by the visitor, just 200 metres or so from the mill itself.


Discover and explore Halnaker for yourself
Park off the A285, north-east of Halnaker, and follow Mill Lane between the cottages. Trees begin to appear on the steepening banks on either side of the track, becoming denser and leaning over until they almost merge above. Before long they form a ‘tree-tunnel’, this is the Holloway. Climb the stile and continue through the tree tunnel, noticing the old quarry on your right and the wildflowers growing on the banks beside your feet. A second stile brings you out onto agricultural fields. Follow the hedgeline uphill between the fields. Please keep feet and paws to the path here to avoid damaging the crops in the field, or the nests of rare ground nesting birds such as the skylark. Listen for the larks singing and see if you can spot them high against the sky. Can you resist turning around or looking over your shoulder to see the view expand?

As you walk uphill, the mill will appear gradually on the horizon. The path ends at a gate, and opens out into an expanse of green around the foot of the windmill and the remains of the WWII installation; you can wander freely here and explore, or simply stand and soak in the 360degree views. Look for Chichester cathedral and the glint of the sea.

Map of the route can be found here: Halnaker Walk Map

* Note: please be aware that restoration work is being undertaken on the windmill, during spring/summer 2017, which may restrict access to the building itself. Please do not interfere, or allow any pets or children to interfere, with any works or equipment. The restoration is vital to the future of the windmill, supported by the local community, and it is hoped that it will improve and protect the enjoyment of the site for all visitors for many years to come.

Here are some extracts from a walk I took up Halnaker Hill on a windy March morning…

To the north-east of Chichester, lies the village of Halnaker (pronounced Ha’nacker), and as I drove through I got an impression of flint cottages and soon-to-be-green hedges. Tucking the car into a pull-in off the road, I took a moment to soak up the atmosphere, thinking about the place I was here to visit and photograph, and it struck me that I simply could not have been anywhere other than Sussex. There was something in the air; a uniqueness in the particular combination of flint, white paint, rolling hill, and beech, oak and thorn, which spoke only of my favourite county.

As I set out to follow the track that would lead me up the hill, a sign on a gateway read ‘Mill Cottage’, reassuring me I was headed in the right direction. Putting all thoughts of other worries, commitments and the rest of the day, out of my head for a moment, I became aware of a special quality to the feel of Halnaker. The village, and indeed the hill, of course undeniably exist firmly in the present; traffic rushed along the main road, birds cheeped around the garden hedges of the cottages and the understory of the vegetation on the banks beside the path was growing with the new vigour of spring. And yet it felt as though there was something else, something timeless; a shadow Halnaker that existed slightly out of alignment, undetectable if one looked directly at it, but sensed by an open mind; a convergence of times in one space. If I looked in a certain way I could have convinced myself that centurion soldiers rested beside their Stane Street, and on that same route a couple of young men raced up the hill in WW2 uniforms towards the installation at the hilltop, and then a flock of sheep filled the hollowed lane with jingling bells and the scent of fleeces as they were driven down toward the markets. The track, worn as such by centuries of passing feet follows an ancient route, through the rather un-imaginatively named ‘Halnaker Tree Tunnel’. I prefer the old name for these types of sunken paths or roads through over-arching trees: Holloways.

The Holloway is subtly twisted, not bending enough to impede or cause hesitation to the traveller’s stride, but a gentle weave. The low sun, flickered and glinted through the line of trunks, creating shadows and patterns of the softly leaf-carpeted ground. I imagine if the sun were higher and stronger it would have the power to flash strikingly from the side, in a quite entrancing and disorientating way.

Dogs mercury, primroses, barren strawberry and wild arum welcomed the spring sun, beneath winter-dulled trails of ivy. And all around, never ceasing there was sound, the wind in the air, in the trees, in the leaves.

Exiting the Holloway, I was on open hillside. The fields either side, once in pre-history tree-covered, then cleared and roamed wide by sheep, now tamed into fields of cereal crops. Whip-branched ash trees and stouter oaks broke the view, and beyond the coastal plain spilled out into a distant blue-grey haze, punctuated by sunlit glints of glasshouse and, further out, the gleaming sea.

Ahead, at the hilltop, the white cap of Halnaker Windmill rose into view. Behind me, several miles out, I could just make out the tall spire of Chichester cathedral helping to prop up a sky where clouds scudded in a hurry to merge with the horizon. The northeast wind, chill and pernicious, raced low over the rows of corn. And from that corn, at a point somewhere over my left shoulder, a skylark launched itself heaven-wards. I stood for a moment and listened long. I listened to the lark, the same lark, the same song, that rang like a bell through the wind, the same wind, that filled the ears of the builder, the corn reaper, the miller, the soldier, the walker, the writer, and I.

A yellowhammer sang its wheezing plea, and a blackthorn bush in full bloom, gleamed from the surrounding grey-green. Where countless people walking up and down the hill had worn the grass into threadbare patches, the under-layer of white chalk showed through, studded by inky-dark flint.

The windmill was growing ever fuller on the approaching hilltop as I walked, revealed completely only as I reached the summit. A windmill she is by name, but these days sadly more wind than mill; her four grand white-painted sweeps are missing, the stumps jutting from her gleaming white beehive-cap giving her the appearance of a reluctant amputee. Two rows of metal fencing, the sort you find around building sites, carries signs warning us not to trust her, and keeps the visitor at more than an arms reach of her crumbling walls, like the cage that separates people from a wild beast in a zoo.

The never-ceasing wind whistled through the wires of the fencing, rushing around the curve of the wall before skittering again across the grass to torment the cowslip leaves that hunkered low.

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Listen to the wind, the way it whistles and it roars. Listen again and hear the whisper in its voice, it repeats a name, again and again; “Halnaker, Halnaker, Halnaker Mill”, and listen to how the clapper no more rests still and the great turning sweeps rise again, as the voices in the roar of the wind, never ceasing, whisper the name “Halnaker, Halnaker, Halnaker Mill”.



Disclaimer: The directions and map provided is a guide only. Please take care when walking on roads and be aware of traffic and other users. The author of this blog holds no responsibility for any changes to the route including but not restricted to closures or blockages, nor any accident or injury to any persons following the directions provided. Please follow the Countryside Code when out walking, and show respect for the land, wildlife, livestock, and other people. Please take your litter home.

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