A spotlight on
Extending down from the South Downs to the outskirts of Brighton, the woods and chalky grasslands of Stanmer Park offer space to relax, play and connect with nature.
A fine example of an 18th-century country estate, Stanmer’s 495 hectares bear traces of 6,000 years of cultural and environmental heritage. The park is part of the South Downs National Park and from here, you can walk or cycle to the top of the Downs and join the long-distance South Downs Way. A great deal of restoration work and changes were made to the park between 2018 and 2021, so if you haven’t visited in a while, it’s worth taking a trip to see it.
1. Go for a walk
If you need an accessible route, the wide gravel Green Drive runs for 0.7 miles alongside the lime trees from the main gates of the park to Stanmer House. Across the rest of the park, paths criss-cross the woods and fields, and you can wander here for hours. If you prefer to follow a signposted trail though, there are three loops to choose from.
Woodland trail (5 miles)
This takes you through the Great Wood, High Park Wood and Millbank Wood, offering some wonderful views as you emerge from the trees. On route you pass Lot’s Pond – the only dew pond in Stanmer Park. You can also cycle this route, as it follows a bridleway close to the perimeter of the park all the way round.
Monument trail (3 miles)
This route combines a walk through the Great Wood with downland meadows, offering some fantastic views from the hilltops. You’ll pass the Water Catcher, the Frankland Monument and Lot’s Pond, as well as Stanmer’s Old Orchard, and the towering Cedars of Lebanon behind Stanmer House that were planted over 200 years ago.
Historic trail (1 mile)
2. Visit One Garden Brighton
Developed in the 18th century as a kitchen garden for Stanmer House, the area within the high knapped flint walls of One Garden Brighton has been restored to create an inspirational space to relax in. Within the historic walled garden, there’s a café as well as a food and plant market with the best of local produce.
One Garden Brighton is now run by Plumpton College and is home to the college’s horticulture campus.
3. Connect with nature in new ways
There are so many ways to appreciate the biodiversity of The Living Coast within Stanmer Park. Go birdwatching, hunt for butterflies or bluebells. Search for grassland orchids that spring from the meadows in early summer or see how many different mushrooms you can spot in autumn. Sit on a log or lie on the grass and listen to the sounds of the woodlands and the grasslands. And if you’re keen to learn and experience something different, why not join a workshop, nature meditation or guided seasonal walk to see the surroundings through new eyes. See What’s On for ideas.
4. Learn a new skill
Want to learn about foraging? How to build sustainably with hay bales? How to prune your fruit trees or build a great woodland den? Interested in organic growing? Permaculture design? Or using the herbs in your garden and the ‘weeds’ around you to improve your health and wellbeing? These are just some of the wonderful experiences available to you at Stanmer Park.
See What’s On for course listings.
5. Experience Stanmer through the seasons
Stanmer changes dramatically through the seasons. In spring, look out for the brilliant pink of the Judas tree in the churchyard, while in the orchards the apples blossom slightly more discreetly. In late April and early May, the best places to see bluebells are in the Great Wood and Millbank Wood. In May/June the green-and-yellow flowers of the Tulip Trees in the arboretum are wonderful, while in June and early July the meadow wildflowers at Marquee Brow bring out the bees and butterflies.
In summer, enjoy the shade of the woods and seek out the foxgloves in the hazel coppice glades in the Great Wood. In July, the parade of lime trees that flanks the estate’s main drive are in full flower.
The autumn colours in the woods and arboretum are rich and vibrant. Conkers fall from the Horse Chestnut trees, and the sweet chestnuts are ripe and ready in the Great Wood. You can smell the apples, and the ground beneath the beech hangars in Great Wood and Millbank Wood are carpeted in beechnuts, known as mast.
With many of the trees bare for the winter, the woodlands are rich with shades of brown. Holly berries blaze on the spikey bushes, and if you look closely at the cedars behind Stanmer House you can see the cones forming.
6. Cycle the park
Stanmer Park is a lovely cycle destination from Brighton and offers some challenging and fun mountain biking routes on gravel, chalk and grass. From the top of the park you can access the South Downs Way and other cycle routes up and over the Downs.
Within the park, you can loop around the perimeter following the signs for the Woodland Trail (5 miles), or for a bigger challenge, consider the Granny’s Belt route – one of The Living Coast by Bike routes – that starts and finishes at Stanmer, taking in Ditchling Beacon, the third highest point on the South Downs.
For the kids, the Green Drive is a wide gravel path that runs from the playground at the main gate up to Stanmer House. There’s a BTN Bikeshare point at the walled garden and a cycle hire at the main entrance of the park.
Things to see
The Grade II listed Victorian Water Catcher is thought to be only one of two remaining in the UK. It was built in 1870-75 and provided gravity-fed rainwater to Stanmer House and the village through a complex network of underground tanks and pipes. Thanks to this large stone ‘trough’, residents of Stanmer House enjoyed some of the country’s first flushing toilets.
An arboretum was started on the lower slopes of the Great Wood in the 1950s. Amongst the lofty non-native specimens gracing the slopes today are Golden Siberian Elms, Monkey Puzzle Trees, Ginkgos and Tulip Trees.
Planted in the 18th century by Thomas Pelham, the giant Lebanese Cedars behind Stanmer House are magnificent. In the churchyard there’s a Yew Tree with a hollow trunk. With a circumference of 6m, this is believed to be the oldest tree in Brighton, likely dating back to Saxon times and making it over 1,000 years old. The native yew tree has been held sacred since the pre-Christian era of the druids and is associated with death and resurrection.
In the spring it’s lovely to wander the orchards of Stanmer, while in autumn there’s the smell of ripening fruit. The Old Orchard stretches behind the length of the walled garden, while the Home Farm Orchard near the village is managed by the Brighton Permaculture Trust, contains over 25 rare Sussex apple varieties and has been designated a National Collection by Plant Heritage. The Fruit Factory, the hub for a local scrumping project is located here, and in the Autumn you can buy fresh apple juice from the shop.
The Badgers Sculpture
On the grassy hill behind Stanmer House, the weathered shapes of a set of wooden badgers emerge from a fallen tree trunk. The badgers were carved by local sculptor Reece Ingram in 1991 from a Lebanese Cedar that fell in a storm in 1989. The tree was over 150 years old when it was blown down.
It’s believed that there’s been a church on this site since the 13th century. The knapped flint church that now stands was built in 1838, the previous church having burnt down. Stanmer Church is unusual in that it has a narrow stone spire which isn’t seen in this region. There is also no record as to what saint the church was dedicated to. The church is no longer used for worship but opens for events from time to time.
The clay-lined pond was built to supply the village with water, since there are no springs or streams in Stanmer and rainfall quickly disappears into the chalk aquifer that runs below it.
Next to the church is a small donkey wheelhouse where water was originally drawn from the well. The donkey would walk inside the wheel like a treadmill, winding the bucket up from the depths for the hand-dug well. It’s believed that the wheelhouse was built in the early 19th century with leftover stones from the church. The doorway is believed to have been part of the old church. The well was dug some 500 years ago, and the wheel was used until 1870.
Erected in 1775 in memory of MP Frederick Frankland, this giant funerary urn sits on the back of three tortoises within a clearing on the edge of the Great Woods. Frankland’s daughter Anne, was married to Thomas Pelham, the First Earl of Chichester. The tortoises apparently lost their heads to shooting practice when the estate was requisitioned for Canadian troops during the Second World War. Their heads were restored as part of the Stanmer Park Restoration Project.
Stanmer’s community initiatives
Connecting people to nature
Stanmer Park has long been a hub for community initiatives supporting biodiversity, sustainable living and wellbeing. England’s first Earthship was built by the Low Carbon Trust in Stanmer, and you can learn about building one yourself as well as other sustainable building methods.
The park is also is home to the Brighton Permaculture Trust and Stanmer Organics, both of which promote sustainable growing and living too. They offer courses, wellbeing spaces, and fun ways to get involved in growing and biodiversity projects.
The Brighton & Hove Food Partnership has developed the Stanmer Wellbeing Gardens, a series of spaces to create further opportunities for people to learn and spend time outdoors. One Garden Brighton is also developing a programme of community events and volunteering opportunities for the local community.
There is also the Stanmer Preservation Society which has worked for many years to preserve the history and landscapes of the park.
About Stanmer Park
Stanmer Park extends up either side of a chalk valley. Its open meadows of rare chalk grassland contrast with the shady stretch of the Great Woods and other pockets of leafy woodland.
The estate was landscaped in the 18th century, as was the fashion at the time. Areas were cleared, trees planted, and paths and formal gardens laid out. Before that Stanmer had been farmed for thousands of years, the imprint of the Bronze Age field systems still evident beneath the 18th-century landscape which was designed by Humphrey Repton.
Today, stretches of Stanmer remain wild, while the meadows of Marquee Brow – the last remnant of the downland that would’ve covered the whole park – is grazed by sheep to enable the unique plant species of the downlands to thrive.
On the park’s western skyline, the unusual silhouettes of non-native trees stand out, part of an arboretum planted from the 1950s.
Nature & wildlife
The variety of woodland and grassland habitats are home to rare and common species of birds, animal, insect and plants. The wildflowers of the downlands nurture abundant butterflies and moths, including the brilliant and rare Adonis Blue. Here, you can spot the Round-headed Rampion, Sussex’s county flower, and the spotty furls of the Adder’s Tongue Fern, a plant which indicates the land was once an ancient meadow.
Badgers, foxes, rabbits and small deer roam, and in the skies you can spot kestrel and buzzards. While at night pipistrelle, serotine, long-eared and Natterer’s bats flit through the dark.
Community groups have also done a great deal to increase biodiversity in the area, creating marshy habitats and ponds.
Flint blades and other clues at archaeological sites in Stanmer show that it was settled by Neolithic communities more than 5,000 years ago, and there is evidence of it being farmed since the Bronze Age. Records of there being a settlement at Stanmer Village go back to Saxon times, and Stanmer is a combination of the Anglo-Saxon words stan and mere – stone and pond or stony pond. You can see the pond to this day besides the church. According to the Domesday Book, Stanmer had a population of 59 people in 1086.
Much of the landscape and historic buildings you see today came after the Pelham family bought the Stanmer Estate in 1712. Before that the land had belonged to the Church. The Pelhams built Stanmer House in 1722 and began an ambitious landscaping project once it was complete in 1727. The walled garden and many of the flint farm buildings date back to this time.
The estate was requisitioned from the Pelham’s in 1942 to accommodate the Canadian tank regiment, and the council bought Stanmer Park in 1947 for £225,000 to safeguard the city’s water supply, which flows from the Downs through a chalk aquifer beneath the park. Stanmer was opened as a public park in 1953.
How to get to Stanmer Park
The park is always open. You can reach it by bike, bus, train or car.
- Cycle lanes lead from Brighton all the way up Lewes Road to the park. There is a BTN Bikeshare point at the walled garden and a cycle hire kiosk at the entrance of the park.
- Buses run past various entrances to the park throughout the week, and the No. 78 bus runs from the city centre into the park on weekends and bank holidays. (The No. 78 allows 2 bikes on board if there’s room.)
- Falmer Station is a few minutes’ walk or cycle away.
- There are six pay-and-display car parks.