Showdown in St. Leonard's Forest
I had toyed with the idea of having a lazy Sunday indoors. The weather forecast was uninspiring; I hadn't slept very well. I was soon to discover I had made the right decision. St. Leonard's Forest is situated to the east of Horsham and marks the westernmost extent of the High Weald Forest Ridge. Set in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the forest is comprised of mainly coniferous trees, although there are birches, mature beeches and grand oaks, which are mostly found in the southern end. Two very pretty streams called Inholms Gill and Sheepwash Gill flow across exposed Wealden Ironstone and merge into a lovely pond adjacent to Roosthole Hill. I was surprised by the low numbers of Fallow deer in comparison to Roe deer. Fallow deer seemed confined to the periphery of St. Leonard's Forest.
Late in the evening, I spotted a pair of Roe deer along a glade at the foot of Race Hill. Provided I kept my distance, the buck and doe were content with my presence. Eventually, I had to move on, as sunset drew nearer. The deer walked into the trees and stood over me. Apart from another West Sussex site, I have never encountered Roe deer as tolerant and curious as this pair. Both sexes are shedding their thick winter coats and the bucks can be seen rubbing their antlers on low hanging branches to remove the velvet. Soon, the light and airy woodland floor will darken, as the trees go into leaf. Bluebells are just beginning to flower; in two weeks, the forest will be a palette of blue and light green hues.
Despite the effort required to reach St. Leonard's Forest, the novelty will not wear off in a hurry. Getting there required a train up to Three Bridges and another to Horsham. I walked all the way from Horsham town centre, across open countryside and along narrow wooded lanes. If the deer are prepared to pose for shots like these, bring it on.