The phrase “calm as a millpond” could only have been written for somewhere as beautiful as Burton Mill.
A few miles south of Petworth in West Sussex this local nature reserve is an area of special scientific interest which teems with wildlife; insects, birds, snakes and rare plants.
Footpaths are dotted all around the still waters where a whole host of wildfowl busily dibble and swim in and out of the reeds.
Bird-watching at Burton and Chingford Ponds
Ornithologists are attracted to the area with the promise of teals and tufted ducks, wagtails, warblers and woodpeckers. Go early in the morning and you may see some roe deer tiptoeing down to the waters’ edge. Pork Belly only managed to catch a glimpse of one retreating.
Standing on the wooden decking covering the culvert, listening to the the rushing of water into the mill-race below, the distant call of birds and just the occasional passing car, it’s hard to believe that this was once an area of intense man-made activity.
The Old Mill, Burton
In Elizabethan times it was the centre of a huge iron-making industry and the streams at Burton, which fed into the nearby River Rother, were dammed to make a ‘hammer pond’ to power the water wheel of a forge. With huge mechanical hammers pounding iron bars with up to 150 blows a minute it must have been absolutely deafening.
The forge itself is long gone but the current mill, built in the late 1700s, put all that wonderful water power to good use grinding corn until the mill fell into disuse in the early 1900s.
After years as a private residence and latterly a tea room, the privately owned mill has been restored with the support of volunteers from the Sussex Mills Group and is generating hydro power. The millstones are back in working order too and you can buy Burton Mill stoneground flour at their open days or by prior arrangement.
Burton and Chingford Nature Reserve
The mill pond is fed by fresh spring water and is haven for all types of wildlife – some only found in this area. There are rare crickets and beetles, adders and eels swim in the pond, migrating bitterns stop off here and if you are really lucky you might even spot a fire crest.
Fishermen search for carp, great crested grebes dive for roach and rudd and kingfishers splash for the small fry.
Even if you don’t see anything rare or elusive, you’ll have a peaceful walk in beautiful Sussex countryside.
More information about Burton Mill and Chingford Ponds
Burton and Chingford Ponds is jointly managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust and West Sussex County Council.
There are several walks around the area, suitable for all weathers and seasons. Some are easily accessible for people with mobility problems, others are a little more taxing. The entire nature trail is on level ground with only one stile at Crouch Farm. The nature trail includes surfaced and un-surfaced footpaths, minor roads and a boardwalk over the wettest areas.
See the Sussex Wildlife Trust website has more details
For news of the restored Burton Mill and its open days see their website
For more info about other mills – both wind- and water-powered – in Sussex see the Sussex Mills Group.