High Weald

MaidensbwThe Weald Forest Ridge's landscape heritage has close associations with ancient medieval hunting forests. The importance of these forests was recognised in the "Polyolbion" - an epic topographical poem of the English counties written by Michael Drayton in 1611.

The Polyolbion likened four medieval forests in the Weald Forest Ridge to wood nymphs, or maidens. The Forests referred to are clearly identifiable nowadays as Broadwater (Water-downe), Ashdown (Ash-downe), St Leonard's (Saint Leonards) and Worth (Whord). The Weald Forest Ridge Landscape Partnership used Drayton's Polyolbion as the inspiration for conserving the Weald Forest Ridge's heritage.

Project work, including heritage interpretation, was carried out at all of the four Forests.

Additionally, the Scheme was launched with the "Maidens of the Weald" project.  Same Sky - the community arts organisation from Brighton - worked with schools and community groups across the Weald Forest Ridge in 2009 to create four Giant Maidens. Each Maiden was designed to reflect the unique character of her particular Forest.

The St Leonard's Maiden

The St Leonard's Maiden

The St Leonard's Maiden had a dress decorated with lily of the valley, a red dragon lies coiled at her feet, and she held two Nightingales aloft. These features depict the story of St Leonard, who, legend has it, killed a dragon in the Forest. Where the saint's blood was said to fall during the fight, banks of lily of the valley now bloom in spring. As a reward for ridding the area of the dragon, God granted St Leonard his wish that nightingales should no longer sing in the Forest as they disturbed his prayers. Today, you can visit St Leonards Forest from the Forestry Commission's Roosthole car park. Enhanced rides lead into the dramatic landscape of the Forest and interpretation boards tell more about the Forest's fascinating history - both factual and mythological!

The Ashdown Maiden

The Ashdown Maiden

The warrior-like Ashdown Maiden represented the hunting and military past of this Forest. Many queens and consorts have owned Ashdown through the ages. The Maiden's royal clothes were purple and yellow, to represent the heather and gorse that grows there. The red, fiery decorations on her cloak recalled the iron smelting history of the area. The Ashdown Forest Centre at Wych Cross is open to visitors and you can find out more about the area in the Information Barn. There are walk routes to suit all abilities on the Forest and spectacular views across the countryside from these breezy, treeless heights.

The Broadwater Maiden

The Broadwater Maiden

The Broadwater Maiden reflected Broadwater Forest's history of use as a warren for keeping rabbits for food and fur, and her dress was decorated with rabbits. She also wore fern fronds, as the sandstone outcrops at nearby Eridge Rocks are home to the world famous tunbridge filmy fern.Broadwater Warren is now an RSPB reserve, and home to adders, slave ants and nightjars in season. At Eridge Rocks you can stand beside the stunning sandstone outcrops, some of many of these remarkable features to be found in the High Weald.  

The Tilgate Maiden

The Tilgate Maiden

The Tilgate Maiden represented the ancient Forest of Worth, which has been renamed Tilgate in more recent times. Gideon Mantell, a local doctor and fossil collector, found the remains of a dinosaur here, alongside fossils of giant ferns and molluscs. The Tilgate Maiden has an armoured breastplate and lizard prints on her skirt; to represent her dinosaur past. You can visit Tilgate Park, which has a nature reserve, café, rare breeds centre, several lakes (one of which is the remains of a hammer pond), parkland, playgrounds, and wooded areas. From here, Tilgate Forest to the south can be accessed by using the pedestrian flyover, or the underpass to cross the M23.