Binsted Park is along the footpath that leads from the village church and on through the woods to Arundel.
From Spinningwheel Copse, you emerge at the top of a wide, sloping field, surrounded by trees – one of the secluded open spaces that this village specialises in.
At the lower end of the Park is the Staker Oak. Its shape – a hybrid of tall, woodland-growing oak and broad, field-growing oak – is a memory that the tree, now almost 300 years old, was left standing when this space was cleared of woodland in the early 1800s.
The Read family of Binsted House landscaped the area. Deer are often seen here, but though Binsted Park was inspired by medieval hunting grounds, it was designed for aesthetics and as a show of social status – as photos of the family in Victorian times suggest (the 17th Century Binsted House is in the background):
The footpath, when it enters the woods, is wide and winding. It is gloriously muddy and unkempt now, the woods around it a haven for wildlife, but in the Park’s heyday this path was a manicured ‘Lover’s Lane’.
Here, Victorians would have found a picturesque wooden bridge; today, you step cross the stream to find another landscaped feature of the Park, the Madonna Pond. The pond, now named for the shrine beside it, was formerly one of three fishing ponds made along the course of a brook that runs from the Downs to the River Arun.
History and myth flow through this place. Ghost stories swirl around it like mist on an October morning. The Pond and its shrine were the focus of (not entirely accurate) reports of Satanic ritual in the Chichester Observer in 1980.
Another legend tells that a coach and horses fell into the pond, vanished, and has haunted the area since. (For a village of its size it is remarkable that Binsted boasts not one but two ponds that claim to be bottomless).
Binsted House itself became known as a haunted place. It was pulled down twenty years ago, but Binsted children of last century remember ill-advised adventures in the derelict, crumbling house. A chilling moment is recalled by Bill Pethers in the Binsted book:
‘Mother used to go up to the old house and try to keep the place clean. It was a time warp, you would walk through the door and you were back in the 1800s… I remember seeing the old kitchen with stone floors, and the bedrooms virtually as they had been left… One day, I think I was outside playing, and she suddenly rushed out and scooped me up and ran all the way down the road. There was something in there she had to get away from’
Victorians loved a ghost, so it is perhaps fitting that the House, and the Park designed around it, have left spectral traces in this wild and beautiful corner of the village.
Emma Tristram discusses Binsted Park in this wonderful video from the Bald Explorer: Exploring Binsted Park
Drawing by Richard Geraint Evans
Photo courtesy of Bill Pethers
Painting of Binsted House by Charlotte Read