The village of Fishbourne, near Chichester, provides the atmospheric backdrop to Kate Mosse’s gripping novel, ‘The Taxidermist’s Daughter’
Whilst the book is full of untold secrets and plot twists, this 5km trail transports you back to 1912 to reveal the unique landscape of this bestselling thriller which makes its world stage premier at Chichester Festival Theatre in April 2022.
Before you go:
Parking: Limited parking is usually available in the car park at Fishbourne Church – PO19 3XT
Public Transport: The nearest train station is Fishbourne and there are several bus stops along the main road, close the start of this walk.
Terrain: Whilst mostly flat, the ground can be muddy and there are a number of gates and bridges to negotiate. Waterproof footwear is advised! This is a great walk for dogs, though please be mindful and give space to grazing cattle and nesting/migratory birds which can live in the meadows too.
Walk length: 3 miles
” ….when the midnight signal tolls,
Along the churchyard green,
A mournful train of sentenced souls,
In winding-sheets are seen”
Like the book, this walk begins in the churchyard of St Peter and St Mary
Built in the 13th Century, the church has many secrets of its own to share. To the right of the front door, medieval graffiti can still be seen, carved into the brickwork. It is thought that these marks were left by pilgrims on their way to the Shrine of St Richard in Chichester Cathedral.
It is also where we are introduced to the characters Connie Gifford and her father.
Head north-west through the church yard towards the gate marked by a finger post. Once through the gate, begin your way through the meadows. There are wooden walkways dotted here and there, but don’t be fooled…. these meadows can be wet and muddy! Fishbourne meadows are often used for grazing and are also home to a wide range of flora and fauna. Deer and water vole are spotted here and in summer, orchids and other wildflowers put on a dazzling display of colour.
Use the bridge to cross the stream and keep it on your right as you head towards a wrought iron kissing gate. This short section of path is quite narrow.
Exit through another gate, and you will find yourself by the duck pond at the bottom of Mill Lane. Here, you may recognise the names of some of the properties mentioned in the book. ‘Pendrills is one of the oldest properties in Fishbourne and is next to the imaginary ‘Slay Cottage’ where another key character, Mr Crowther, lives. You may also spot Salt Mill House which marks the head of the creek.
Enjoy the ducks, coots and swans before continuing south-west around the bottom of the pond. In the 3rd Century, the sea would have been much further inland, and hidden beneath the pond are the remains of Roman jetties. Fishbourne Port was of great importance, and it is believed that it was first used as a supply base for invading Roman armies.
The old, tidal Salt Mill burnt down many years ago and as you continue walking alongside the pond, you will pass the sluice gate which was opened during storms to prevent flooding. Carry on along the path, where the reeds now tower above you on either side.
Make your way through the rushes and imagine life here in 1912…. with no phones or torches to light your way, a night-time walk with just a lantern to guide you, would have made for a very eerie experience! For now, enjoy the wind whistling through the reed beds, or the gentle sway of the rushes in the breeze. On a sunny day, the warm, golden light through the reeds is just beautiful…….. but on to darker things!
After crossing three footbridges, you will arrive at a field with a lone oak tree. It is here that Connie and Gifford’s home – Blackthorn House – is situated. You are also very close to where Connie finds a body in the creek by the edge of their garden.
Follow along the hawthorn and blackthorn hedge, (with their beautiful, white, fragrant blossoms in spring) and you will emerge onto the estuary.
The earliest humans may have arrived in Chichester Harbour during the Prehistoric Period. The harbour would have been unrecognisable with elephants, lions, wolves, hyenas and bears roaming freely.
These days, Chichester Harbour is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is home to a huge variety of birds. Waders, gulls, ducks, swans, herons and migratory geese can all be seen here….. but thankfully, nothing with tusks or sharp teeth!
Take a moment to enjoy the view over the estuary. You will be able to see the spire of Chichester Cathedral and the masts of the boats at Dell Quay. You can also see the sea wall to the right, where the thrilling climax of ‘The Taxidermist’s Daughter’ takes place.
Continue to follow the path along the water’s edge. Pass through some trees, over a little bridge and keep walking alongside a field until you see a large set of wooden gates and a finger post directly ahead of you. Turn right and keep the ditch to your left. At the next finger post, carry on straight ahead.
After a few minutes, you will emerge onto a lane. Bear right and follow this lane up to the Main Road. Head right again and continue walking until you reach The Bull’s Head.
The Bull’s Head Pub was converted from a 17th Century Farmhouse and features regularly in The Taxidermist’s Daughter. Gifford, in particular, spends a lot of time here! There are also rooms available if you would like stay and explore more of the area.
At this point, you can choose to pop into the pub for a drink or something to eat (well, you have earned it!) Alternatively, you can continue along the Main Road towards the church where you started.
You have now reached the end of your walk, and walked in the footsteps of the characters in ‘The Taxidermist’s Daughter’. We would love to see and share photos of your adventures, so remember to share them with The Great Sussex Way on Instagram and Facebook.
Click here for an Ordnance Survey Map of the walking route
The Taxidermist’s Daughter runs at Chichester Festival Theatre 8 – 30 April 2022; book online at cft.org.uk or 01243 781312