Monday, 16 January 2012

Sussex Border Path 11 Loxwood and Rudgwick

Boat Park

Sadly I didn’t manage to get out at all over the Christmas holiday as I have done in recent years since the weather was so poor. Luckily the weather during January has improved significantly and on the first available weekend I managed to get out for another foray on the Sussex Border Path. I am approaching the section closest to my home now, which is very convenient for these short winter days. As it happens I didn’t manage to get out until nearly noon so today was never going to be anything too ambitious.

Canal In Water

I parked at the Wey and Arun canal car park at the Onslow Arms in Loxwood for this section of the walk. My route took me up the towpath northwards until I met with the official route where I had left it back in December. I was eager to use my new camera, a Christmas present that I had not really put through its paces yet. A much bigger one than I am used to, the new model is one of the compact cameras that has a detachable lens. This would be a walk of discovery for how the new camera performs as well as checking out this part of the Sussex countryside!

Restored Lock

The walk along the canal towpath was very revealing. Regular readers may recall that I undertook the Wey-South Path a couple of years ago (in August, with very different conditions!). This time I was heading in the opposite direction but it was immediately clear how much progress had been made since my last visit. There were a lot of excavations going on trying to restore the mile or so to the north of Loxwood.There was also some significant progress in rebuilding the locks, so it isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that this section of canal may well be open for business in the next couple of years.My only gripe about the whole operation was that it meant a very muddy walk for me as the towpath had been rather ripped up by the heavy machinery carrying out the work.

Heading Towards Loxwood

After about 45 minutes I reached the official path and headed off towards Alfold Bars. Immediately the going got better underfoot as I headed along a very attractive tree lined path. Dotted along the strip of woodland were holly bushes resplendent with their bright and shiny red berries. With the bright sunshine coming through and the birdsong one could be forgiven for thinking that spring had already arrived, even though it was still so early in the year!

Restoration Project

At the end of the avenue of trees I passed by Oakhurst Farm, where some serious refurbishment work was going on. A few ramshackle buildings around the edge game some hint to what had been probably a fairly run down looking farm at one stage. A little further on and I was reunited with the Loxwood Road, one that I had crossed at the beginning via the new(ish) canal bridge. This surface crossing was rather more hazardous!

Sir Roger Tichbourne

Before I pushed on I took a look at the pub called Sir Roger Tichborne. This pub has bucked the trend by being completely refurbished and brought back from dereliction in the last few years. The car park was nice and full, suggesting that business might be quite good. The pub is named after a notorious case in Victorian times relating to a missing member of the aristocracy and a man who came forward to fit the bill but who was later unmasked as an imposter. The story probably explains why the pub has two different portraits exhibited on each side of the pub sign.

Pigbush Lane Fungi

I took the wonderfully named Pigbush Lane opposite. This lane led me through farmland with some tantalising views out towards the Downs, now distant to the south. As I headed down towards an attractive farm in a dip in the rolling hills I caught sight of a really good looking fairy ring of fungus, still in excellent shape on this January day.

Red Jewels
The walk then headed through woodland for quite awhile, making this section very reminiscent of what had gone before. Although unremarkable walking, the sunshine and puffy white clouds gave some excellent lighting conditions. Muddy conditions were very much the order of the day for this stretch too, with some fearsome puddles in places (almost lake-like!). I eventually came upon a most unusual sight – a large private school with some very extensive grounds. Judging by how deserted it all looked I reckon that the children hadn’t yet returned from their Christmas vacation, despite being a week into the New Year.
Pond Reflections
At the other end of the school I crossed the strangely quiet A281 and headed along a Hillhouse Lane opposite. Judging from the road signs at either side of the junction I was now heading along the border itself. It was a lane full of surprises, from the fly-tipping in the layby a few metres in, to the trees still covered in autumn berries and apples by the strangely name Aliblastairs. One house was receiving an extensive refurbishment with some serious scaffolding going on around it. From the evidence I have seen so far in this area, the recession doesn’t seem to be biting here.
Empty Football Field
At the end of the lane the path once again descended into the woods, alongside what I took to be a deer farm judging by all the high fences around and the rather miserable looking does hanging out in one corner. The sun made a welcome reappearance here after it had been hiding behind the increasing cloud layer for a time. It shone over the rambling house of Great Inholms, picking its red tiles out really well. The path then took a route across a couple of fields high on a ridge that offered really good views out to the south.
Great Inholms
I didn’t realise at the time but this was the hill through which Baynards Tunnel had to traverse. This is was on the long lost railway line from Horsham to Guildford that I had explored in April 2009. I had picked a route that meant that I would leave the Sussex Border Path here to retrace my steps along the old line as far as the strange bridge at Rudgewick.
Baynards Tunnel Mouth
I stopped briefly at the tunnel to have a closer look. Getting down the cutting sides was no easy matter though and I have ran and half slithered to the bottom, making quite a muddy mess of myself in the process. It was just about worth it, although the view into the tunnel itself was quite limited. Beyond the inevitable graffiti was just inky blackness, for the other end of the tunnel has been filled in to allow for a bat roost to flourish. I headed south along the Downs Link path, which turned out to be a delightful section and vindicating my decision to use this route. By now the clouds that had bedevilled my picture taking for awhile drifted off to reveal the loveliest January day I can remember in a good long time.It was remarkably warm (13o C) and even the birds seemed to be fooled into thinking it was an early spring day!
Fluffy Bush
The going underfoot was easy going as this section of the Downs Link is probably one of the best for drainage and surfacing. I reminded myself that this would make for an excellent place to come for a winter family walk with my children. I passed by the site of Rudgewick station, now sadly untraceable like so many other stations on this former railway.
Former Rudgwick Station
The line crossed the A281 again, this time at level rather than on the bridge that would once have carried the line across the road. A little further on and I came to the famous double deck bridge. This was not originally built this way, but was necessary after the railway inspector insisted that the line was re-profiled as he felt that Rudgwick station was built on a dangerously steep slope. The original bridge was therefore too low and another was built on top. It remains a remarkable relic, even though the line has now been closed for 47 years and seemingly will never return.
Double Deck Bridge
Just beyond the bridge I left the line and headed back initially across fields back towards Loxwood. Being wintertime the sun was now disappearing fast and I got a little concerned that I would not make it back to the car park before it got dark. At Tisman’s Common I joined the road back to Loxwood and found that this route back was a mixed blessing. While it provided a quick route and was easy underfoot, I became aware that in the fading light I wasn’t really dressed with appropriately easy to see clothing. Eventually at the first opportunity and a mile and a half later I took a different route down into the woods where I thought that the gathering gloom would be less of an enemy than a speeding car heading towards me.
Downs Link
As it happened this turned out to be a lucky break. The full moon was now high in the sky and lit my way to a certain extent now that the sun had gone. I also managed to find my way back to the Wey and Arun Canal and so had the easy task of merely following the towpath back to the Onslow Arms.
Tismans Common
In the gloaming (I love that Scottish word – it seems so appropriate!) the atmosphere of the old canal was very interesting and serene. I didn’t linger too long though – I was in a bit of a race to get back before it got truly dark. In that I was successful – it was 4.30pm when I got back. A little close for comfort perhaps and I could have done without the scary walk along the road as the sun went down. However, I think I was too hard on myself – as I pulled away from the Onslow Arms, I passed by a youth wearing dark clothes riding a bike with no lights and wearing the biggest headphones I have ever seen. My view of safety is clearly not shared by everyone!
The Gloaming
This was a pleasant stretch of the walk, spoiled only by some stretches of really boggy mud that were almost impassable. The section of the Sussex Border Path was infinitely better than the loop route, which was a relief as so often it has been the other way around. Time it right and I reckon the Sir Roger Tichborne looks like a good watering hole on the way round too!
Moonlight on the Canal