Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Sussex Border Path Section 17 East Grinstead and Dormansland

Spring is moving along very quickly and now that mornings are so much lighter I am trying to dive out and get a few walking hours in without using the whole day.  It isn’t really a hardship to get up early on these beautiful mornings and in fact it is usually the best time of day to be out as you often get the countryside all to yourself!

Three Arch Bridge
For this section I parked in Felbridge and used the same footpath that I had used on my last outing this way to head back down to the former Three Bridges to East Grinstead railway line, where I would pick up the Sussex Border Path once again.  On my way I once again walked down the magnificent tree lined path that leads to the old house called Gullege.  This old house has a long history, older even than the Jacobean exterior that it now sports.  Apparently the location has been inhabited since the Domesday Book was compiled and from the 1360s the MP for East Grinstead lived there.  The present exterior dates from the early 1600s although it also has some very Tudor chimneys.  The old place positively shone in the early morning light.

New East Grinstead Station
I soon reached the old railway line and headed east along the tree lined route.  Where I had seen primroses on my last outing I was now seeing profusions of bluebells, greater stitchwort and campion all vying for attention from pollinating insects.  In the trees was a crescendo of birdsong from all the courting birds trying to capture a mate.  In the distance above the calls of the songbirds and pigeons was the haunting sound of the cuckoo.  I always think that these calls are tinged with menace, considering how the cuckoo deals with the rearing of its chicks.

Sunday Morning in East Grinstead
Any notion that I would have the path to myself along the Worth Way was quickly shattered as it seems to be extremely popular with early morning joggers.  There were dozens of them plying the route, some alone and others in chattering groups.  To most of them though I seemed invisible as they were plugged into their music or too involved in their conversations.  

East Grinstead Water Tower
I passed under the three arched bridge that is the symbol of the line and then a more modern (and far less attractive) version before eventually finding my way into East Grinstead along what is essentially a green corridor.  The track ends abruptly at the car park which now occupies the site of the former high level station in East Grinstead.  When this was a busy country junction station it operated at two levels, with a loop line connecting the two.  Now all has disappeared save for a heavily rebuilt lower level station that is in fact the second version since the original two level station was demolished.  I have to say that this new version (which has opened since I last came by here) is a lot smarter than the previous one.  Happily the line to the south of East Grinstead has also reopened courtesy of the volunteers from the Bluebell Railway that have restored the link to Horsted Keynes after an absence of 55 years.  I imagine that the coming of the tourist trains put significant pressure on the station car park for it has also been reconstructed to include a second deck.

Wisteria Cottage
From my green and peaceful walk along the old railway I had to tackle the roads around the bus and railway station, which thankfully were quiet at this time of day.  As I wandered through the town centre it was eerily quiet, with all the shops shut and only a couple of coffee shops starting their days.  I passed quickly through the town centre and soon found myself by the unlikely landmark of the water tower, which dominates the skyline.  This apparently has become a family home in the last few years and I imagine that it would be a fantastic place to live, with brilliant views of the high weald from the upper floors and plenty of character to spark the imagination of young children.  The old building was built in 1914 and is a listed building so I imagine that renovation was tricky to make sure that all the various building codes were adhered to.  I would love to have seen it on Grand Designs!

East Court
I crossed the Relief Road which passes through a deep tree lined cutting so dark that it must look like a tunnel when driving.  This cutting was once the extension of the railway line from East Grinstead High Level Station to Tunbridge Wells and eventually becomes another cycle route known as the Forest Way (visited by me in the summer of 2010).

The Path of Least Resistance
My route dived down a track behind another housing estate, which proved a bit tricky to negotiate in places as the fences at the back left little clearance and I had to duck under hedges in places.  I was quite pleased then when I managed to escape out onto a very dewy playing field.  I wandered across and got very wet feet within only a few yards, leaving me with a damp feeling that I didn’t manage to lose for the rest of the walk.

Odd One Out
I walked across Ashplatts Wood, where the wet conditions continued.  I spent most of the time picking my way through puddles and very heavy clay, which wasn’t much fun.  I also found the plethora of paths very confusing and soon discovered a new housing estate which hadn’t yet appeared on my map.  The result was that I ended up on a section of the Holtye Road that I hadn’t intended and needed a bit of road walking to right myself.

May the 4th Be With You
After the level walking that I have experienced on this route for some time it was a bit of a shock to the system to encounter hills, but my onward route was certainly a bit more undulating as I crossed the A264 and headed past Blackhatch Wood and across a huge field.  I saw my first livestock of the day as I crossed the field, hundreds of sheep together with their new families enjoying the now pretty warm conditions.  On my way across I felt dozens of pairs of eyes following my progress which was slightly unnerving.
Blockfield Wood

At the other end of the fields I then joined an estate lane and as I wandered northwards I heard a scurrying noise and on further investigation I saw a little mouse in the grass verge looking at me rather fearfully.  When it decided I wasn’t a threat it ran away double quick!  At the top end of the lane I passed a scout hut with a wagon outside saying May the 4th be with you!  I couldn’t help but smile as that was the very date on which I was walking.  What it actually meant though was that it belonged to 4th East Grinstead Scout Troop.

May Blossom
Crossing the next valley was tricky – I saw possibly the best spread of bluebells yet this year followed by the worst mud of the whole walk, which had been churned up by the horses normally stationed in the field.  I think even the owners had given up and taken them somewhere else.  The next couple of miles had the appearance of parkland that had been turned over to various types of farming and horse grazing. 

Home Farm
By now I had left the official route and was heading back round towards Dormansland where I hoped to complete my loop walk.  The parkland I imagine once belonged to Greathed Manor (formerly Ford Manor), which is now a nursing home but has had an interesting history since it was first built in 1816.  It was once owned by the founder of the Bass brewing company and has also served as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, been lived in by a member of the famous Astor family and is now a nursing home run by a religious organisation.  Sadly I only got glimpses of the building, which even from a distance looked magnificent.  Despite the lack of views of the main property the drive into the estate was magnificent and I was pleased to have the opportunity to walk along there into the village of Dormansland.  The drive eventually turned into the residential road known as Ford Manor Road, reminding everyone of the original name of the manor house.

Greathed Manor
In Dormansland I had a short but unpleasant road walk and was very relieved when I was able to dive down a rather dark looking alley.  This took me through the houses and then onto another lane to the railway that I had crossed at East Grinstead.  Just a little way past and I heard the unmistakable thwack of a golf ball and found myself walking past the 17th tee at Lingfield Golf Club.  The course looked very pleasant flanked by bluebells and woodlands dressed in their nice new lime green coloured foliage.  I suspect most of the golfers pay little attention to these surroundings though, concentrating instead on their choice of clubs or playing their next shot.

Greathed Manor Drive
Perhaps more interesting than the golf course though was the end of the racecourse a little further on.  All was quiet today, which was slightly surprising as Lingfield Racecourse is one of the busiest in Britain, with race meetings held almost daily at certain times of the year.  I could only imagine the great steeds thundering down the track as I wandered along the fence.

Dormansland Fields
I crossed the track at the first convenient point and negotiated the edge of the golf course until reaching another road that I had to walk a short distance along without a footpath.  Fortunately I was soon able to turn and head across another field lined with bluebells, although on this occasion there were pink and white ones as well. I wonder whether this is anything to do with the underlying soil?

Lingfield Racecourse
My open field soon turned into another dark alley that seem to characterise this part of Surrey.  On one side of me was a formidable wall that hid another very large house from view, while on the other was an unmanaged stretch of woodland that resembled a thicket.  The ground underneath was very wet and sticky and although I soon found myself on another busy road I was quite relieved to leave the wet stuff behind.  Fortunately the road walking didn’t last long and I was soon heading into more woods alongside a golf course.  Here I scared a local fox that was obviously minding its own business and not paying attention to anything around it.  The fox took one look at me and scarpered like the wind before I had barely time to react.  When I encountered it I was no more than 15 yards away and I was most surprised that it didn’t smell or hear me coming.

Crossing the next golf course was tricky as I struggled to find footpath signs and those I did find seemed to be pointing in directions that weren’t quite right.  As I crossed I got the impression that the golfers were rather annoyed with me for getting in their way.  I was pleased initially to cross into the next field but my joy soon turned to frustration when I came to the next muddy corner that was almost impassable.  I struggled through ending up with very brown and wet feet on the other side.
Whitebells and Bluebells

By now I was thankfully almost done and after crossing the A22 I dog legged around another couple of horse paddocks and back into Felbridge.  I was astonished at the level of traffic backed up all along the A264 here and pleased that I would be heading in the opposite direction to head home shortly after.  I retraced my steps back through the village to my car feeling that I had seen the best of the day and pleased that I wasn’t walking through was by now becoming quite a hot day.

Felbridge Chestnut
This was a hugely varied stretch taking in commuter land and golf clubs to former travel routes and country piles.  All around me were the bright colours of the zenith of spring with bluebells and horse chestnut blossom decorating so many of the woodlands.  The whole walk made be feel glad that I had got up early and enjoyed it at its best!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Sussex Border Path Section 16 Copthorne and Crawley Down

Early Morning Light
After another lengthy absence I am keen to resume my journey along the Sussex Border Path, especially as underfoot conditions have dried out and I have moved past that difficult section through Gatwick.  I had a window of opportunity to do just that over Easter and so after a hiatus of six months I found myself back in the village of Copthorne to resume where I had left off back in July last year.

I didn’t find the village too easy to park in surprisingly but eventually found a spot just off the path.  It was a warm spring day but with many clouds in the sky that would affect the mood of the weather on a constant basis depending on whether the sun was in or out.  When the sun was in the chill of the air was still very apparent while it was rather too warm when the sun was out.  I was thankful that the first part of my walk was in the shade of the trees that dominated the patch of countryside between Crawley and East Grinstead.

Woodland Retreat
After crossing the gruesomely busy A264 I soon left the roar of the traffic behind and walked down a fairly substantial track through the woods.  Birdsong dominated the air now although every so often it was drowned out by the roar of another jet landing at nearby Gatwick Airport.  Eventually the track ran out as it reached its destination of a little hideaway in the woods.  My path continued onwards past a large farm complete with some very attractive looking houses as part of the estate.  I imagine that prices are tempered slightly by the sound of jets passing overhead on a regular basis.  I wonder if you ever get used to that sound?
Bluebell Show

After passing some more open countryside I soon plunged back into woodlands that seemed to be quite popular with runners.  I on the other hand was more concerned with the profusion of wild flowers that carpeted the woodland floor.  I had arrived at that happy time when bluebells and wood anemones were both out in full flush.  Clearly we have had a much warmer time of it this year compared to last as it was May before we saw any proper bluebells back then.

Rowfant House
I soon came to the rear of Rowfant House, a place that was once important enough to have its own railway station although the line is now long since defunct (see my entry on the Worth Way from a few years ago).  The house itself is now a very well appointed country house hotel.  As I wandered through the grounds the staff were gearing up for what looked like it would be a very busy Easter weekend and beer festival.  Sadly it was all a bit early for me on this breakfast time walk on Good Friday!

Worth Way Primroses
At Wallage Lane I then faced a short unpleasant stretch of road walking.  Thankfully due to the early start there was little traffic but nonetheless I was very pleased to escape back into the countryside and within a few yards of the main road I found myself on the Worth Way and a stretch of the old railway that the Sussex Border Path shares.  Last time I came along here it was a summer evening and I was on my bike.  This time I have to say that my experience was rather nicer than then as the trees were just budding and the banks were festooned with primroses, greater stitchwort, bluebells and campion, all contributing to a colourful scene.  There did seem to be large numbers of great tits, blackbirds, chaffinches and robins along here too – must be a good habitat for small birds.
Crawley Down Bridge

Along the course of the old railway line the walking was easy going and I covered the next mile or so very quickly until the railway track gave way to the slab of suburbia plonked in the middle of the countryside called Crawley Down.  When the railway ran this way there was a small station here called Grange Road but that disappeared under the housing estate now known as Old Station Close.  It seems ironic that the existence of this place could have saved the railway if it had been built a few years previously.  With some of the railway land used to build it though any chance of the line being reopened has surely been lost forever.

Crawley Down Cherry
The path left the railway line here and continued out of the village along a leafy residential lane that eventually gave way to a track.  I passed by a very strange looking yard that was all shut up but where there was a fleet of derelict looking trucks behind a very large fence.  If the owner had gone bankrupt it seemed amazing that the vehicles were just left behind to rot.  The track continued past a number of houses set in large gardens before finally heading out into open fields.  For the next couple of miles the walk was through open ground that wasn’t terribly exciting but was most pleasant, with views across to the High Weald to the south.
High Weald Views

Eventually the track doubled back to the Worth Way, where it would continue into East Grinstead.  For me though I had reached the end of my stint on the official path today and continued straight on for my route back to Copthorne.  After a couple of miles of not seeing anyone it appeared that I re-entered dog walking country for the next stretch to the edge of Felbridge seemed to be really well walked by those with canine friends.  I passed by the historic house of Gullege and the adjacent farm before wandering along the most delightful tree lined track that I took to be the original entrance drive.

At the end of the track I turned left and had another lengthy stretch of road walking, which was fairly unpleasant as there was no pavement for much of its length.  The road was mostly residential although a huge building site was starting to develop on my left as the once extensive Felbridge nursery had succumbed to progress and was now being developed as a housing estate.  A look at Google Street View on my return home showed me that it hadn’t been that long since the whole site was covered with greenhouses. 

Gatwick Country
At the sharp corner of the road I was pleased to see that my path continued straight on and across a field.  As I crossed the stile I got a strong whiff of garlic and realised that I had trodden on a Ramsons flower, sometimes known as wild garlic.  If anything it reminded me how long it had been since I had had breakfast!

Once across the field I entered the slightly strange world of Furnace Wood.  This was a large private estate with sounds of lawnmowers filling the air as gardeners took advantage of the Good Friday warmth and mowed their extensive lawns.  I wandered through the estate feeling slightly out of place and was pleased when the path dropped down away from the estate and past the quite large Furnace Pond, undoubtedly another example of a hammer pond from when this area was alive with an iron ore industry some 200+ years ago.  The pond itself was well protected from interlopers as it now belongs to a private fishing club that obviously are keen to protect their estate.
Furnace Pond

My path then continued through a number of fragments of woodland, all carpeted with the lilac blue colour of bluebells before eventually reaching the A264 once again.  A short section of road walking again followed before I was able to complete the last leg of my journey back to the car along Green Lane.

Effingham Park Chapel
As walks go this was far more rural than the map suggested and although extremely pleasant on account of all the woodland flowers, it will not live particularly long in the memory.  I think there are better sections ahead of me and certainly behind me on this walk.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Winnie-the-Pooh Country

Hartfield Lych Gate

Following the Disneyfication of Winnie-the-Pooh in recent years most people in the wider world have no idea that the stories were largely set in Ashdown Forest in Sussex.  With onset of bluebell season and all the trees sporting new growth I thought that the girls would enjoy walking around the area in which the stories were set.

Hartfield Church
We began our walk in Hartfield, the small village now seemingly forever associated with the bear of little brain.  We left the charms of the village for the end of the walk, heading first to the church of St Mary the Virgin.  The entrance wasn’t obvious and is found through a most unusual lych gate.  I couldn’t quite decide whether the house attached happened to be part of the gate or the other way around.
Wrecked Hut

Hartfield church has an unusually tall spire and the golden clock sparkled in the warm April sunshine.  Inside the church was rather unusual – all the pews had been removed and replaced by moveable chairs.  In a way I thought this were rather sad, but I suppose that the church then has a multitude of uses as a community space just by moving the chairs around.  Pews these days are valuable too, so I don’t doubt that a fair price was achieved by selling them off.  We had a good look around inside the church & the stained glass was particularly eye-catching.

Withyam Rectory
Once we had had a good scout around the church we headed on our way across the fields towards Withyam following the High Weald Landscape Trail, which I had previously walked a few years ago.  The ground across many of the fields was pretty boggy in places, despite the recent spell of good weather.  When we reached the first big bridge the girls were convinced it was the famous Poohsticks bridge.  Alas they were to be disappointed for I had saved that until almost the end of the walk.
Withyam Church

As we passed through the wood just beyond though we found one of those things that set my girls’ imagination going.  It was a rather strange little derelict building that was starting to fall apart.  Strange, because we couldn’t work out what it was for?  It was rather more substantial than you might think for such a remote location.
De La Warr Tomb

Just beyond was the church at Withyam, a rather more substantial church than it looked from our approach.  In contrast to Hartfield, this church had a squat tower and looked small, but stepping inside was a revelation.  Far bigger than the frontage suggested this was a much more traditional looking church with a full set of pews in place.  While we were there a couple of old ladies came along to decorate the church for Easter.  They took a shine to the girls and gave them a treasure trail to do so that they could explore the finer details of the church.  They were in their element, writing down all the answers to the questions as they were quizzed about the stained glass windows, artwork and historical features of the church.  Of particular prominence was the family vault in the chapel at the far corner in the chapel of Earl De La Warr.  This vault is the family tomb, including the famous gardener Vita Sackville-West, whose remains are said to be contained in an inkpot within the tomb.

Five Hundred Acre Wood
After a long time exploring the church we headed onwards, following the route of another long distance trail, this time the Wealdway.  This is one I have yet to do any more than one section of – I think eventually it will come towards the top of projects left to do.  Certainly the short section into the Five Hundred Acre wood was promising.  This wood is of course the one that the Hundred Acre Wood was to become in the Pooh stories.  On the way we passed a long line of cottages that presumably were once the domain of forest workers.  Now I am not sure who might live there, but it certainly is a bit of a lonely spot so you would have to get on with your neighbours.

Waiting For Pooh Sticks
The walk through the woods was pleasant if unremarkable.  By now the children were getting impatient for the Poohsticks bridge and a couple more went by without it being the real one.  We crossed a rather busy road, which wasn’t a very pleasant experience as we had to walk about a hundred metres alongside the traffic before thankfully disappearing into the countryside once again.  After a couple of false alarms we finally reached the bridge and the girls were thrilled to have it all to themselves.

Cuckoo Flowers
The bridge has been rebuilt recently and is said to resemble the illustrations in the book far more than the previous version, which A.A. Milne would have used when coming up with the idea for the story.  His residence was a nearby farm, which incidentally was the same that the Rolling Stones founder Brian Jones drowned in the swimming pool.
Looking Back at Ashdown Forest

The girls knew what to do without any second bidding.  They had a couple of games before other children came to join them.  Satisfied that they had taken part in one of those age old children’s games at the epicentre of Poohsticks the girls were happy to move on, spurred on by the prospect of a cup of tea at The House at Pooh Corner.  The path back to Hartfield village is clearly a well-trodden one, for the signage was unusually good all the way back to the village.  By now we had well and truly lost the sunshine as clouds had rolled in.  This did not diminish the views back across Ashdown Forest though – they were still very special.

The House at Pooh Corner
Back in Hartfield we did go to the House at Pooh Corner.  Surprisingly for me that is the first time I have ever been inside.  It was full of Pooh paraphernalia, which the girls loved.  By now though we were all rather more interested in the cup of tea – it was very welcome after our walk though the woods.  Since the walk both my girls have rediscovered Winnie-the-Pooh and not in a Disney way, which makes me feel rather good...

This walk appears as no.9 in Pathfinder Guide no.24 Surrey and Sussex and also walk no.13 in Pathfinder Guide no.67 East Sussex and the South Downs.