Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Downs Link Shoreham-by-Sea - Henfield

Bridge Abutment at Shoreham

I’m back on my bike this week for another foray along an old railway line.  Following my foray along part of the Downs Link in April I thought that I should take another look at the line.  This time I chose the southernmost section nearest to where I live.  Since I had only an evening available to me I decided to split the Shoreham to Southwater section into two sections.  I have discovered that exploration can take some considerable time on these cycle rides and the outward journey can take almost twice as long as the return leg!
Adur Guardian
I parked at Ropetackle where there are a few parking spaces (which I used to manage!).  Crucially parking here on a Sunday is free of charge, which is worth knowing if you plan a similar trip.  From the car park I headed along the river frontage of the buildings and under the main River Adur railway bridge, which carries the West Coastwayrailway line.  For a short stretch the path is a little uneven and not made up, but inexplicably and without warning a tarmac section suddenly appears.  To start with this is just the riverside walk but after a sharp dogleg the path aligns itself with the old trackbed.  This is obvious because there is an old buffer stop still in place, possibly left behind when this stretch of track was removed in the early 1990s following the closure of Beeding Cement Works.  However, I did notice that the buffer stop did appear to be facing towards Beeding rather than Shoreham, which I thought slightly odd.
The Only Train Now

Before continuing on my way I took a detour down the unmade section of rail route as far as I could (as far as a missing overbridge) and the connection with the Coastway route can still clearly be traced, although for how much longer is anybody’s guess since development seems to be gathering pace in this area of Shoreham.  I retraced my route back to the tarmac and continued north alongside the River Adur.  Although not as scenic as the Arun a few miles further along the coast, the valley is not without interest.  On the opposite side of the river is Shoreham Airport, which supposedly houses the oldest passenger terminal in Britain.  A vintage biplane took off as I passed, followed by the police helicopter, just to prove that the old place was still busy.
Beeding Cement Works

A little further upstream and the river is dominated by a couple of bridges of different vintages.  The first is the delightful old Tollbridge, which has recently been renovated from its previously rickety state to an asset that Shoreham can be justifiably proud.  Indeed the old thing is quite a survivor, having been left to rot after being closed to motor traffic in 1970.  Prior to that it used to carry cars on what was then the A27.  Hard to believe now!  The queues must have been phenomenal once since there was a toll and a level crossing immediately after to negotiate!  Further upstream is the replacement bridge, the preposterously big Adur Flyover, complete with very large slip roads enabling cars to access the river level A283 with the A27 as it comes from the Mill Hill cutting and heads across the Arun.  In these days of more frugal road-building programmes I rather doubt that a structure of this size would be provided here now.  Indeed when the railway was still carrying passengers, the bridge didn’t exist.
Botolphs Church

The last building of note in this area is the rather ostentatious chapel attached to Lancing College.  This dominates the lower Adur Valley (in a good way).  From the Adur Flyover, the route is rather bumpy and unremarkable for the next couple of miles (allowing for some time to get up speed).  Eventually the trackbed widens out, signalling the approach to Beeding Cement Works. This was once a hive of activity and freight traffic continued to use the line as far as this until about 1990 when the works closed.  Most of the buildings remain although in a very shabby state, perhaps not surprising after 20 years of closure.  Many schemes have been put forward to regenerate the works, some sensible (such as installing an incinerator) to the more hairbrained (an artificial ski slope or the new site for a football stadium that would house Brighton and Hove Albion).  Whatever the scheme, the cost of clearing the site and dealing with any contamination is obviously too high for any would be developer and the site remains derelict.
Beeding Castle

Fortunately the route of the Downs Link runs around the perimeter, which is protected from prying eyes from some fairly large trees.  Glimpses into the site show a large graveyard for buses, lorries, portakabins and all manner of other equipment.  Even just clearing this would be a major undertaking, let alone all the other derelict buildings.  At the end of the plant, I took a sharp right, forced on me as the bridge that once carried the railway over the River Adur has long since been removed.  The Downs Link here follows the riverbank once more, although as I was finally leaving the site of the works, I found more evidence of the railway, when I crossed some tracks embedded in the path and another buffer stop a little further along.  This would have once been the sidings for the cement trucks.
Bridge Remnant

I crossed the river by means of the South Downs Way footbridge by Botolphs and once again regained the old trackbed heading north.  This section didn’t last long for less than a mile later and the old line is absorbed by the A283 Steyning by-pass.  The cycled path continues as a running mate to the road, allowing for more off road cycling but for the next almost three miles the Downs Link has to make do with alternative routes as the trackbed isn’t available.
Downs Line
  
Just about where the roundabout is between Bramber and Steyning once stood the old Bramber station.  Sadly no trace exists now and Steyning, about half a mile north has little trace either apart from a retaining wall in the by-pass cutting and a row of railway cottages on the station approach.
Adur Bridge

I took a little detour at Bramber to have a look at the old castle.  Very little of the structure remains (for a little history see http://www.sussex.co.uk/history/bramber-castle.htm ) except for a very tall fragment of the keep and some of the curtain wall around the motte).  However, it is a lovely spot for a picnic and well worth the diversion from the Downs Link.
Adur Cows

From the site of Bramber station the Downs Link heads away from the line of the old route and around the base of the motte of the castle before crossing a housing estate.  I negotiated a few country lanes that got progressively a little worse until eventually the tarmac runs out and the route follows rough farm tracks.  At one point I crossed what was once clearly a railway bridge, although where the track would once have gone has been filled in almost to the underneath of the bridge, leaving only a small air gap.  The line of the route can be traced in either direction, but sadly neither are available for walking or cycling.  This linking section was not enjoyable since the terrain was quite rough and covered in loose stones.  Just before regaining the trackbed though is a view along the line of the South Downs by Truleigh Hill and Devils Dyke as far as Wolstenbury Hill.  On a summer’s evening the shadows created by the low sun was particularly lovely and helped me forget about the uncomfortable ride I had taken to get here.
Heading Back

However, when I finally regained the trackbed about a mile north of the built up area, I was glad that I had persevered to this point.  The ride up to Henfield was beautiful and yet unremarkable.  What is striking about this section of line is that there are a number of bridges over culverts and watercourses, but no overbridges, which occasionally means that you can forget you are on a railway line at all.  My favourite bridge of all was across the River Adur, which probably survived only because it is some distance from the nearest road and would have meant an expensive removal job.  The lineside was now beginning to build with trees and shrubs, giving a slightly more closed in feel reminiscent of other lines I have cycled along.  Yet along this stretch were remnants of what were probably once farm crossings where the gateways still afforded views across the clay vale of the Adur Valley and the South Downs beyond.  Particularly striking was the landmark of Chanctonbury Ring.
Lancing College

Eventually I reached Henfield and once again the station has been completely obliterated, this time by a housing estate.  The road has been called ‘The Beechings’, no doubt by a developer with a warped sense of humour or sense of honour for the man that made the development possible.
Old Shoreham Bridge

On the whole this is an enjoyable ride, but I wouldn’t bother with the ‘missing link’ again.  If I want to come again I will start from Southwater and continue only as far as the end of the trackbed north of Steyning.  The stretch between Shoreham and Beeding Cement Works is moderately interesting but only really for a single trip, rather than somewhere you would want to return again and again.  As with many rail routes, it would probably be most enjoyable as an end to end ride without having to retrace your steps/ wheels.  However, with the whole route being 37 miles long, time will always be against me.
Coastway Line

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