Monday, 7 June 2010

Downs Link Cranleigh - Guildford (Peasmarsh Junction)

A long overdue project is this short section of the Downs Link that I largely walked last year during my completion of the Wey-South Path. However much I duplicated the route then I was keen to redo the route properly as a pure exploration of the former rail line rather than a convenient route for following the former Wey and Arun Junction Canal (see last year’s entry at ). This 7 mile section is perhaps the one part of the Downs Link bridlepath that stands any chance of being re-opened, with several studies suggesting its viability.
Dry Canal Bed
As with the rest of the Downs Link I decided to cycle the route, knowing that it would be perfect for a summer’s evening activity. I parked up at Cranleigh Leisure Centre, close to where the former railway line would have passed. I headed down to meet the Downs Link a couple of hundred metres away and was surprised at how little of the route remained. In fact if the Downs Link didn’t come through here it would be practically impossible to know that trains passed through here at all! I turned right and headed towards Guildford as trains would have done until 1965. The station at Cranleigh has completely disappeared under a shopping centre, but I noticed a survivor in the shape of the former Crossing Keeper’s cottage, which I recognised due to its distinctive Victorian railway architecture. Pictures of the former station at Cranleigh can be found at the website which also shows that I was right about the crossing keeper’s cottage!
Bramley Gates
Once I had cleared Cranleigh the Downs Link becomes a much more obvious former railway route. As with the section to the south of Cranleigh the line is rather isolated from its surroundings by the amount of tree growth alongside the embankments and cuttings. Although this makes for a very pleasant environment it does make for difficulty in determining where you are relative to the surrounding countryside. The route from here to Bramley and Wonersh station was pretty easy going, suggesting that there were no gradients to speak of, as I had encountered on the previous section. Of course, much of the route I had previously walked last year but it was rather different looking in the opposite direction and cycling the route was definitely more enjoyable.
Double Canal Bridge
What was very noticeable compared to my last trip along here was the popularity of the route. Last year I had come this way on a Sunday evening, but this time it was earlier in the evening and on a Friday. The number of cyclists was more than double that I encountered last year, and I couldn’t help wondering whether it is a more popular transport corridor now than when it operated as a railway?
Godalming Navigation
Although much of the route was duplicated from last year, there was a section just south of Run Common where the Wey South Path actually diverted away from the railway line to try and follow the old canal more closely. What this meant was that I never actually got to see the railway crossing of the canal at its southernmost point before the two routes diverge. What I found was rather unexpected, and I suspect the result of the canal bed being used to house the railway line. The bridge had no archway and was just a brick structure set diagonally across the canal bed, with no obvious means for the water to flow from one side to the other (which was irrelevant anyway since the canal bed was dry!).
New Cycle Bridge Across Wey
After this curious diversion I continued on my way to the only other settlement on the remaining part of the railway, Bramley and Wonersh so called because the station wasn’t very convenient for either of them, set as it was about a mile from each of the villages. I didn’t hang around too long since I had explored thoroughly last year. Eventually I reached the main A281 road which is now crossed at level by the cycle route, although in years gone by the railway would have actually crossed underneath the road, hence the sharp gradient drop on the other side of the road. By the way, both this road crossing and the one where Bramley and Wonersh level crossing would once have been were absolute nightmares to get across on account of the traffic.
Approaching Peasmarsh Junction
Once across the road the last section of former line was truly new to me since the Wey South Path had followed the River Wey instead. This section of Downs Link was also off limits until relatively recently when a Sustrans bridge was installed to bridge the gap created by the demolition of the former railway bridge across the river. The new(ish) bridge offers about another mile onto the route and shortly after Peasmarsh Junction is reached, where the line met with the main Guildford to Portsmouth route. Now securely fenced off and hidden behind the bushes that have been allowed to grow up since closure, you might be forgiven for thinking that is the end of the route since from this point rails most definitely exist for the last couple of miles into Guildford.
Shalford Chord Bridge
However, I was in for a pleasant surprise since a large part of the old Shalford chord is open for walkers and cyclists. This long forgotten route never even saw trains as far as I am aware. Although the earthworks mostly exist and there is even one surviving bridge, no rails were ever laid and I’m not even sure that a bridge was built across the River Wey. I assume its function was to allow direct trains from Dorking/ Redhill to Portsmouth but this rail route was never actually completed. Anyhow, it added another half a mile to my cycle ride, abruptly stopping at the pill box that I had inspected last year.
Shalford Pillbox
Although this part of the Downs Link largely duplicated the Wey South Path I completed last year, it was a very different experience coming by bicycle and proved to be a good warm up for the weekly walks/ cycle rides that I hope to do during the summer months. In all it was a fourteen mile round trip, which I didn’t think too shabby. Next time I think I shall try something a little more ambitious.

No comments:

Post a Comment