Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Sussex Border Path 13 Warnham and Friday Street












I have been very lucky with the weather this winter, with yet another fabulously sunny day lined up for my latest foray on the Sussex Border Path. This time I had the added dimension of a covering of snow for my walk near Horsham. I had ummed and ahhed about how to complete the next section and although not the most convenient place to include I decided that I wanted to include the village of Warnham in my walk. I had remembered that Warnham is quite a picturesque village, with a lovely church and one or two other unusual things I could throw into the mix. It was a bit ambitious to hope that I might also make it to Rusper at the other end of the section of official route given the late start that was necessary and lack of daylight hours.However, I designed a route that I could cut short if necessary.

A few days before my walk it had snowed fairly heavily north of the Downs and although Worthing hadn’t got any, a work trip only two days earlier confirmed that there was still plenty around further north. On the way up the A24 though it didn’t look like I was going to see much. I parked up just outside Warnham Church and was immediately confronted with a fair amount of snow covering the churchyard.

I took the time to have a wander around the church yard enjoying the white stuff before moving on. This was the church where the (in)famous writer Percy Bysche Shelley was baptised in 1792. The air was very cold and the chill was enough to catch me right into my lungs. These are almost perfect conditions for walking as it encourages a good pace in order to keep me warm. I headed out in good spirits then to head along a well used path that carried me past all the important features of the village, including the school and cricket pitch. I had to smile when I passed the latter as there was a large snowball in the nets, as though someone had bowled it there!

At the other end of the village I headed out across snowy fields, where I quickly discovered that it was easier to stay on the snow rather than try to walk along any thawed sections. The sun had been doing its best to melt the snow and in the thawed out parts the mud was treacherous and every time I strayed on to it I almost slid straight over! These fields were very popular with dog walkers and I met a number of people all heading back in the opposite direction, I suppose for their lunch after an earlier start.

After crossing a number of fields I came upon a fairly substantial bridle path, which I turned right onto. This had all the hallmarks of a once more important route and as I consulted the map I realised that in the opposite direction to that which I took is the large house of Warnham Manor. The configuration of the path I was on suggested that this was probably once one of the main tracks to it. The track crossed some woodland that looked really good with the covering of snow and low winter sunshine shining through it. In a few places I could see where the snow had melted a little only to refreeze overnight during this bitterly cold week.It did make for some interesting mini icicles on even the smallest leaves. The walking underfoot was also deliciously crunchy!

At the other end of the track I joined what is still a road, the main route now heading off towards Warnham village rather than the Manor House. Luckily this stretch of road walking was quite short but passed by the most curious building I had seen in a long time. It had the appearance of a fairy tale castle and sported a very large clock face. It looked rather out of place in the Sussex countryside, looking almost like something out of a Brothers’ Grimm story. I later learned that it was originally a water tower for the now demolished Warnham Lodge estate, built in 1891 but redundant from its original use in the 1930s.The main house was built for Sir Henry Harbin, the chairman of the Prudential Insurance Company, and was demolished in the 1960s.Many of the estate houses still exist and the old water tower is apparently open one day per year (mental note – must find out when that is!).

Just past the tower I took a left along another estate road, this time heading towards a Dutch style farmhouse. As I walked along the track leading to the house I mused about how tricky it must have been to drive along there when the snow first came. Fortunately a few days later and the wheel ruts were perfectly thawed while the centre was still covered in snow. As it reached the house the track stopped, leaving me with only a footpath down to the A29. Luckily this was easy enough to cross and my onward walk down through the trees on the other side passed by several clumps of snowdrops, such a wonderful late winter sight! Even with snow everywhere this was a great reminder that the end of winter would soon be upon us.

I crossed a small river by means of a lichen encrusted footbridge and looked down at the river below. It was obviously a very slow moving stream for it was completely frozen in places, while the rest had a texture that resembled slush puppy. Yet the onward path had almost completely melted and I cursed the mud that had ensued.Very strange conditions! I passed through Dawes Farm, which seems to be some kind of horse veterinary hospital these days and onwards to Monks Farm where I finally found the official Sussex Border Path route that I had left a couple of weeks earlier. Conditions couldn’t have been more different – from the earlier sea of mud I was now faced with the thickest snow I had yet come across. The crystals from the ice that had formed from several days of frost since were quite remarkable.

At Monks Farm I came across a lot more activity than I had last time. There appeared to be some kind of hunt going on. I guess in these days of no fox hunting that it was a drag hunt, but to my untrained eye I couldn’t see or hear much difference. There were lots of older men in their country gear standing around waiting for something to happen, while in the distance I could hear the unmistakable sound of a pack of hounds barking in excitement. I passed the same horses that I had done a coupel of weeks before, this time covered in even more outdoor wear to protect them from the worst of the cold. They packed together nonetheless to try and stay warm in the cold frozen field.

At Monks Farm I joined the former Roman Road of Stane Street. I have of course come across this road on my walks, notably as it crosses the South Downs Way at Bignor Hill. However, this is the first time I had actually walked any stretch of it. Most of the Roman Road north of the Downs is still used for the A29 as it heads up from the south coast towards London. However, this section is unused as the A29 deviates from the line for about seven miles through this northern part of Sussex. To the untrained eye, it doesn’t look much like an ancient highway. It is straight though and after some length I guess it would seem a little more obvious. I didn’t get much chance to too much of a feel for it as the Border Path took a right hand turn after a short length.

The next stage of the walk back towards the A29 was delightful, heading along an icy track initially tree lined and then through snow covered mossy woods. By now the sun was as high in the sky as it was ever going to get and the light was fabulous. I did start to think that I wasn’t going to get to my intended destination of Rusper and hit upon the idea that I might see if I could get a bus from there back to Warnham. I didn’t think this would be cheating as it wouldn’t be on the official route, just cutting off some of my loop. Any thoughts in this direction were soon scotched though as I realised that there seems to be no bus service on a Saturday from Rusper L.

My route continued straight across the A29 through Denne Farm along a very welcome concrete track. At this time of year I have decided that all weather surfaces are my friends and I am happy to do a lot more road walking than I would in the summer months. Denne Farm was apparently once a pig farm, although the pig sheds looked quite derelict when I passed by. The main farmhouse though was wonderfully ancient looking, half timbered and I am guessing built with local brick, giving it a warm pinkish colour that was heightened by the surrounding snow.

Just past here and I had some route confusion. The finger post pointed in a different direction than the map suggested. I decided to follow my instincts and stick with the map. I am glad that I did, for just a little further along the path and the route signs continued in the direction I thought they ought to. By now the aeroplanes that had been bugging me all day were seemingly right overhead. As I continued I realised that they were all heading into land at Gatwick and they continued almost like a conveyor belt at intervals of about two minutes. Fortunately the gaps in between allowed me to enjoy the signing of the birds through yet another stretch of woodland.

At the hamlet of Paynes Green I resumed road walking for a bit. This enabled me to pick up the pace again for a short while although it was fairly clear to me by now that I would have to do some route changes in order to get back to Warnham for about 5pm when darkness was likely to fall. Smugglers Lane soon turned into a small track once again just after the magnificent house at Oakdale Farm. As I passed through the gate just beyond I also came upon the first people out on a leisure outing, this time on two wheels though rather than foot. They were thankful they didn’t have to get off their bikes as I was on hand to open the gate for them.

The next farm I came across had some animal action in its very frozen looking yard, with a small group of pigs snuffling around in the snow looking for food. Across the way were a group of skittish ducks, trying desperately to take a swim in the only free water in an otherwise iced up pond. It proved to be the only pond with free water in it for awhile, which probably accounted for how busy it was. All the other ponds in Wattlehurst Farm were completely frozen. A view across to the Surrey Hills beyond revealed a very white outlook – clearly the snow was more persistent the further north you looked.

I left the nicely surfaced track that I had been following for the last couple of miles to cross a field that was actually quite tricky on account of the ankle deep snow that had drifted across it. As I descended across the field I soon realised that all the snow at the bottom of the field had actually been blown across to the top, leaving a lot of green at the bottom, rather different to what I might have expected.

The path left the field and passed through a wintry wooded glade, complete with another very frozen looking pond before passing by the impressive looking house known as Bonnetts. The path skirted around the grounds of this large Elizabethan style house giving only glimpses of the impressive architecture. At the top of the path I took a wrong turn, heading along a small footpath instead of on the main route. I only discovered my mistake when I reached the A24, a little further on. Instead of having a path opposite as I should have done I found to my horror that I was about 200 metres further south. There was only one thing for it and that was to walk along the side of the main road in order to regain my route. This turned out to be a most unpleasant experience as there was no footway and precious little clearance.

Thankfully I didn’t have too far to go and soon got on to my route once again. I was now starting to think about plan B for my onward route as it was clear that I wasn’t going to make it to Rusper and Warnham before nightfall. I decided therefore to cut my route short at the Royal Oak pub in Friday Street. I crossed over the Horsham to Dorking railway line and then took a left across fields skirting what looked like a fishing club. All the ponds were frozen over though, giving the fish a welcome if chilly respite from the sportsmen. Navigation through this section wasn’t that easy and I felt rather unconvinced of my route finding. However, I needn’t have worried as it was merely the signage that was lacking and not my navigation skills.

At the Royal Oak I decided to continue my route along the road known as Friday Street. After some tricky conditions underfoot I was quite glad of a solid route for awhile and was pleased to note that the road wasn’t too busy. In fact I only saw a couple of cars in the mile that I walked along. At Cripplegate I was surprised to find an East Sussex style finger post – never seen one in West Sussex before (the styles are very different). I took the opportunity to leave the road at this spot and dived back into the woods. Alongside me was a very large fence and I remembered that on the other side were some fairly extensive quarries that once belonged to the brick making industry. Quarrying operations are still the order of the day in some of these workings but one section is now home to all the rubbish being produced by households in West Sussex!

Fortunately both of these uses are out of sight through the woods of Northlands Copse and Graylands. In fact there are no hints at all of industry going on, with no noise to disturb the ambience of the woods. Against all my expectations I really enjoyed walking through this stretch, considering that it didn’t look very promising on the map. The sun was starting to fade and the winter trees were picked out in golden light against the backdrop of the snow. Eventually when I emerged from the woods I stood blinking for a moment in the low winter sunshine after the gloominess under the trees. I could see Horsham ahead of me and knew now that I didn’t have far to go. Behind me stood the large house at Graylands. This was once the retreat of the owner of the Kimberley Diamond Mines and then the HQ of Redland Bricks. It is now a business centre, probably quite a nice place to entertain clients!

I looped around the fields to find myself on Friday Street once again and had to double back a short distance to get myself onto the approach road to Warnham station. I was surprised to see that this was a no-through road as it wasn’t obvious from the map that that would be the case. Along the tree lined road I could hear the unmistakable sound of lapwings and their ‘pee-wit’ calls. A couple strayed close enough that I could see their head feathers – a nice little touch of class from Mother Nature! No such luck with a picture though – I would just have to make do with the memory!

When I got to Warnham station, I could immediately see why this was a no through road – the level crossing has been taken out and the track fenced off for vehicles. Sadly the old wooden gates have been removed and replaced by something a lot more functional, but to see what they once looked like take a look at the picture hosted here - http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/28329. Sadly the signal box has also been recently demolished but other than that the station looks in pretty good nick. Its hourly service is rather surprising given that it is over a mile to the village that it is supposed to serve. Most stations like this are long gone.

Alongside Warnham station is a line of cottages that were probably built originally for railway workers and/ or the brick making industry. They look like pretty nice places to live, albeit a little lonely and rather too dependent for my liking on a one road in and out arrangement. The road today was frosting already in this late afternoon and the sun was now sinking fast. I got my skates on and headed to the village of Warnham, crossing the busy A24 once more en route. The sun finally disappeared below the church just before I reached it at 5pm. I breathed a sigh of relief that there would be no road walking after dark this time, especially as there had been rather a lot for the last few miles.

This was a section of the Sussex Border Path that was improved by the addition of Warnham and a decent covering of snow. Both of these factors added an extra dimension to the walk, which may have been rather dull otherwise. If it had been a full day’s walking or with more walker friendly conditions I think that getting to Rusper would have been a definite possibility. However, I was pleased that I didn’t include those extra couple of miles as I only just managed to get back in daylight hours as it was! The next part of the journey should be ideal for plane spotting as I will come within a short distance of Gatwick.


6 comments:

  1. Hello - Very nice blog!

    I walk also and enjoy reading about walks other folks take around the world. I will stop by time to time and read more of your postings. Thanks

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  2. Thanks very much Scott! I'm glad you have been enjoying my ramblings!

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  3. Lovely report. That last picture is a cracker.

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  4. Thanks Jon - that's very kind of you to say so. I'm glad I changed to this blog design - I think it shows off the pictures better

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  5. Hi Paul

    I don't know the parts of the country you are presently walking but I have to say that your narrative and photographs brings it to life. One thing I do miss is the mileage you do each day, it gives an appreciation of the effort you have put in.

    Bill

    http://www.walksintameside.co.uk

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  6. Thanks Bill,
    This is very much home territory for me, although since walking the Border Path I've realised how little I know about northern Sussex! I appreciate your kind comments - they are very welcome!

    Regards
    Paul

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