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!


  1. Sounds like a good walk thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. Thanks for your kind comment John - much appreciated :)