Sunday, 31 May 2015

Horsted Keynes and the Bluebell Railway

Horsted Keynes
For my next walk I had a little companion in the shape of oldest daughter so deliberately picked a shorter walk for us to do.  Given that we were still in the height of bluebell season it seemed somehow appropriate to undertake a walk in the vicinity of the Bluebell Railway and walk number 9 from volume 66 of the Pathfinder Guide West Sussex and the South Downs fitted the bill perfectly.

Horsted Keynes Church
We parked in the heart of Horsted Keynes village rather than the suggested start point of Horsted Keynes station.  This seemed a more sensible option considering that we were not going to be paying passengers today.  We dropped down from the village green and headed along the road towards the church admiring the laburnham and apple blossom that was now out in full flush along the way.  It wasn't long before we turned off the road to head down a path between fields that was lavishly decorated with all manner of spring flowers and several butterflies that had come to see what good eating was in the area.  In particular we stood and admired a small tortoiseshell that had landed on the path right in front of us.

Small Tortoiseshell
A little way further along the path and we came to the first lake of the day - one of a series of furnace ponds that would once have driven water wheels for the iron industry.  Once a commonplace industry in this part of Sussex the iron works have long since disappeared, leaving only the ponds as a reminder of what was once here.  Of course nature has done its best to ensure that they now look as if they have always been there and the ponds provide useful habitats for so many species.  The dam end of the lake was also pretty marshy so we had to watch our step as we made our way along this side.

Greater Stitchwort
On the other side was a small woodland and our track was still pretty wet so we had to pick our way through as we admired the show of bluebells along the way.  At the top end of the wood a woodpecker feverishly tapped away at the trunk of a dead tree.  We also had a treat in the shape of a small patch of common spotted orchids growing in place of bluebells in a small corner of the woodland.

First Lake
Just past the wood and we reached the road that heads down to the station at Horsted Keynes.  As with many country stations this one was built some distance from the village it was intended to serve.  In fact Horsted Keynes station is more than a mile from the village, which was far from convenient for any passenger wanting to catch the train.  Unusually though this station had a large choice of destinations for it was easy to get to London, Brighton, Lewes, East Grinstead and Haywards Heath from here.  Even now in its guise as a through station rather than country junction it is an impressive sight as it was built with slightly preposterous extravagance considering the passenger numbers that would once have used it.  The final train under British Rail management left the station in 1963 and shortly after the station became the northern terminus of the preserved Bluebell Railway until 1994 when the northern extension to Kingscote opened.

Horsted Keynes Station
We took the opportunity to have our lunch in the picnic area outside the station and wait for the next train to come.  Horsted Keynes is a passing point for the trains on the Bluebell Railway but we had to be patient for the trains as there was nearly an hour before their arrival.  Eventually the appointed hour came and we headed on our way to the bridge at the northern end of the station.  Unfortunately I misjudged the arrival time for the down train and it came earlier than I expected and we missed it.  By the time we reached the bridge it was already in the station.  We did hang around for the up train though and it wasn't long before the chuffing of the engine came through.  As the northward trains have to negotiate a couple of steep climbs the show they put on is rather better than the down trains anyhow.  My daughter was thrilled to reprise what many schoolboys of the early 20th Century must have done - watch the smoke billow up across her face as the train thundered through underneath the bridge.

Up Train Approaching
Excitement over we continued on our way.  Unusually the onward path took up residence on the trackbed alongside the working line (albeit with a fence between us).  Alongside the path was a pretty healthy crop of wild strawberries, although these were only in the flowering stage and not bearing fruit just yet.  Alongside the trees were also sporting nice new foliage and the scene was one of a healthy lime green for the most part.  Sadly we had lost the sun now and for the remaining part of the walk it was overcast conditions, which was a little sad considering how promising the day had been.

Heading North
After half a mile or so we crossed the line by means of a walkers level crossing and headed up the side of the field opposite to an over bridge.  Our path took us away from the railway now but we passed a family having a picnic in the next field who had a panoramic view of the line.  I suspect they had chosen that spot very wisely...

Level Crossing
We crossed the same road we had done earlier (albeit further north) at a place called Tanyard, which was a very well appointed looking house that would probably appear on any lottery winner's wish list.  We crossed a steep field to the side of it and then across another dam and pond at the bottom.  Such little features I think make any walk that bit more special.  My daughter certainly enjoyed it although the drop at the far end reminded us briefly of our time in Madeira!  

We rounded a very large field on the other side of the woods, catching a view of the South Downs far away in the distance as we did so.  By now the sun had completely disappeared so what should have been a magnificent view was in fact a rather duller version than we could have hoped for.  Never mind though for we were to dive into the woods again for more bluebells.  As the walk turned into more of a pleasant stroll through pleasant but unremarkable countryside our conversations got a little deeper and I have to confess that I concentrated less on my surroundings and more on the company.

Broadhurst Lake
Eventually we dropped down into some woods that headed along a track that looked as if it could once have been a road but never quite made it as a surfaced lane.  We passed by Broadhurst Manor, now an animal sanctuary and guarded by a very large wall.  On our right began a succession of ponds and we were rather amused to see a family of geese doing what looked like formation swimming.  At the far end of the woods and ponds we came upon Horsted Keynes churchyard.  We paused to take a look as there is a rather famous person buried there in the shape of former Prime Minister Harold MacMillan.  Despite his importance his grave was rather overshadowed by a family member.  Nevertheless it was an interesting talking point for my daughter who of course had never heard of him.  He was Prime Minister before I was born so I have no memory of him in that role but I do remember him in later life when he was in the House of Lords.  It kicked off a lengthy conversation about politics which my daughter has only recently become aware of.

MacMillan Grave
From the church it was a short wander back to the car.  Despite the modest length of this walk (5 miles) we really enjoyed the varied nature of the scenery and the different aspects of Sussex history that we explored.  It was also a good reminder that Sussex isn't just about the Downs - other areas like this are just as interesting and enjoyable to explore.

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