Sunday, 19 November 2017

Barcombe Mills and the Ouse Valley

Barcombe Mills Station
Back to Sussex for the next walk and this one oozes nostalgia for me as this was an area that I spent much of my youth in.  I was accompanied by big daughter for this walk courtesy of an INSET day and she got to hear plenty of stories of yesteryear as we headed round the four and a half mile loop.  This is walk 5 from Pathfinder Guide vol 67 East Sussex and the South Downs.

Trackbed North of Barcombe Mills
Our walk started at the erstwhile Barcombe Mills station, closed in 1969 and not by Dr Beeching like so many others but as a result of the severing of the route in Lewes by a road scheme.  Sadly the road scheme was obsolete by the time it was built and replaced by a by-pass only 9 years later.  After closure it was derelict for many years and became a tearoom for a short period of time before reverting to a house.  It remains in good condition even though a train hasn't called here in nearly 50 years.

When I was a kid and less than a decade after closure we moved to a house only a stone's throw from the old line and the cutting that ran past our house became a playground for me in the few years that we lived there.  By the time I was old enough I resolved to walk the length of the line and did so with a friend of mine.  We had to take a detour for part of the route at the Lewes end but it was essentially complete after that all the way into the old goods yard at Uckfield station.  The first part of our route today walked part of the trackbed to the north of Barcombe Mills station and is one of the few lengths of the route that isn't overgrown or blocked off.  For most of my life there has been much chatter about re-opening it but it would take a good deal of investment judging by the shape of it.

Autumn Colours
The trackbed here is in pretty decent condition but the going is rather easier than it was in the early 1980s when I remember this section being bare ballast.  It isn't any more although the compacted surface makes for good walking.  All along the side of the embankment were signs of autumn - plenty of berries were on show and it looks like a great corridor for wildlife these days.  After crossing a couple of bridges over drainage ditches the line became more tree lined and it was clear how much vegetation encroachment had taken place since my last expedition along here.  In fact the path was quite hemmed in in places.

Level Crossing
At the next level crossing we came upon some rails still in place but it was obvious that the way ahead was no longer accessible and we had to turn left along Anchor Lane for a short distance.  The crossing keeper's cottage was still in situ and made for a good looking home.  It was also up for sale - I wish I had a bit of loose change as I would surely have been first in the queue.  Our walk along the lane was short lived - we turned right along the rather strange Blunt's Lane.  This was seemingly a bit of spare ground between fields and hemmed in by hedges rather than a lane that I would normally have recognised.  Along the way we passed by a pillbox notable for the poor condition of its bricks.  Rather bizarrely the mortar looked in far better shape.

Our luck then ran out with underfoot conditions as we found ourselves walking along a tributary of the River Ouse.  The mud was pretty horrific along a short stretch of path and we went quickly from pristine to being completely covered!  Fortunately this section was short lived and after we had crossed via a small footbridge we managed to find a much more dry path across the next field.  By now the overcast day was relenting a bit too and the odd patch of sunshine was helping us along our way.

The next bridge took us across the River Ouse proper and our route back would now largely be long the riverbank back to Barcombe Mills.  It wasn't far past this spot that we saw our only other walker on the whole day - a dog walker helping keep his dog clean by throwing a ball in the river for him.  He had the right idea for a little further along and the mud came back to haunt us as we approached the old railway once again, this time by a bridge over the river.  This bridge still seems to be in good condition despite the length of time since a train passed over it.  I imagine it was left here because of the relative difficulty of retrieving it.

Ouse Bridge
A little further past the bridge and we passed by the Anchor pub.  This is a good spot for a spot of lunch and perhaps on another day we might have done so but for the fact we had had lunch before setting out.  For such a remote pub (it is a couple of miles from the nearest village) it looks in pretty good health.  It is still possible to take a boating trip along the river although the boats looked completely idle today!

River Ouse
We passed by the pub and watched the weir for a short time.  I was always fascinated by this as a child - perhaps the nearest thing to a waterfall I saw in my local area!  Further along the river and we passed by a house being renovated into something quite amazing looking.  It now has a small moat around it with bridges across from the path we were on.  It all looks rather charming.

Rail Bridge
We left the river for a short while and headed across another field before coming to a lengthy footbridge that I remember very well.  I always had an affinity for footbridges and this was always one of my favourites as a kid - we used to play pooh sticks from it all the time.  From here the path winds around the river bank underneath the embankment guarding Barcombe Reservoir and I always found this a bit mysterious for you never see the expanse of water beyond.

The Anchor
Eventually we found our way back to Barcombe Mills.  This place has a couple of bits of history for me - the first are the erstwhile mills themselves.  These burned down in 1939 but the water features that served them are still in place and fascinate me as much now as when I was a boy.  The second feature is a lot more personal and rather less obvious - the Bob Davis Scout Hut which lurks at the back of a nearby farm.  I wasn't even sure it was still there as I hadn't been in more than 25 years.  I remember being at the official opening in 1979 at a tender age having just joined Scouts.  The group I belonged to was one of the strongest in all of Sussex but sadly fell by the wayside many years ago.  I was pleased to see that the hut was still there although it was obviously all shut up.  I felt rather heartened that all our hard work keeping the place going (including several repaintings - I'm not sure it always needed it but was a great excuse for staying out there) had not gone to waste.  It was a lovely way to complete our walk and for my daughter to learn more about my young life.

House Renovation
This may not be the most exciting walk and it was certainly not helped by an overcast day but for me this was a great trip down memory lane and I reckon I will do this one again in a few years time.

Pooh Sticks Bridge

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