Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Sussex Coast Walk Day 11 Exceat Bridge - Eastbourne

Cuckmere Haven
I feel a sense of déjà vu again today as I finally get around to walking the next section of this route along my home county coastline after a break of seven months.  Actually this was a deliberate move on my part as when I last came this way in February 2009  (http://worthingwanderer.blogspot.com/2009/02/south-downs-way-day-nine-berwick.html) it was an exceptionally cold day and I vowed that I would not come here again until it was a warm and still day.  Well I definitely found the right day, although the stillness of the air meant that a rather annoying cloud sitting above me for the first couple of hours of walking time didn’t actually move and spoiled my pictures somewhat!
Watching for the Enemy

This is probably the finest coastal walk in the whole of the South-East of England (run pretty close by the south-west coast of the Isle of Wight) and should therefore be savoured in as good a weather as you can manage.  An evening walk across here is particularly special, but not on offer today.  Rather than replicate my South Downs Way walk along here (which almost completely duplicates the route from Exceat), I decided to stick as closely as possible to the shoreline.  The SDW takes a route down the valley along the sides to show as good a view of the valley as possible, but today I followed the canal cut of the Cuckmere River to its mouth.  This gave me a rather different perspective of the valley, since the sounds in the air were dominated by the calls of wading birds rather than the flocks of sheep higher up.  Lapwings in particular seemed to be quite common along here, although I also watched an extended family of geese swimming on the river itself.
Heading Along the Sisters

The canal cut of the river takes the main flow of water through the valley these days, although it is mooted to restore flow through the former meander loops to help with coastal protection and flooding.  This will undoubtedly change the character of the valley, into what is hoped to be a more natural environment (see http://www.sevensisters.org.uk/rte.asp?id=82 for more details).  Walking along the straight channel though is undoubtedly a much quicker way of reaching Cuckmere Haven.

Happy Birthday!

The tide was on its way out when I reached the beach and for walkers attempting the full distance between Seaford and Eastbourne it is worth noting that at low tide it is perfectly possible to ford the Cuckmere River at its mouth as the water level drops very low.  Given the speed of the current at high tide though it should not be attempted at any other time.  If you manage it though it will save a couple of miles of walking.
Halfway Along The Sisters

I wandered along the shingle beach, which was completely deserted.  This is probably as natural a beach as you are likely to find in Sussex and I have always had a special fondness for it ever since I first came here in my childhood.  Walking along the shingle was a bit hard going, but I soon came across a sight that I hadn’t expected to find – a World Cup football.  Surely not a stray pass from Cape Town that had drifted here?  I suspect it was a ball that had been kicked too far into the sea, which returned it to the beach later.  My good fortune I suppose.
Birling Gap

At the edge of the beach where it once again gave way to headland in the form of Haven Brow, I couldn’t help notice the collection of pillboxes protecting the beach.  I had already been past a set of tank traps, suggesting that the MoD had concerns that this unpopulated estuary posed a big security risk during World War 2.  Luckily these structures don’t detract from the scenic beauty of Cuckmere Haven but serve a reminder of what might have been needed if things had gone differently all those years ago.
Looking Back to Cuckmere

From here I started the rollercoaster that is the Seven Sisters.  Fittingly perhaps, the highest one is first and from the beach Haven Brow is a stiff climb, more than I imagined for last time I approached via the South Downs Way, a much more gentle ascent almost with the contours.  As I neared the top I paused to regain my breath and enjoy the view across to Cuckmere Haven.  This is a view almost ignored by photographers who invariably point their cameras at where I was standing from the opposite side of the valley. That view is undeniably one of the most famous coastal views in Britain, but from the top of Haven Brow the view is pretty special too!  After a brief pause I continued on my way across the Seven Sisters and enjoying them far more than the windy and cold trip I had last time!  The only annoyance this time was the cloud above more, which was thinning but almost at the same rate as I was walking, so that the cloud line seemed to be above me all the time!
Wave Cut Platform

Being such a beautiful day there was a lot more activity across the cliffs than last time, underlying what a popular walk this is.  Yet, there was still plenty of room for solitude and the presence of everybody else didn’t detract from my visit.  I soon became intrigued by an unusual form of graffiti when I noticed that many of the previous day’s visitors had spelled out messages from pieces of broken chalk on Short Brow, the second of the Sisters.
Looking Back to the Sisters

I am always surprised at how short the walk is from the top of Haven Brow to Birling Gap, which takes only about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on how long you want to admire the views for!).  The trouble is that I always think that the hardest part of the walk is done, but the truth is that the next couple of miles over Beachy Head are much harder, partly because I always think that by the time I reach Birling Gap that I have mostly completed the job! 
Belle Tout

As it was low tide and still going out when I reached Birling Gap I decided to explore the wave cut platform for a bit.  I had ideas of walking around the base of the cliffs to Eastbourne since I still had three hours before the lowest tide would be reached.  However after a couple of hundred metres of some pretty tough walking across rockpools I thought better of it, especially as I know how far it actually is around Beachy Head!  The shingle soon runs out just beyond Birling Gap and there are some pretty big rockfalls at the base of the cliffs to remind you how active this coast is.  The effect of the rockfalls is to force you out even further into slippery and tougher terrain still.  I soon decided that the nice turf of the clifftop was a much friendlier surface to walk on, even if it meant that I would have to puff and blow my way up Beachy Head!
Beachy Head Lighthouse

A little further on from Birling Gap I was pleased to see that the Belle Tout lighthouse renovations were complete and the scaffolding had been removed.  I couldn’t help but smile though when I saw that the road that I had considered to scary to walk on last time had been abandoned and replaced by another concrete road about 50 metres further inland.  I wouldn’t mind betting that the original road will be gone within 20 years, leaving no trace whatsoever.  At this point last February, I had lost interest in my surroundings courtesy of a sharp easterly Siberian wind but by now the annoying cloud above me had finally shifted and all was still and warm.  Far from being the struggle I thought Beachy Head would be, getting up to the top was a much easier prospect today.  I was rather nervous about how close some of the other visitors got to the edge, especially a Japanese couple hell bent on getting the perfect shot of the lighthouse below and taking some incredible risks in the process.
View From Beachy Head

The top of Beachy Head was thronged with foreign students, mostly German judging from their appearance and the little conversation I actually overheard.  I mostly tried to block them out so that I could enjoy the view in peace, but there were instances when I winced at the risk they were taking too.  Don’t these people realise how high up they are?  And how many people die at this spot?  A little past the top of the cliff I had an opportunity to take a diversion from the South Downs Way once again and drop down into the undercliff walk into The Meads.  The path down was incredibly steep but once I was at the bottom it was enjoyable to have this short stretch of countryside all to myself once again.  After all the views behind me looking back to Seaford, Newhaven, Brighton and beyond I was now faced with a whole new set of views across to Hastings and across Pevensey Bay, courtesy of changing direction at Beachy Head.
Approaching Eastbourne

I soon came to The Meads, marking the eastern end of Eastbourne Seafront.  I took a quick look at Helen Gardens, which were pleasant but not one of the best of parks in Eastbourne.  Sadly there was no access to the Promenade from here, so I pushed on along the seafront road a little further before dropping down into Holywell Gardens, a hidden gem along the seafront.  From here it was a rather dull walk along the prom alongside mostly older people full of boring conversations about work, what their neighbours had been saying and what offers were on in the shops.  It once again made me realise how obsessed by the humdrum so many people are and perhaps why I like walking alone so that I can just enjoy my surroundings without worrying about conversation.
Wish Tower

Eastbourne is a town I have a soft spot for, probably because of visits made as a child.  It is perhaps my favourite town in Sussex, with an understated grandeur in places and perhaps the only town along the Sussex Coast that truly celebrates its seaside setting.  The gardens along the front, even in these cost conscious times, are wonderful and seem immune from cutbacks.  Sadly this is not true of the once beautiful gardens in Old Steine, Brighton that no longer sport swathes of different coloured tulips in the spring as they did twenty years ago.  My favourite gardens in Eastbourne are the Carpet Gardens, next to the pier.  I had saved this walk for the summer principally as an excuse to see them in full flourish, but sadly it seems I misjudged a bit since they were not quite at their best, probably because of a recent change in planting.  Still the floral tributes to the Battle of Britain and the centenary of the Girl Guides were adequate compensation.
Carpet Gardens

There was just time to admire the pier before getting the bus from right outside.  There could scarcely be a more convenient spot to catch it for the short journey back to Exceat!  Eastbourne seems a rather strange climax to this walk, after the clifftops and sweeping views across the South Downs.  Nevertheless this is a truly great walk, perhaps the best in the County and definitely along the coast.  It would be tempting to do more than I did, but in truth this would be a mistake as although the distance is modest at eight miles, it makes for a comfortable trip and allows for plenty of pausing time to just admire the view.  Any more mileage and it would turn into a slog, which wouldn’t do at all.  This is a walk to be savoured!
Eastbourne Pier

Sunday, 20 June 2010

1066 Country Walk Section 1 Pevensey - Boreham Street

1066 Country Walk
A short walk that has been on my radar for some time has been the 1066 Country Walk and an opportunity arose last week to make a start when my wife and I had a rare chance to have a walk together courtesy of my parents looking after the kids for the afternoon.  The 1066 Country Walk visits many of the prominent places in the so-called 1066 Country, the area around the most famous of all English battles.  It starts in Pevensey, the village where William the Conquerors invasion force first landed, and continues to Rye, one of the ancient Cinque Ports.  On the way it passes the battlefield, Herstmonceux Castle, Battle Abbey and the ancient port of Winchelsea.  Ideally it is done in two 15 miles sections with Battle as the break point.  That way, public transport is easy as there are connections to either end by rail, changing at Hastings.
Pevensey Castle

Sadly we didn’t have time for 15 miles today so we found that Boreham Street would be the most convenient break point for the 98 bus passes through here on its way from Polegate to Bexhill via Hailsham.  This meant that we could connect with the train there to get back to Pevensey.  It turned out not to be a bad journey, with an almost instant connection at Bexhill.  As we left Pevensey and Westham station the smell of fish and chips was heavy in the air and being very hungry we couldn’t resist.  Possibly not the best nutrition for the walk ahead but hey ho – it’s not often we get to lunch without children!
Pevensey Levels

Feeling fortified we were ready to tackle this most ancient of areas in Britain.  After walking through the substantial village of Westham we came upon the old ruins of Pevensey Castle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pevensey_Castle) .  This was originally the fort of Anderitum, founded by the Romans in around 290.  We walked through the outer bailey of the castle, between the original Roman Walls and the later mediaeval castle, which was built on the site in around 1100.  It makes for a fitting start to the walk and I can’t think of too many other long distance walks that start with such a memorable location.
Old Tractor

Once through the castle grounds we came upon Pevensey high street, not so busy these days now that the village has been mercifully by-passed.  Crossing the road was still quite a challenge however, especially as we seemed to have arrived at the same time as a large group of vintage cars that passed through.
Not Quite in Formation

The route unfortunately does not permit a thorough examination of the attractive looking village as it heads off across the fields outside the outer castle walls rather than along the high street.  Once upon a time this whole area would have once been underwater as the Pevensey Levels would have been an inlet of the sea.  Now it is a vast area of agricultural land, with few roads penetrating across it.  We headed across the Pevensey by-pass and shortly after met with the Pevensey Haven, a rather pleasant waterside walk.  This was to be our companion for the next 3 miles or so albeit with some different names later on.  The countryside here is completely flat with low-rise hills ahead of us, forming the low ridge that passes through Herstmonceux and Battle (I am guessing that this is actually the upper greensand ridge, a much more modest affair than the one in the north part of the Weald).  The flat countryside is criss-crossed by drainage ditches, enabling pasture to be created for many many cows (at least that is all we could see!  I always think that flat landscapes heighten the importance of the sky and this was no exception in that regard.  Unfortunately today there was rather more cloud than open sky and so every break that the sun was able to penetrate made it even more special for the few moments of brightness.
Herstmonceux Church

As we continued through Bridge Farm (housing a rather fine derelict tractor by the way) we could three of the landmarks that over-endow Herstmonceux with interest far beyond its size as a village.  The sails of the windmill at Windmill Hill stood out above the treeline while in front of the trees was the rather more ancient Herstmonceux Church, completely divorced from the village that now carries its name.  Not sure of the reason for this, but I suspect that the Black Death might have had something to do with it.  The third landmark was a much more alien interloper in this most English of scenes, the very large globe of the erstwhile Royal Greenwich Observatory partially hidden in the trees.
War Games

We were so focused on the view ahead that we actually missed the turn that would take us up to the church, continuing along the path for rather longer than we should have done.  When we realised we were fortunate to find another path which meant that we could regain the official route in a more roundabout way.  We also realised that there was a very large bull in the field we should have crossed so perhaps it was no bad thing!  After all the flat walking, climbing the very modest hill to reach Herstmonceux Church was a slight shock to the system and both of us feigned breathlessness as we headed away from the flatness of the Pevensey Levels.
Herstmonceux Church

Just before reaching the church we headed through a farm that seemed to be home to a number of vintage army vehicles, not just British but also American.  There were several people working on them but although I tried to make eye contact and find out what the story was, I was studiously avoided.  We had a quick look at the church and couldn’t help noticing that at the back of the graveyard all the grave stones had actually been lined up against the wall – a wartime measure perhaps?  We did not linger long though as we were keen to see the real star of the show today, Herstmonceux Castle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herstmonceux_Castle).  One of the forgotten castles of Sussex due to its out of the way location and somewhat unrealistic appearance, it has a very interesting history having been originally built in the 15th Century and rescued from oblivion in the early 20th Century.  For the early post war years it then housed the Royal Greenwich Observatory, a rather unlikely setting for such a facility.  Now it gives the appearance of being a fake castle, which is unfortunate since much is genuine, unlike many other more recognisable castles in Sussex such as Arundel.

The view from the 1066 Country Trail is not particularly great but straying off the path a little and crossing the field in front does give a good view of the frontage.  Alas the clouds had returned by now so I didn’t get as good a picture as I’d hoped.  Last year we had visited the castle for the mediaeval festival in August, which was a fun event with lots of atmosphere.  Today though was rather a different prospect with only a few cars out front, presumably for visitors to the gardens, which are open to the public.  Ahead of us was the large dome of the main telescope of the former Observatory.  I assume it is still used although the original telescope I believe was shipped out to the Canary Islands when the light pollution here just got too much.  Sadly the view from the path on the other side of the small valley in from of the castle is the closest that you can get, since it is off limits to casual visitors (although I think it might be open sometimes?)  At the top of the small valley the view across to the now historical buildings of the remaining part of the observatory is much better.  The green domes of the telescope buildings almost blend in with the surrounding countryside, but they must have looked an arresting sight when they were still copper coloured!  This part now houses a science centre and we both remarked on how we should visit as we passed by.  We reached a very busy road at the far end of the observatory grounds , which was a rather unpleasant experience especially as we had to walk along it for a couple of hundred metres before diving back into the countryside.
Herstmonceux Castle

After all the interest of the last mile or so, the onward path to Boreham Street was pleasant but fairly uninteresting.  By now though we were much higher than the land to the south of us, which meant that way off in the distance we could see the English Channel for the first time today.  It was also possible to see how far we had come since leaving Pevensey only a couple of hours beforehand.  That aside, the countryside played second fiddle to our conversations until we reached the car once again at Boreham Street.

This was a satisfying afternoon walk, although I am sure would make for a much better day walk if the second part to Battle were added.  The public transport part of the walk could take quite a long time without careful planning, which might not be worth it given that the walk itself only takes about two and a half hours!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Worth Way Three Bridges - East Grinstead

Start at Three Bridges
It wasn’t quite the project I had in mind for my 100th for this blog but as I still had plenty of time after my trip along the remaining section of the Downs Link I thought that I ought to make the most of it considering it was such a beautiful evening.  I decided therefore that I would make the relatively short trek over to Three Bridges to have a go at the short trip that is the Worth Way.  This is the former railway line that ran from Three Bridges to East Grinstead and although it probably ran at a loss for most of its existence, it is probably the one line in Sussex that would serve a very useful purpose now considering the enormous growth in population and housing along its ‘corridor’ and the inadequacy of the A264 that takes so many workers to Gatwick Airport in its stead.
Crossing House From Afar

Still, rail travellers loss is the cycle riders gain and this route is a surprisingly rural ride, considering how built up it now looks like along its length.  Parking near Three Bridges is relatively easy, with plenty of on-street parking near to the end of the route.  It is definitely worth starting at this end of the ride since as I soon discovered that it is mostly a steady uphill climb pretty much the whole way to East Grinstead, approximately 7 miles away.  When this was an active railway this would have been a very rural tract of West Sussex and only small engines would have been used to ply the route.  Any more than a couple of carriages and they would have made heavy weather of the climb.  Even on a bicycle I certainly felt the grade almost immediately I left Three Bridges. 
Rowfant Station

Alas the junction has been cut in two by one of the main access roads to the relatively recently built suburb of Crawley known as Maidenbower.  Yet once the route is gained it disappears into a thick wooded corridor and any sense of heading through an urban area is immediately lost.  I climbed steadily up through this part of Crawley along the trackbed and through a corrugated metal tunnel that must surely have been different when a railway.  This was to be the last part of the trackbed for awhile as the Worth Way climbs up and on to the top of the cutting, leaving just a footpath to run through a very dingy and wet cutting.
Deep Dark Cutting

As I reached Worth bridge I left the trackbed for good for a period as a little further on the railway was completely lost under the M23 when it was built in the mid 1970s.  A very adequate alternative route has been provided through Worth village and across through Worth Lodge Farm.  As I passed through the farm I could just pick out the last remaining clue that a railway passed through here as one of the bridge parapets is still in place alongside the access track.  Otherwise the section immediately east of the M23 has been completely obliterated and turned into farmland.  I believe the cutting was filled in by a small scale landfill site.
Crawley Down

I soon reached Compasses Corner and was very pleased to regain the trackbed alongside the very obvious railway cottage that once housed a crossing keeper for what was once a level crossing here.  Now it’s a cycle crossing, but without any of the protection that would have been afforded to trains.  Once back on the trackbed it was a very pleasant woodland ride to what would have been the first stop on the line at Rowfant (see http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/r/rowfant/index.shtml for an idea of what it once looked like).  It was good to see that this old station survives as a Colas depot, but there is almost no chance of seeing anything other than the outside of the old booking hall and station masters house as the remaining part of the station is completely surrounded by very big bushes designed to keep nosy parkers like me firmly out.
Crawley Down Pond

Just past Rowfant and the path does its best to follow the old rail line but not actually on the trackbed for this is still off limits for about a quarter of a mile east of the station until past a lost overbridge.  At this point the trackbed is regained and continues to climb a lot more sharply up to the next station at Grange Road.  Signs that bridges are no longer adequate for the increased amount of traffic now using adjacent roads become clear at Turners Hill bridge, where the arch has had quite a lot of bracing included to help reinforce the structure of this quite impressively high bridge.  Just past the bridge and the slope became obviously more than any steam train would have been able to handle.  I soon realised why as I had reached the site of Grange Road station, the second intermediate stop en-route (see http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/g/grange_road/index.shtml for old pictures).  Sadly this station suffered a much worse fate than Rowfant when the delightfully rural station was bulldozed in the 1970s to make way for a rather faceless looking housing estate.  In fact most of the southern part of Crawley Down was inexplicably built right across the route, meaning that any hope for re-opening the line were irrevocably lost.
Spent Sleepers

For almost a mile the Worth Way cuts across this rather charmless place before regaining the trackbed once again at Crawley Down pond, a delightful little oasis on the eastern edge of the village.  The next couple of miles up into East Grinstead are perhaps the most rural part of the ride, although in truth only glimpses of the surrounding countryside are possible due to the lineside trees.  About a mile out of Crawley Down and I found the only railway feature of the whole route that is not a building or bridge.  It wasn’t terribly exciting; a big pile of concrete sleepers, but a strange sight nonetheless on a railway line that hasn’t seen a train for 43 years.  On the right hand side was the strange sight of a fully fledged swamp that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Amazon.  It had trees growing out of it and everything!  Very strange, especially since we have had a fairly dry old time of it locally since March.
Three Arch Bridge

I found this stretch of the route quite a slog and was relieved when I reached the famous three arched bridge that is probably the best preserved feature remaining on the line.  Relieved, because I knew it to be Imberhorne Lane and therefore close to journey’s end.  The increase in dog walkers was also a good clue, although what really confirmed it was the smoke from a thousand barbecues all going off in the surrounding gardens.
East Grinstead High Level Station Site

Journey’s end is a bit sad as far from the thriving hub that would once have been East Grinstead station, all that I was greeted with was a large car park where the high level station would once have been.  For details of what the station would once have looked like see http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/e/east_grinstead/index.shtml
Former Loop Line

I went to look at the sad remnant of the low level station, which will once again be receiving steam trains in the not too distant future when the Bluebell Railway makes the final connection (progress reports at http://www.bluebell-railway.co.uk/bluebell/ext/extprog.html ).  The ultimate irony behind the demise of East Grinstead’s once extensive station was that this was Dr Beeching’s hometown, the architect of the destruction.  Before leaving to head back to Three Bridges I took a quick look at the loop line that once made a connection between the two lines that otherwise met at right angles through the station.  Remarkably for a town centre location, it was remarkably intact although sadly it is almost as important as an unofficial tip as a wildlife corridor.  Eventually my way through was blocked off so I had to turn back at the first road bridge.  If it had been a little earlier in the evening I might have looked closer.
East Grinstead Low Level

Having taken an hour and a half to get here I was mindful that it was by now almost 8pm and shadows were getting quite long.  However, I could motor back since I had checked out all the points of interest on the way.  I soon realised as I left East Grinstead that my return journey would be a lot easier as it was downhill all the way!  There was no doubt about it, I had started at the right end – it took only 40 minutes to return to my car!

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 http://worthingwanderer.blogspot.com/2009/07/wey-south-path-section-1-guildford.html ). 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 http://cranleighrailway.info/then_now.htm 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.