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 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 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
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 ).  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!

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