Saturday, 28 March 2009

Stage 1 - East Grinstead to Groombridge (14.4 miles)

Last year whilst walking the Weald Way with my walking group, I mentioned to Anne that I had a guidebook for the Sussex Border Path (purchased about 9 years ago), and really ought to walk it some-year soon. Although Anne has a number of walking projects already part completed, a few weeks ago she reminded me of my aim, and we resolved to start the SBP as soon as possible.

The whole route (excluding Mid Sussex Link)
One of a number of different waymarkers
As it was still early in the season we decided not to walk the path strictly from end to end, but start in the middle at roughly the West/East Sussex division, whereby our journey time to start/finish points would be shortest. We therefore met near Groombridge, where the Forest Way cycle track crosses the B2110 (one of our regular meeting points for walks) and travelled west to East Grinstead for the start.
The start near East Grinstead station
The weather forecast had been good with plenty of sunshine expected, but although I woke up to clear blue skies, by the time I was in the car travelling to the meet point, the clouds had moved in and it was very overcast. I was hoping the forecast of no rain was going to prove more accurate.

The town is pretty deserted this time of the morning

Institute Walk

Our walk started at East Grinstead railway station, right on the SBP. Crossing the one way system interchange, we walked down Railway Approach and then right into London Road. There was a definite chill in the air, and I was glad of my gloves at this stage of the walk. This was an older part of the town, and was deserted at this time on a Sunday morning. At the traffic lights we crossed over and picked up Institute Walk to the right of a car showroom. This walkway crossed one road and continued to De la Warr Road, where we passed a church and a tall brick tower.
Brick Tower
At the end of the road we turned left and crossed a road bridge over Beeching Way, converted from an old railway cutting, and named after the infamous Richard Beeching who closed much of the rail network in the 1960s (although not the line to East Grinstead, where he lived!).

Private road

"Are you coming?" asks Poppy

After approximately ¼ mile, we turned right down a private road (where there were some very nice properties), and at its end continued on a footpath, passing a playing field on the left and houses on the right. We continued through woodland, crossing a footbridge, and emerged on a private road by Fairlight Cottage. Turning left, we soon reached the A264.
Ashplats Wood

Approaching the A264

The main road here was quite narrow, with no pavements, but fortunately there were some roadworks with traffic lights in place, meaning we only had to look for traffic in one direction at a time. We turned left and after about 50m, right along a footpath, and down through an old landfill site to Blackhatch Wood. There had been some landscaping and earth moving here, so it wasn’t quite as ugly as it sounds.

Crossing the landscaped landfill site
Entering Blackhatch Wood

A short distance into the wood, we turned right over a footbridge and across a field to its opposite corner. Across a track we reached a second field, which we also crossed diagonally to a gate. There were sheep and new born lambs in this field, and the farmer drove some distance to check our dogs were not going to go near them. Poppy was predictably already on the flexi-lead, and Anne reassured him that Zuka would leave them alone.
Entering the sheep field

Spring flowers in Blockfield Wood

Leaving the field, we followed a track through woodland (where Zuka had a dip) to Old Surrey Hall, a magnificent timber framed building, possibly 15th century. During WW2 the then owners, Colonel & Mrs Anderson chose to turn it into a maternity home, rather than have it requisitioned by the army.

Old Surrey Hall
Our route by the Coach House

We were a little unsure of the route for a moment, as we thought we had gone too far down the drive towards the house, but the correct path was immediately before the Coach House on the left. We climbed uphill on a rather muddy bridleway, and where it swung left, took a path on the right by holly trees, continuing between fields to a road.

Sunken path
Contented cows and calves
Turning left, we walked along the road for approximately ½ mile, passing Blockfield Farm on the left. At ‘Bidbury’, we turned right and followed a track between wooden fences. There were some good views towards the Greensand Ridge, with possibly the North Downs behind. Through a gate, we continued between horse fields and past some empty stables, picking up a wide grassy ride with trees on the right and a wooden fence on the left.

Views to the Greensand Ridge
Empty stables
Where the ride swung left, we crossed a stile on the right, and descended diagonally across the field and over two stiles to a metalled drive. With hindsight, it would have been better to walk straight across the field and exit onto the drive via an open gate, as the second of the stiles proved rather difficult for the dogs to negotiate.

Keep your dog on a lead?!

We turned right along the drive for a few hundred metres, and at the bottom of a dip, crossed a stile on the left and followed the edge of a field to a further stile on the right. We continued uphill, emerging on a narrow path next to fields containing Thoroughbred foals. The path took us through Old Lodge Farm (stud) to a private road, where we turned right.
Thoroughbred foals at Old Lodge

The drive between Old Lodge and Dryhill farms
After approximately ½ mile we past Dry Hill Farm and continued to enter Jules wood. There were a large number of bridleways through the wood, so it was necessary to keep an eye on the OS map, with a few quick glances at the GPS for good measure. There were plenty of signs, but no SBP markers. We twice passed a rider who was doing fitness circuits with her horse.
Lots of bridleway markers, but the SBP ones have disappeared

Jules Wood
Shortly after entering the wood we took a right turn, and then after about 300m bore left at an official bridleway junction onto a path heading slightly downhill. Leaving the wood we followed the edge of a field, where there were very fine views to the north. This path bore round to the right and then re-entered the wood briefly, before tracking its edge once more.

Poppy admires....

..... the view to the north

At a gate, we crossed a field to it’s opposite corner and continued along the edge of the next field. At a junction of paths, we initially thought our route was to a gateway on our right, but in fact we had to cross the track and enter a small piece of woodland we crossed a track and took a path into the corner of Liveroxhill Wood.

Liveroxhill Wood
Passing a pond on our right we soon entered another field and turned right and left to walk round the field perimeter. The ground was a bit wet here. Although the field looked empty, there was evidence of sheep footprints, so I had Poppy on the flexi-lead. This was just as well, because as we circled the field, the flock came into view, although they were a long way away.

Distant (almost invisible) sheep
"Come on girls, it's easier through the gate"
We passed one gate on the right and at the second, ignored the stile (rather rotten and not dog friendly), opting instead for the gate, and entered a much dryer field. As the weather had bucked up a bit and there was a bit of blue sky, we stopped for an early lunch. The start of British Summer Time had clearly confused our body clocks.

Early lunch

View towards Cowden
Refreshed, we continued down the field and into another, keeping to the right hand boundary. In the next field we passed a barn and bore left to enter Clay’s Wood. We walked through the wood, turning right to cross a field diagonally. The village of Cowden, including the church spire, came into view between the trees.

The dogs take the lead over a narrow bridge

Waystrode Manor
Bearing slightly left across the next field, we crossed a footbridge into a wood. Continuing uphill, we turned right when the path joined another, and soon reached Waystrode Manor, a magnificent Tudor manor house. The drive passed a small pond and continued to a road.

Nice show of daffs by the pond

Unusual stained glass windows
Bearing right, we followed the road into Cowden village, passing a derelict barn and a house with colourful stained glass in the front windows and doors. At the road junction we turned left and soon right just before the church. As the road ended we turned right and followed a grassy track downhill through allotments. Someone had built two very friendly looking scarecrows on one of the plots.
Non-scary scarecrows

We crossed a lane, and continued downhill beside a field before following the edge of a golf course. Crossing a stream on a smart new wooden bridge, we turned sharp left to continue though the golf course on a grassy path towards a stile. Our route took us across a field of sheep and below the attractive Sussex House Farm, then turned left to cross the stream by a farm bridge.
Sussex House Farm with pond in foreground
... now with the stream on our right
Turning right, we followed the stream to the B2026 at Kentwater Cottages. We stopped to rig up a photo of both of us at this crossing point between East Sussex & Kent, a process not without its dangers as the road was actually quite busy.

Attractive stone road bridge
Kent/East Sussex boundary on the B2026
We turned right over the road bridge, and almost immediately left into a series of horse fields. Passing though a metal gate, we crossed the stream by a footbridge, and then turned right and continued through fields with the stream on our right, and past two ponds.

Waymark on the bridge
.... ignoring the 2nd identical bridge

Below Moat Farm we crossed a metal bridge, and bore left and right to continue without crossing a second identical bridge. We continued eastwards with the stream now on our left, and then down a narrow path between hedge and wire fence. Reaching a railway bridge, we passed under it and turned half-right to cross a field towards a bend in the stream. This field was ploughed, but fortunately the farmer had reinstated the path with his tractor.
Under the railway bridge
Poppy on the reinstated path across plough

Roughly following the stream on our left we crossed one side stream and passed a rather dilapidated bridge, which was fortunately not our route. Reaching the corner of the next field we then had to cross the stream again. The footbridge was under repair and was officially closed. However, this was the first we had known about the closure, and not wanting to find a diversion at this stage, proceeded to ‘walk the plank’.

Fortunately NOT our route
Walking the plank
Turning right, we now had the stream on our right again, and walked east, veering south-east to join a lane below Hobbs Hill Farm. Spanning the side streams, the metal bridges on this section would certainly have been a test for those short of leg! Fortunately, Anne and I are tall, but they were still not the most walker friendly stile/bridges we have come across!
Hobbs Hill Farm
Negotiating one of the tricky bridges

At the road we turned right and almost immediately left, continuing to follow the stream on our right, with a golf course on the opposite bank. Crossing a corner of the golf course, we continued through a couple more fields, keeping close to the stream.

Golf course

Dead tree
The route changed direction here, and we now swung south, crossing the stream on a footbridge, and heading uphill towards Willett’s Farm. The correct route was ploughed up, but a slight deviation allowed us to walk on more comfortable grass.

Overploughed path
Quirky statue at the farm
We walked through the farm buildings and past cattle sheds. This farm has a thriving ice-cream business in the summer months, but unfortunately the shop was very definitely closed this early in the year.
... but not today!
Cows looking forward to some spring turnout
The next part of the route was a bit tricky and not adequately way-marked. Just past the farm the track swings slightly right. We veered left here to follow the hedge to a corner. A pond was now visible, which we passed on our left, although looking at the map a bit later, we should have passed it on our right. No matter, we headed in roughly the correct direction down the middle of a field, heading for a narrower section between trees.

Pond after Willett's Farm (we should have passed to its left)
View south east towards the River Medway

Bearing right round a wood, we soon reached the banks of the River Medway. As is very common along this river, there were a number of WW2 pill boxes. We followed the path, initially between the river and a wood, and then between the river and a railway, bearing right to pass under the bridge, and soon reaching the A264.

WW2 pillbox
Wood anenomes by the River Medway
We turned left here towards Ashurst, over the river and under the railway, before turning right to pass the station. The route then continued as a private road, swinging away from the railway line, and climbing slightly to pass Linkhorn’s, a large house with a very wonky chimney!

Entering Ashurst
Linkhorns - note wonky chimney
Reaching Jessop’s farm, we had a quick break to admire the sheep and lambs comfortably bedded down in a barn next to the track. Poppy was very interested in the noises (and presumably the smell), but couldn’t see over the barrier, so I lifted her front legs up for a quick look.
Young lamb at Jessop's Farm
Once of the few hills of the day

Past the farm buildings, the route briefly turned east (left) again, with a pull up a track which was probably the hilliest bit of the entire walk. At the top, we turned right and descended on a track and then at the edge of a field, until we reached a finger post. Poppy & Zuka ran ahead to say hello to a couple of golden retrievers.

The dogs wait for some playmates
Colourful railway bridge
Turning right here, we were now sharing the route with the Wealdway, and descended again to walk under the railway bridge. We had walked this way in 2008, in the opposite direction, when ‘doing’ the Wealdway. The graffiti was still there and in fact looked as though it had been renewed, but fortunately the thick carpet of sheep manure was not!

Poppy on the Weald Way bridge (she didn't read the sign)
Looking back as we near the end of our walk
Bearing left, we crossed a footbridge and then bore right across the field towards (but not crossing) another bridge. The route turned left here (and leaving the Wealdway) we followed a track past Hamm Farm and to the B2110. Our car was waiting for us a few hundred metres to our right.

Hamm Farm
The weather today had been a bit disappointing after a good forecast, but it had at least remained dry, and we did see the sun for a short time. The walk itself was super – with plenty of variety, but not too strenuous (just as well, as I’m not at my fittest at the moment). I had good company too as it is always nice to walk with Anne & Zuka. I’m looking forward to the next section very much.

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