Saturday, 14 February 2009

High Weald Landscape Trail Day 3 East Grinstead - Groombridge

East Grinstead
It felt very strange starting another day’s hike in the middle of a town centre once again. East Grinstead used to be a major rail destination, with lines running north-south and east west that bisected each other at the station. Once there was a high level and a low level station serving the two lines, but now all that remains is an uninspiring terminus from a small branch line running to Oxted. All that remains of the High Level station is a bridge abutment where the line once ran. I started my journey today walking along the old high level railway and had to use a great deal of imagination to visualise how this scene once looked.

Former Railway
It was again a beautiful day, promising to be another hot one just like last month. I stocked up on provisions before I left today and then negotiated town before finding the old railway again, now known as the Forest Way. What was once a railway is now a popular cycle route and this morning it was very popular with walkers, runners and cyclists. The old railway was my companion for the next three miles, down to Forest Row which was the next settlement with a station. Almost imperceptibly the rail line went downhill almost all the way, which must have been quite a struggle for locomotives going the other way. Every so often there were glimpses of the wider countryside and the odd piece of railway furniture left behind but it was a strangely closed in world otherwise. The trees that had grown up on the old embankments and cuttings served to cut off the path from the outside world.

Campsite Lake
Eventually I reached Forest Row and had to cross the A22 at road level since the former bridge had long since gone. A little further on and the station hadn’t fared much better, although part of it was still recognisable as part of a vet. Just after this I left the railway line behind me and went out into open countryside again. The rest of the day was fairly undulating countryside, very pleasant but not especially memorable. I climbed to the top of a hill and could see Ashdown Forest ahead of me. There would be no crossing of the forest today as this path merely skirted around the northern edge. After an extensive section of crossing fields and small pieces of woodland I eventually reached a campsite. It was mostly empty although there were a few campers enjoying the hot weather and fishing in the pond, the focus of the campsite.

Harvest Time
What was becoming annoying by this section of the walk was the amount of air traffic passing overhead every few minutes. In some cases airliners getting ready to land at Gatwick were so low that I could read the details of the airline on the tail. The roar of the engines were seriously distracting from my enjoyment at the otherwise peaceful pastoral countryside.

Hartfield Church
A few fields away from the campsite I came across another noisy beast; this time a combine harvester that was harvesting a rape seed crop. I hurried across the field so as not to get in his way and managed to get across as he horse-shoed around the top of the field. Just past this point and I again met with the Forest Way, the erstwhile railway line I had followed earlier. This time I merely crossed it and continued up into Hartfield village. This is now famous as the village closest to where Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends from A A Milne’s books were supposed to have lived. It was a very attractive village, maybe aspiring to be a ‘Britain in Bloom’ winner as there were a lot of flowers bedecking the buildings.

Dorset Arms
I paused for a few minutes and had some lunch in the village (although not alas at one of the very attractive looking pubs en-route). The path kept away from the Winnie-the-Pooh stuff further along the road and disappeared into the countryside once again along past the very impressive looking church. From here it was a short run along to Withyam, the next village and no more than a couple of miles distant. The church at Withyam was a much smaller affair than the one at Hartfield but was joined by some interesting looking buildings, one in particular with a curious corner cut away from it.

Withyam Estate
After rounding the church the path briefly joined a main road, which was slightly scary. On the other side of the church yard, I passed by the pub in Withyam and entered the park of the local stately home. The house itself was hidden from me but the park was truly glorious especially on this high summer day. By now my quick pace had started to eat away at my energy levels and my feet were hurting so a climb up and away from the park wasn’t particularly welcome. I skirted the edge of Ashdown Forest before turning back towards Groombridge. The last part of the path followed a small valley of one of the River Medway tributaries for a couple of miles before crossing a field punctuated by several pillboxes left from World War 2. These had obviously been placed alongside the Uckfield – London railway line as a protection measure but now serve only to act as another curiosity for the passing walker.

Tree Rock
I wandered through Groombridge village, now no longer on the national rail network despite being less than a mile from the Uckfield line. Any chance of a park and ride station in the future? I had to satisfy myself with the bus back to East Grinstead as alas rail was no proposition now.

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