Trails from the Rails 5: Arisaig to Morar

  • Area: Ross-shire
  • Local Train Operators: Scotrail
  • Length: About 6½ miles
  • Points of Note: Silver Sands of Morar
  • OS maps – Explorer 398 (1:25,000); Landranger 40 (1:50,000)

This walk is not perfect from a technical perspective, as it is entirely on-road. However, the road was bypassed many years ago so traffic is now pleasingly light. This allows an easy stroll over rolling Scottish coastal hillocks from Britain’s most westerly railway station to one of the nation’s most beautiful beaches.

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There is not much to say about Arisaig station except that it is Britain’s most westerly station. The Government subsidy for the West Highland extension, the last railway in Britain to open up a new area to communications, did not run to such things as architects.

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The budget has also not run to station or signalling staff for some years; the signal box is retained for largely decorative purposes and the line is controlled by radio from a cabin near Fort William.

Drop out of the station and cross the A830 (surprisingly busy considering it doesn’t actually go anywhere). Try to avoid being run over while distracted by the views across the village, down Loch nan Ceall and over to the Isle of Eigg (most heavily-populated of the Small Isles and accessible by ferry from Mallaig).

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Having dropped down from the A830 to the main lane through the village, take the first right and follow the lane back out of town again. At the crossroads (or what ought to be a crossroads) go straight on, rising up past the church and the school to cross over Keppoch and peak at the walk’s summit – 48 metres above sea level.

Ahead, as the road drops away to cross the marshes below Loch Morar, can be seen the other end of Eigg and the bulky form of Rum. The notice, on what used to be the A830 and therefore the “Road to the Isles” until the bypass went in, is typical of road signs in these parts.

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At the bottom of the hill turn left and then follow the B8008 as it turns right and works across the bottom of Mointeach Mhor, with views of the bypass cutting up the hills on the other side (left of picture). This has an air of being the old way out of Loch Morar – Britain’s deepest body of freshwater (only beaten for Britain’s overall deepest body of water by the Inner Sound between Skye and Applecross, north of Kyle of Lochalsh). It is very wide and boggy, and mostly barely above sea level. The loch is at the eastern end, leading into it in a manner that suggests the loch should simply flow out into the sea through this gully. Actually it makes no above-ground contribution to the watercourse at all.

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The road continues along the coastline, amongst grubby sandy beaches, wooded hillocks and golf courses.

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After passing Traigh House the landscape becomes slightly more varied and there are some gradients to work over, though nothing very hefty. Glenancross is situated in a small valley, making a sort of mini-Scotland that seems out of scale, beneath the not exactly towering 88-metre height of Beinn an Achaidh Mhoir.

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The road then turns right and negotiates the flanks of this little Beinn before dropping down into the highlight of the walk – Morar Bay. To the north can be seen the village of Morar, its little local Sgurr and, hulking on the skyline, the rather larger Sgurr Eireagoraidh. On this side of Morar Bay is the first hint of Morar’s silver sands.

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In due course the road drops down to them, providing easy access onto this wooded silvery shore.

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A diversion up the beach beside the clear blue water will more than repay the small effort involved, and procure more photos for friends to claim were actually taken in Cuba.

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After finishing with the beach, return to the road and turn left up the hill. This leads up to the junction with the A830, where its new incarnation crosses the old alignment at a different level and with provision of a generous subway. At the other end of this subway the path weaves back down to the old road, which resumes its meandering course under the title of B8008. In this form it comes to the River Morar – a short waterway which links Loch Morar with Morar Bay by means of a scenic gorge. Over this gorge is a scenic one-piece concrete viaduct, carrying the railway into Morar. Its arches have a certain disconcerting effect of throwing the sound of a rushing river to somewhere about ten feet above the railway. Stopping in the narrow, lightly-used roadway to admire the shuttering work on the concrete will invoke Sod’s Law.

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After passing under the railway, turn right off the B8008 and follow the river. This rapidly leads up to the shores of Loch Morar, firstly offering views of pleasant churches snug beneath the hills and then, of course, views up the loch itself. (But not far up, as the west end of the loch is scattered with islands and some walking is needed to get past them all.)

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The loch can be followed for some miles up the north shore – first on a surfaced lane and later on a narrow, wending footpath. This is very much a no-through road; the path eventually climbs over a mini-pass, somewhat short of the top of the loch, and ends on the shores of a sea loch at Tarbert. Short of catching the ferry back to Mallaig (and it only calls by prior booking) the only way back is to walk 9 miles home again.

Otherwise turn left just before the church and rise up another back lane to come out onto the B8008 again. Turn right and proceed for a few hundred yards to reach Morar station.

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The line is served by four trains each way daily (three of which are through trains to/ from Glasgow Queen Street) except on Sundays, where the service is somewhat reduced. In summer these are augmented by limited-stop “Jacobite” steam services from Fort William, for which special fares apply. Morar is not one of the places served by this service.

One place which is served by the Jacobite is Glenfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie rose his standard (he would later be seen in this area being carried over the sea to Skye after Culloden) and now home of the famous viaduct. The viaduct has featured in the Harry Potter films. This leads to the obvious amusing speculation that the Hogsmeade branch, serving the castle itself, diverges somewhere between Glenfinnan and Mallaig. A most reasonable candidate for the location of Hogwarts, therefore, taking one thing with another, particularly bearing in mind total isolation, presence of ruins on the map and the handiness of a nice big body of water reputed to contain a monster, would be the upper end of Loch Morar.

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Trails from the Rails 4: Bath to Avoncliff

  • Area: Somerset
  • Local Train Operators: Great Western Railway, South West Trains
  • Length: About 12 miles
  • Points of Note: Bath, Kennet & Avon Canal, Avon Valley
  • OS maps – Mostly Explorer 155 (1:25,000); Landranger 172 (1:50,000). East end is on Explorer 142 and 156 orLandranger 173

This is a hilly version of a very simple walk. The easy way to do Bath to Avoncliff is to walk out of the station at Bath, pick up the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath and follow it to Avoncliff. At the outside this will take 3½ hours steady walking along the gravel towpath, which is shared with runners, cyclists, dog walkers and a variety of other people. Once clear of the Bath lock flight it is also completely level, barring a couple of bridges; the canal “pound” continues to the next lock at Bradford-on-Avon.

This route skips most of that and takes a looping route via three substantial hills and several pubs. Done in this direction, it gets the first hill in early as a leg-stretcher and finishes up by a pub with a large beer garden in a very attractive valley.

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Bath station has recently been slightly modernised, but generally retains the appearance it has had since the original station (with four lines and overall roof) was knocked down in the 19th Century.

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Leave the station on the south (platform 1) side and cross the Avon using the footbridge provided. To the left can be seen the start of the independent Kennet & Avon Canal, vanishing under its first bridge into lock 7. Turn left at the end of the footbridge and drop down to join the canal. (For reasons of administrative convenience lock numbers 1 to 6 have been given to the locks between here and the start of the Feeder in Bristol. The bridges meanwhile are counted from the other end of the canal in Reading, at which point 192 bridges seems quite a small number.)

The first thing the canal towpath does is swap sides using the bridge over lock 8/9. It then follows the canal through its sweeping curve around the hillside into suburban Bath. What was once a blot on the landscape has now become an attractive feature amongst the allotments. (To avoid doubt, the reason why it is not in Northanger Abbey is not because it was unattractive but because Northanger‘s writing very slightly pre-dates construction.)

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Follow the canal for half a mile to the bridge over the lower mouth of lock 13 (the last lock on the flight). Cross this and strike up the alley up the hill. This crosses a road, rises some more, forks (keep right) and then opens out to run alongside fields. Turn right into the first field, cross it to the gate opposite (pausing to admire the view) and then angle left up the second field to the top corner. Pass up the gap to the road and turn right.

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Climb up this road (Bathwick Hill – and it is quite one) for about a third of a mile to North Lane. Turn left up this lane (it cuts off a corner) and turn left again at the top. This is North Road, which drops slightly down to the entrance to the University of Bath. Turn right up this entrance. Signs abound on the next bit warning that anyone not on the public right of way is trespassing – but this is the public right of way, so ignore them.

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When the roadway reaches the university buildings and car park it swings to the right. Follow the path which continues up behind the building and then curves around the top of the student accommodation.

For all of the University’s insistence that right-of-way users stick to the path and don’t stop to talk to the Big Bad Postgrad, the point where the public right of way actually leaves this path is very badly signposted. It is not the first (discrete) kissing gate which is passed opposite the first block of accommodation. A couple of hundred yards later a path swings off into the hedgerow with a well-hidden post ten feet into the bushes indicating a junction in the right of way. The bridlepath continues to follow the wall southwards, while the footpath cuts through the hedge and across the golf course.

Either will do, and both involve crossing the golf course eventually; the bridlepath takes the next left across the greens while the footpath crosses one part of the course and then follows an old stone wall gently around the top of the hill, offering views of the A46 escaping the Avon Valley up the opposite hill. Permanent-looking signage warns of golf in progress, thus avoiding any risk of legal action should some students come back from the pub at two o’clock one morning and decide to have a quick round.

The paths rejoin on the other side of the summit (with signpost, and after the footpath has gone through a scruffy patch used for silage storage rather than golfing) and drop down the hill to Bathampton. Maintain a fairly direct route down the hillside. The first field is still golf course; for the second, veer slightly to the right and past the back of a bench (picture below) to drop through a large hole in the hedge. Take left after the hole and gain a muddy path, which becomes a muddy lane that in turn becomes a surfaced byway. This then opens onto the A36 about two-thirds of the way down the hill.

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Cross the A36 (with care) and follow the onward suburban road down the hill. Turn right at the bottom and continue along the road to the canal at Bathampton. Here is a church and the first pub.

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Turn right after crossing the canal, but pick up the lane alongside the canal (Tyning Road) instead of the towpath. The two part company quite quickly and the lane then peters out beside a crossing of the railway. This is a secondary route headed for Trowbridge, Westbury and Salisbury (and Avoncliff) which also follows the Avon Valley southwards. The crossing is obligingly provided with white lights which, when lit, indicate a train is not approaching. Follow usual “stop, look, listen” guidance anyway. Once across, follow the footpath diagonally across the ensuing fields towards the mainline and its river crossing at Bathford.

The path clambers up the embankment side and demonstrates a benefit of Brunel’s broad gauge – its removal has left enough room for a footpath, hemmed in by a pallisade fence, to follow the railway over the Avon. To the south is a pleasing view down the valley. There are also several interesting buddleia to be observed here.

Drop down the other side to the road. An unfortunate feature of this walk is its tendency to hit roads where the traffic will not give quarter and this road is no exception. Unfortunately, because of the bad design of the bridge carrying the road over an adjacent stream it is necessary to cross it twice in a hundred yards at each end of a blind bend. On the other hand, here is the second pub.

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Take Ostlings Lane (to the right of the pub) and follow it up the hill, turning sharp left when it reaches the “Private” signs at the start of Church Lane. Stagger right at the top and continue climbing up past the church. Stagger right again up Mountain Wood, following the grassy sward to the right of the houses. Turn right into the field and climb diagonally across it to the stile into the wood. Stop and look back at the view.

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The wood is based around a Folly which this walk, thoughtlessly, does not detour to (although the detour is a simple enough out-and-back stroll along the ridge at the top). Along with the Folly there are interesting animals, elm trees and steep gradients. Dig into this one and follow the generally straight route up the hillside. It is periodically distracted by cross-paths, but resumes its course very quickly. The Folly comes into view briefly at one point to the left on the way up.

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At the top, turn right and undulate along the ridge beside the wall for a little under a mile. The path then falls, slowly at first but ever more steeply, past caves and through sweeping curves appearing to be maintained by mountain bikes, until it makes an awkward junction with the A363.

This is another road which gives no quarter. Stick to the thin gravelled verge as much as possible. It is not a long stretch of road walking, as the road quickly reaches a cottage and a public footpath sloping off to the left. This turns out to be a sort of slip-path onto a bridleway which passes under the road; turn right onto the bridleway, appreciate the subway it offers and then take the left turn to follow another wall through the wood. There is a short stretch alongside a field with views across the valley. Then the path swings round to the right and falls into a triangular junction with a narrow lane. Turn right and descend to Sheephouse Farm.

There are two entrances, the second of which is prominently signposted as “No public access to Warleigh Weirs” (which aren’t through the farm, and which this walk doesn’t go to) and less prominently signposted with a little green walker sign pointing along the drive into the farmyard. Before following this sign, admire the view of Claverton Manor.

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The path crosses the farmyard and then completes the descent down the hill, through several gates, to reach the riverbank. Steady progress across the first field brings a short bridge with a stile at each end. After this Dundas Aqueduct starts to come into view.

The aqueducts at Dundas and Avoncliff carry the canal over the Avon and back (there is a third example at Trowbridge in less impressive surroundings). This avoids a need to cross the Midford Brook and Frome valleys and provides a shorter route around the inside of the corner at Freshford. The Dundas aqueduct is a very proud thing in the standard style of the time, looking like a bridge in a Regency country estate (which it is really). Being east-west it is a bit of a pain to photograph from this side, but the views from the top, back up the valley, are excellent.

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The path heads through a corner of the field and up the embankment side to the canal. Turn right and cross the aqueduct. The canal then swings round to the right itself and a bridge is provided for the towpath to cross over. Cross this bridge, turn left and follow the path around the basin and across the entrance to the Somerset Coal Canal almost back to the aqueduct.

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The tempting-looking little gate by the aqueduct which appears to be the entrance to a sweet little footpath is in fact for engineers to access the railway. Instead use the larger gate just before it and drop down the cyclepath. If it’s open, it’s worth clambering almost straight back up again to the Coal Canal towpath and following this instead of the cyclepath below. It only lasts the few hundred yards to the visitor centre and then drops down again. Beyond the visitor centre and its cafe can be seen the walled-up bridge which took the Coal Canal beneath the A36 until the canal beyond was excavated to make way for the railway to Camerton.

The drop off the canal at this point finishes on the trackbed of the railway, which to the left makes an overgrown curve into the (south-facing) junction at Limpley Stoke and to the right has been made up into a road. Take this right turn and pass under the A36 to come out alongside the Monkton Combe sports ground. (It is the only flat land for miles.) A downside of the proliferation of trees here is that they completely hide the rather handsome viaduct that carries the A36 over the valley.

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This railway was an early closure and weeds had already been left to take hold by 1952. This proved quite handy when Ealing Studios turned up with a streamroller, a bus, several eclectic bits of railway stock and the locomotives Great Western/ British Rail No. 1401 and Liverpool & Manchester No. 57 Lion to film The Titfield Thunderbolt.

For all this cinematic history the next section of line has not come off that well, so signposts indicate that a diversion is required up the hillside alongside the classrooms of Monkton Senior School. Quotes applied to the windows for schoolchild inspiration can be read backwards while passing – “Hark! what light through yonder window breaks?” (“It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.” “Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” etc.)

At the top of the path turn left along the roadway into Monkton Combe, which is dominated at this point by its rather institutional school. At the pub, turn left back down the hill along Mill Lane.

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The village lock-up is passed at the bottom of the school (there is no truth in the rumour that it is now used for detentions) and the old Monkton Combe station follows soon afterwards. This was Titfield station in the film. Aside from two gateposts, there is nothing much to admire. Press on down the footpath and cross the abandoned leat by the mill.

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The path then runs across the valley to the bridge over the brook. Turn left after the bridge and follow the footpath along the bank, up amongst the houses and into a lane. When this lane peaks and joins another lane coming in from the right, take the public footpath sign pointing up the hill into the woods.

This is a pleasing little wood, with the path clambering up a series of flights of steps to meander amongst the trees around the end of the hill (the top is never reached on this third and final slog) before it drops back down to the A36 at the top of Limpley Stoke village.

There are two ways through the village. One is to go straight on down and then turn right at the pub at the bottom; the other is to turn right along a lane running level below the climbing A36 and then take a bridleway dropping straight down the hill to the left. The former gets in another pub. (There was also a pub at the top of the hill by the A36, which has been lately flattened.)

Limpley is a pleasant village, despite its vertigo-inducing position.

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After the two routes have rejoined the lane, having undulated peacefully southwards through the village, shows a disconcerting inclination towards rising again to reach Freshford. To avoid this, take the left turn immediately after this hill has come into view – a small turning, discreetly marked as a public footpath, which promptly goes under the railway and emerges onto the river bank. Turn right and proceed through the fields. This is a very peaceful bit of walk, with no major road handy and both railway and canal fairly quiet. Most walking and cycling traffic here is following the canal in the trees to the left.

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A track works up the fields alongside the railway, but the map suggests the footpath stays lower. Certainly the stile in the second fence is a total red herring and passage should be made around the bottom of the sewage works (although admittedly the air is fresher above it). Beyond the footpath picks up a track which leads up to the railway at Freshford station. Use the station footbridge to cross the line. The walk can be finished here, although there are no real hills left and the scenery is worth the extra mile-and-a-half.

The station road leads up into Freshford itself, with views out across the valley much improved by the clearance of vegetation from the railway embankment.

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Turn left at the top of the road and drop down through the village (used as Titfield itself and a lovely place) to the pub. Around here the walk falls off the bottom of the principal map. Happily the rest is easy to follow without.

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Cross the river (the Frome) after the pub and take the path to the left across the fields. This passes the Avon/ Frome confluence and then runs into a patch of woodland where it has been deemed necessary to concrete the path (which is rather tight between hill and river). At the other end of the wood it runs through fields along the riverbank with lots of little gaps between the waterside bushes for stopping and dozing in.

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The bridge over the railway carries the canal to Avoncliff Aqueduct and marks the imminent end of the walk. Passage through a gate at the end of the fields and a walk along the ensuing lane comes once more to housing and a tearoom. This is Avoncliff. The aqueduct has always looked like that.

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Pass under the aqueduct and come up the other side for the pub, the onward towpath to Bradford-on-Avon and the railway station. The railway station is on the other side of the river, so cross over the aqueduct and (unless in a particular hurry) stop awhile to admire the river flowing over the weir, the industrial hints from the chimney, the enormous beer garden and the surrounding woods.

Avoncliff is a rather small station; although no longer a request stop, most trains do not call here. A broadly hourly service operates Mondays to Saturdays, reducing to around two-hourly on Sundays. But it’s a much more agreeable place to wait than Bath, and the tearoom (or pub, depending on taste) can act as a waiting room (on purchase of something) during longer service intervals. The wide track spacing is to get the lines around the central bridge pier that holds up the canal trough.

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Trails from the Rails 3: Kingscote to Horsted Keynes

  • Area: Sussex
  • Local Train Operators: Bluebell Railway
  • Length: About 6 miles
  • Points of Note: Gravetye Manor
  • OS maps – Explorer 135 (1:25,000); Landranger 187 or 198 (1:50,000)

This little amble involves going between two stations on a heritage railway, which means a more variable, more expensive and slower service than might be encountered elsewhere. It is also a pleasant rolling walk.

Google helpfully marks both stations with National Rail red “double-arrow” logos. Through tickets to the Bluebell from other National Rail stations are apparently available.

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Kingscote station is a typical London, Brighton & South Coast Railway station of its era, with two platforms linked by a subway overlooked by a combined building offering passenger facilities, the station office and the stationmaster’s house. The house is now privately owned. After some years as the Bluebell’s northern terminus Kingscote has been superseded by East Grinstead following a heavy and expensive extension. Nothing much happens here now, so after a few minutes admiring the peace press out of the station and walk straight up the hill along the road outside.

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After a few hundred yards of Sussex back lane there is a turning leftwards onto a Forestry Commission byway. This marks the start of the walk proper. Take it and follow the byway for a third of a mile until a discreet old timber post points to a public footpath heading off to the right. On this post are a couple of arrows indicating that this is the High Weald Landscape Trail.

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At this point the landscape consists of trees, which the path works its way through with several changes of direction. There is a left turn at a crosspaths shortly after leaving the main byway. After that the route is fairly easy to follow as it takes the obvious route at junctions and is generally signposted. Ten minutes or so comes to Home Farm, set in a clearing, which the track skirts round the top of. Soon after it meets a nice-looking back road which doesn’t seem to be marked on the map. It swiftly becomes apparent that this is in fact a nice-looking drive leading to Gravetye Manor, in which capacity it is indeed subtly marked in white. At the last moment the High Weald Landscape Trail decides not to go through the Manor’s main gates and instead plunges down the hillside through the trees next to the garden wall. The valley bottom is followed by a short stiff pull up the next hill, which in due course offers a pleasing view back of the manor in the landscape.

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The path then twitches to the right through a hedge, crosses the following field and drops into an unsurfaced sunken lane. This rises gently up the hill, becomes the drive to several houses and finally emerges onto the Selsfield Road at the northern end of West Hoathly.

The Selsfield Road proceeds to bypass West Hoathly at a slightly lower level and cut off a corner in the process, but as it has no pavement cross the road instead and carry straight on into the village. The road is lined with houses of various sizes, shapes and ages. Mostly in the same sort of “Sussex” style, they present a pleasingly unified sight.

At the church turn left – although a diversion into the churchyard to admire the church and then find the viewing platform over the Ashurst and Langridge Woods is worthwhile. The church is solidly built, with parts dating back to 1090 (and other parts, like the tower, being 400 years or so more recent). The view from the tower top would be quite striking were it not a) not open to the public and b) hidden by a spire.

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Follow the lane westwards down from the church into the dell and then up again, looking for an opportunity to stagger left off the lane into the adjacent park. Having done this, follow the fence alongside the lane until the park ends at the junction between the lane out of West Hoathly and the village bypass. Join the road and continue straight on into Sharpthorne. Keep an eye out to the left for the round brick cylinder of Sharpthorne Tunnel’s ventilation shaft. Shortly after this come a garage and convenience store on the right, which are accompanied by a Public Footpath sign indicating the Sussex Border Path.

This works its way out of the village, drops down a wooded old path and opens out into a field. Several fields follow, with a reasonably well-trodden path and marked stiles or gates leading the way over the rolling valley side. The railway is at the bottom of the valley, hidden in the edge of Courtland Wood and a deep cutting; it will occasionally make “chuff” noises, but actually seeing the origin of these noises is more of a challenge.

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The path eventually reaches a surfaced lane with a signpost instructing a left turn. After obeying and following the lane for a couple of hundred yards it opens onto Horsted Lane. Turn right and follow this “lane” (a perfectly reputable road) southwards. At Tanyard the Sussex Border Path diverges to the left; instead, turn right up the drive a hundred yards afterwards (signposted as a footpath and named “Vox End”) and follow this anonymous public right of way as it leads around the end of the garden into another field. Carry straight on down through the gates to meet the railway at a handsome bridge over its cutting. In front of the bridge is a classic set of upper-quadrant semaphore signals, providing useful guidance as to whether it might be worth waiting to see if a train is coming. (Raised arms denote a train approaching from Kingscote.)

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If the arms are level, or the train has now passed, or it hardly seems worth waiting, cross the lane that uses this bridge and follow the footpath down the side of the railway. Halfway down the field it crosses the railway (with a comprehensive array of warning signs and a good view in both directions). Turn left after using the crossing and continue alongside the railway – the footpath using the alignment of the former “Up” line.

This is a rather good photographic section if anything happens to come past, so on gala days is likely to involve picking past a lot of people with cameras. Otherwise it offers a slightly elevated view of the landscape and close-ups of a couple more semaphore signals (the latter of which owes more to operational convenience than authentic heritage).

The resumption of double-line for Horsted Keynes station forces the path off the railway alignment, so it drops slightly down the hill, swings round to gain a handy lane and carries back up to the railway, which is then crossed by a bridge (which again gives good views of the railway, including an angle on Horsted Keynes station straight into the sun, and is therefore liable to feature lots of people with cameras or simply enjoying the view).

Proceed through the gate and follow the track round to the right. It then drops through the car park to Horsted Keynes station, one of the largest in preservation and formerly a junction for a branch to Haywards Heath (that ironically lasted longer than the mainline, keeping the station out of preservation for the first few years of the heritage operation’s existence, but which is now mostly missing).

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The station is frequently used for filming by television and movie companies looking for a largish well-kept rural station with a good array of old-looking trains on hand which isn’t too far out of London. It may therefore be recognised from Downton AbbeyNorth & South and ITV’s version of The Railway Children, among other things.

Trails from the Rails 2: Duncraig to Duirinish

  • Area: Ross & Cromarty
  • Local Train Operators: Scotrail
  • Length: About 6 miles
  • Points of Note: Carn a’ Bhealaich Mhoir and Loch Achaidh na h-Inich
  • OS maps – Explorer 428 (1:25,000); Landranger 24 (1:50,000)

Duirinish to Duncraig is in some regards the more logical option here, as Duncraig has the better views for admiring while waiting for one of the four trains each way daily that link the two stations (two daily Sundays mid-May to September; one daily other Sundays). However, starting at Duncraig gets a good sharp opening climb to get the walk under way and then provides an easy roll down – rather than a long, steady slog followed by a sharp drop at the end.

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There are many stations in Britain that wangle for the status of “best” and many of them do it on the grounds of “most attractive”. Few, however, can beat the view offered from the platform at Duncraig once the train has pulled away and, like a curtain at a theatre, revealed the setting for the opening movements:

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Trying to hide behind the pines on the island of Eilean Lagach is the village of Plockton, the main intermediate centre of population served by this railway (which links Inverness with Kyle of Lochalsh). The walk to Plockton along the shores of this little bay off Loch Carron is a particularly simple one, and from Plockton the road can be followed round to Duirinish to take in some wonderful nuggets of landscape with barely any mountain climbing at all.

After admiring the octagonal waiting shelter, and reflecting on the railwaymen who saved Duncraig station by refusing for several years to acknowledge the halt had been closed and continuing to stop trains here, the walk begins by leaving the platform and heading up what passes as the station access road past Duncraig Castle. The Castle has had a difficult life, culminating in being taken on by an extended family who tried to do it up. By the end of the reality TV series detailing their efforts the castle had not improved much and the family relationships had disintegrated. Nowadays it’s being renovated into a hotel, currently opening in Spring 2018.

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Follow the drive up to the road, turn left and walk a little along until a fingerpost points right into the remains of the wood. Commence climbing in earnest, following the old paths and aiming for the block of trees along the hillside to the south. At the base of these trees is a forestry track; pick this up and turn left along it. Glance back and admire the developing view.

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Carn a’ Bhealaich Mhoir briefly comes into view through the trees, topped by its radio mast. Admire it briefly (very briefly – it is not an especially pretty mountain), then follow the path round to the right and continue slowly rising with the “Carn” to the left.

After half a mile or so another forest track branches off to the left. Those who like their walks short (bearing in mind the paucity of Kyle line trains) can carry on here, as the turning is an out-and-back dead-ender – but anyone that unenthusiastic should have stuck to the shore route, so turn left and take the stiff slog that follows after a few hundred yards.

The track scrambles up through a gully, feeling far too steep for any self-respecting tyre-wearing vehicle, and then suddenly opens out onto the plateau high above Loch Carron. The heather ahead is lacking in paths, though a walk across it and down the sheer mountain face beyond will ultimately lead to the hamlet of Achmore and thence to the ferry-free station at Strome Ferry.

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The main track swings round and completes the climb to the radio mast, offering views across Loch Carron to the Applecross Peninsular and the Isle of Skye.

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Having admired the view to personal satisfaction from 343 metres above sea level (after a steady climb of about 340 metres), turn round and follow the track back down to the earlier T-junction. Turn left again and follow it round to Loch Achaidh na h-Inich. This is a pleasant little mountainside loch, triangular in shape, surrounded by a few cottages and feeding the Allt Dhuirinis.

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The direct route from here back to Duirinish is straight down the track until it turns into a road, then left when it meets the back lane from Duncraig and so down the valley. There is not much to note except the rather pleasant (now quite open) scenery. A discreet footpath turns off shortly after the first house on the right after the loch and twirls down the valley next to the stream. At the bottom of the road, turn left to come almost immediately to a handsome bridge over the Allt Dhuirinis.

For those who feel the walk is too short and have an hour to spare, turn left at the bottom of Loch Achaidh and strike back away from civilisation, along the flanks of the mountains. The winding path, running in this manner for just under two miles, is reasonably easy to follow, being the only one in the area. It offers some good views of the bottom end of Skye and the passage at Kyle Rhea (assuming the weather is acceptable) as it drops down into Balmacara.

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Turn right on hitting the road and begin to climb back out of Balmacara again. Take the first available right and continue following the lightly-used lane, rising from 50 metres above sea level at the end of the footpath to a peak of 159 metres while crossing the foothills back to Duirinish. The lane then twirls down the valley side and drops into Duirinish by the bridge over the allt.

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Duirinish is clustered around the little river and its floodplain, which doubles as a common. Highland cattle can occasionally be seen grazing here, with coach tours squeezing into the hamlet so their riders can get better photos.

Follow the left-hand road through the village. At the end of the houses take the right fork, leave the hills behind and strike out across the plain. The station is reached after half a mile, accompanied by a smattering of cottages.

Compared to Duncraig it is a bit of a simple affair; a longer platform, hosting milepost 59¾, lies nestled amongst the Scottish rolling hills hidden from the sea. A small wooden hut provides shelter. To the south the low mountains, freshly crossed, loom ominously.

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Walkers from Plockton or Kyle of Lochalsh who have misjudged their walk lengths and missed the last train for some hours will find it not overly difficult to get home by following the lanes instead. Warning should be given that the approach to Kyle of Lochalsh involves a lot of false starts to the township.