- 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.
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 After some years as the Bluebell’s northern terminus Kingscote has been superseded by East Grinstead following a heavy and expensive extension.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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).
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 Abbey, North & South and ITV’s version of The Railway Children, among other things.