The Optimistic Walker: exploring the delights of the 37-mile Downs Link
David Bathurst shares his passion for walking and explains why it might just be what we all need in these difficult times - particularly when we are in a county as beautiful as Sussex.
"As I intimated in my previous piece, we are now being allowed to spread our wings rather more than in the first phase of lockdown. Which means that providing we respect social distancing we can plan to walk further afield and use the car if we wish, providing we’re not travelling to other parts of the UK. There’s obviously room for interpretation there, but I would venture to suggest that we won’t be falling foul of the spirit of the law all the time we as Sussex residents are walking in Sussex. At the same time, though, we need to be respecting social distancing and should consider whether we risk compromising that by walking in or around tourist honeypots such as the Devil’s Dyke.
"One very fine Sussex walk, which avoids such honeypots, is the 37-mile Downs Link. This actually finishes in Surrey but as far as Rudgwick, 23.5 miles in, it remains in Sussex. Starting at Shoreham it follows the course of two old railway lines which shut in the 1960’s, one linking Shoreham with Christ’s Hospital on the Arun Valley line, the other linking Christ’s Hospital with the main line just south of Guildford. There’s no hill climbing, it is extremely well signposted, and there are many very interesting features en route. There are plenty of parking places and food stores too. Having left Shoreham you soon pass the lovely mid-Norman (and part Saxon) church of St Nicholas, Old Shoreham with its long narrow Saxon nave and superb carved Norman arches. Just hereabouts too is Old Shoreham Bridge, a pedestrian footbridge close to which is a brand new memorial for the victims of the Shoreham Airshow disaster in August 2015.
"There are great views here across the Adur estuary to the magnificent Lancing College Chapel. You pass under the A27 flyover then continue on north-westwards through pleasant countryside, leaving the Adur and passing the picturesque church of Botolphs with its 13th century tower and fragments of wall paintings. The route then proceeds between the village of Bramber, with its imposing castle ruin, and the lovely town of Steyning with its magnificent Norman church and Old Grammar School, whose building is 15th century. The Downs Link forsakes the course of the old line briefly north-east of Steyning but rejoins it and there’s then an excellent stretch of old line as far as the pretty village of Henfield. Easy walking along the old railway, north-westwards, takes you away from Henfield towards Partridge Green. Initially the path is in the shade of vegetation, but does open out, with another crossing of the Adur at Betley Bridge.
"The route proceeds past the undistinguished village of Partridge Green and then through pleasant countryside to the old West Grinstead Station which is one of the highlights of the walk. It has been restored to look very much as it would have done when the old line was still functioning, with platform, signal and station board, and even an old railway carriage on a piece of old railway line. Beyond West Grinstead, heading north-westwards, you pass the little village of Copsale. Slight anticlimax follows with the negotiation of the A24 by means of a modern underpass, beyond which the route passes Southwater Country Park and the modern centre of Southwater with its magnificent modern iguanodon sculpture.
"Things soon become pleasantly rural again, the Downs Link rising gently then descending to proceed once more along the course of the old line and proceeding to the impressive buildings of Christ’s Hospital. It’s then plain sailing north-westwards for several miles, as you proceed along or immediately adjacent to the old line on an excellent well-signed path past Slinfold and Rudgwick. The section between Slinfold and Rudgwick is in my opinion the most beautiful of the entire walk, passing lovely unspoilt woodland interspersed with fine stretches of open pasture, perhaps the climax coming with the impressive underbridge crossing of the river Arun in the form of a double bridge. A detour from the path allows you to get a better view The scene is extremely picturesque, particularly if the Arun is swollen during times of heavy rain.
"Sadly, not far beyond the double bridge, the tranquillity is broken with the crossing of the busy A281, and having crossed you’ll notice the surroundings become more suburban as you approach Rudgwick.
How long you take over it is a matter for you; remember that if you drove you’ll need to get back to your car somehow, so you may consider doing it in out and back stages or using two cars. There’s lots of route information online and the route is clearly marked on larger scale maps. So why not give it a try!"
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