Following my short trip on the Hayling Billy I still had the rest of the afternoon to kill, so decided that I would stop off on the way home to take a look at the Centurian Way, another short cycle ride using an old rail route. This time the line forms part of the old Chichester – Midhurst route. This was expensively built in the 1880s but performed so badly its passenger service didn’t even make it to World War 2. Although the passenger service succumbed early, the route was used for freight services until the 1950s and the short stretch between Fishbourne Junction near Chichester to just south of Lavant was still operational until 1991 as a mineral railway to a gravel quarry. The history of the line explains why relatively little is accessible, but also why the section that is accessible is in very good shape.
|Northern End of Line|
|Former Lavant Station|
Eventually I reached an arched bridge and just beyond is a nice picnic area with several sculptures. I have noticed that a number of former rail lines turned cycle paths have these featured along the route, presumably to keep the interest of young children who love to find such stuff en route. I know mine do anyway. This is actually the site of the old gravel depot/ railhead and the scene now compared to how it once was is quite startling. Gone are the conveyor belts, chugging diesel locomotives and the dust. Now the scene is dominated by a large area of planting in a grassy bowl where the gravel pit once was. The design looks like a circular maze and when I passed the raised ridges were dominated by cowslips giving a yellow hue to the pattern. I suspect though that the full impact of this sculpture can only be appreciated if viewed from the air. By the picnic area itself were some stylised sculptures of the characters involved in the area during history. There was a roman soldier, a group of workers and a surveyor (?). The sculptures themselves were quite curious, resembling torpedoes standing on end with the nose cones at the top. I wondered whether they were in fact scrap from the nearby Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth.
I was soon aware of the proximity of Chichester and through the trees on a number of occasions I could see the outline of the Cathedral spire and its green copper roof. The route onwards was surprisingly rural though and obviously still performs a duty as a natural barrier between a still growing (but quite small) city and the surrounding countryside. As I headed south it became obvious that this section of the route had been used as a railway quite recently as the trackbed was good and most of the bridges were in good repair and intact.
|Former Freight Railhead|
|Artwork at Lavant Station|