Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Sussex Border Path 13 Warnham and Friday Street

Warnham Church
I have been very lucky with the weather this winter, with yet another fabulously sunny day lined up for my latest foray on the Sussex Border Path. This time I had the added dimension of a covering of snow for my walk near Horsham. I had ummed and ahhed about how to complete the next section and although not the most convenient place to include I decided that I wanted to include the village of Warnham in my walk. I had remembered that Warnham is quite a picturesque village, with a lovely church and one or two other unusual things I could throw into the mix. It was a bit ambitious to hope that I might also make it to Rusper at the other end of the section of official route given the late start that was necessary and lack of daylight hours.However, I designed a route that I could cut short if necessary.
Just Not Cricket
A few days before my walk it had snowed fairly heavily north of the Downs and although Worthing hadn’t got any, a work trip only two days earlier confirmed that there was still plenty around further north. On the way up the A24 though it didn’t look like I was going to see much. I parked up just outside Warnham Church and was immediately confronted with a fair amount of snow covering the churchyard.
This Way!
I took the time to have a wander around the church yard enjoying the white stuff before moving on. This was the church where the (in)famous writer Percy Bysche Shelley was baptised in 1792. The air was very cold and the chill was enough to catch me right into my lungs. These are almost perfect conditions for walking as it encourages a good pace in order to keep me warm. I headed out in good spirits then to head along a well used path that carried me past all the important features of the village, including the school and cricket pitch. I had to smile when I passed the latter as there was a large snowball in the nets, as though someone had bowled it there!
Wintry Landscape
At the other end of the village I headed out across snowy fields, where I quickly discovered that it was easier to stay on the snow rather than try to walk along any thawed sections. The sun had been doing its best to melt the snow and in the thawed out parts the mud was treacherous and every time I strayed on to it I almost slid straight over! These fields were very popular with dog walkers and I met a number of people all heading back in the opposite direction, I suppose for their lunch after an earlier start.
After crossing a number of fields I came upon a fairly substantial bridle path, which I turned right onto. This had all the hallmarks of a once more important route and as I consulted the map I realised that in the opposite direction to that which I took is the large house of Warnham Manor. The configuration of the path I was on suggested that this was probably once one of the main tracks to it. The track crossed some woodland that looked really good with the covering of snow and low winter sunshine shining through it. In a few places I could see where the snow had melted a little only to refreeze overnight during this bitterly cold week.It did make for some interesting mini icicles on even the smallest leaves. The walking underfoot was also deliciously crunchy!
Warnham Water Tower
At the other end of the track I joined what is still a road, the main route now heading off towards Warnham village rather than the Manor House. Luckily this stretch of road walking was quite short but passed by the most curious building I had seen in a long time. It had the appearance of a fairy tale castle and sported a very large clock face. It looked rather out of place in the Sussex countryside, looking almost like something out of a Brothers’ Grimm story. I later learned that it was originally a water tower for the now demolished Warnham Lodge estate, built in 1891 but redundant from its original use in the 1930s.The main house was built for Sir Henry Harbin, the chairman of the Prudential Insurance Company, and was demolished in the 1960s.Many of the estate houses still exist and the old water tower is apparently open one day per year (mental note – must find out when that is!).
Dutch Style House
Just past the tower I took a left along another estate road, this time heading towards a Dutch style farmhouse. As I walked along the track leading to the house I mused about how tricky it must have been to drive along there when the snow first came. Fortunately a few days later and the wheel ruts were perfectly thawed while the centre was still covered in snow. As it reached the house the track stopped, leaving me with only a footpath down to the A29. Luckily this was easy enough to cross and my onward walk down through the trees on the other side passed by several clumps of snowdrops, such a wonderful late winter sight! Even with snow everywhere this was a great reminder that the end of winter would soon be upon us.
Signs of Spring
I crossed a small river by means of a lichen encrusted footbridge and looked down at the river below. It was obviously a very slow moving stream for it was completely frozen in places, while the rest had a texture that resembled slush puppy. Yet the onward path had almost completely melted and I cursed the mud that had ensued.Very strange conditions! I passed through Dawes Farm, which seems to be some kind of horse veterinary hospital these days and onwards to Monks Farm where I finally found the official Sussex Border Path route that I had left a couple of weeks earlier. Conditions couldn’t have been more different – from the earlier sea of mud I was now faced with the thickest snow I had yet come across. The crystals from the ice that had formed from several days of frost since were quite remarkable.
Frozen River
At Monks Farm I came across a lot more activity than I had last time. There appeared to be some kind of hunt going on. I guess in these days of no fox hunting that it was a drag hunt, but to my untrained eye I couldn’t see or hear much difference. There were lots of older men in their country gear standing around waiting for something to happen, while in the distance I could hear the unmistakable sound of a pack of hounds barking in excitement. I passed the same horses that I had done a coupel of weeks before, this time covered in even more outdoor wear to protect them from the worst of the cold. They packed together nonetheless to try and stay warm in the cold frozen field.
A Thaw?
At Monks Farm I joined the former Roman Road of Stane Street. I have of course come across this road on my walks, notably as it crosses the South Downs Way at Bignor Hill. However, this is the first time I had actually walked any stretch of it. Most of the Roman Road north of the Downs is still used for the A29 as it heads up from the south coast towards London. However, this section is unused as the A29 deviates from the line for about seven miles through this northern part of Sussex. To the untrained eye, it doesn’t look much like an ancient highway. It is straight though and after some length I guess it would seem a little more obvious. I didn’t get much chance to too much of a feel for it as the Border Path took a right hand turn after a short length.
Bare Tree
The next stage of the walk back towards the A29 was delightful, heading along an icy track initially tree lined and then through snow covered mossy woods. By now the sun was as high in the sky as it was ever going to get and the light was fabulous. I did start to think that I wasn’t going to get to my intended destination of Rusper and hit upon the idea that I might see if I could get a bus from there back to Warnham. I didn’t think this would be cheating as it wouldn’t be on the official route, just cutting off some of my loop. Any thoughts in this direction were soon scotched though as I realised that there seems to be no bus service on a Saturday from Rusper L.
Waiting For Something to Happen
My route continued straight across the A29 through Denne Farm along a very welcome concrete track. At this time of year I have decided that all weather surfaces are my friends and I am happy to do a lot more road walking than I would in the summer months. Denne Farm was apparently once a pig farm, although the pig sheds looked quite derelict when I passed by. The main farmhouse though was wonderfully ancient looking, half timbered and I am guessing built with local brick, giving it a warm pinkish colour that was heightened by the surrounding snow.
Denne Farm
Just past here and I had some route confusion. The finger post pointed in a different direction than the map suggested. I decided to follow my instincts and stick with the map. I am glad that I did, for just a little further along the path and the route signs continued in the direction I thought they ought to. By now the aeroplanes that had been bugging me all day were seemingly right overhead. As I continued I realised that they were all heading into land at Gatwick and they continued almost like a conveyor belt at intervals of about two minutes. Fortunately the gaps in between allowed me to enjoy the signing of the birds through yet another stretch of woodland.
Paynes Green
At the hamlet of Paynes Green I resumed road walking for a bit. This enabled me to pick up the pace again for a short while although it was fairly clear to me by now that I would have to do some route changes in order to get back to Warnham for about 5pm when darkness was likely to fall. Smugglers Lane soon turned into a small track once again just after the magnificent house at Oakdale Farm. As I passed through the gate just beyond I also came upon the first people out on a leisure outing, this time on two wheels though rather than foot. They were thankful they didn’t have to get off their bikes as I was on hand to open the gate for them.
The next farm I came across had some animal action in its very frozen looking yard, with a small group of pigs snuffling around in the snow looking for food. Across the way were a group of skittish ducks, trying desperately to take a swim in the only free water in an otherwise iced up pond. It proved to be the only pond with free water in it for awhile, which probably accounted for how busy it was. All the other ponds in Wattlehurst Farm were completely frozen. A view across to the Surrey Hills beyond revealed a very white outlook – clearly the snow was more persistent the further north you looked.
Frozen Pond
I left the nicely surfaced track that I had been following for the last couple of miles to cross a field that was actually quite tricky on account of the ankle deep snow that had drifted across it. As I descended across the field I soon realised that all the snow at the bottom of the field had actually been blown across to the top, leaving a lot of green at the bottom, rather different to what I might have expected.
The path left the field and passed through a wintry wooded glade, complete with another very frozen looking pond before passing by the impressive looking house known as Bonnetts. The path skirted around the grounds of this large Elizabethan style house giving only glimpses of the impressive architecture. At the top of the path I took a wrong turn, heading along a small footpath instead of on the main route. I only discovered my mistake when I reached the A24, a little further on. Instead of having a path opposite as I should have done I found to my horror that I was about 200 metres further south. There was only one thing for it and that was to walk along the side of the main road in order to regain my route. This turned out to be a most unpleasant experience as there was no footway and precious little clearance.
Feeding Station
Thankfully I didn’t have too far to go and soon got on to my route once again. I was now starting to think about plan B for my onward route as it was clear that I wasn’t going to make it to Rusper and Warnham before nightfall. I decided therefore to cut my route short at the Royal Oak pub in Friday Street. I crossed over the Horsham to Dorking railway line and then took a left across fields skirting what looked like a fishing club. All the ponds were frozen over though, giving the fish a welcome if chilly respite from the sportsmen. Navigation through this section wasn’t that easy and I felt rather unconvinced of my route finding. However, I needn’t have worried as it was merely the signage that was lacking and not my navigation skills.
Fading Light
At the Royal Oak I decided to continue my route along the road known as Friday Street. After some tricky conditions underfoot I was quite glad of a solid route for awhile and was pleased to note that the road wasn’t too busy. In fact I only saw a couple of cars in the mile that I walked along. At Cripplegate I was surprised to find an East Sussex style finger post – never seen one in West Sussex before (the styles are very different). I took the opportunity to leave the road at this spot and dived back into the woods. Alongside me was a very large fence and I remembered that on the other side were some fairly extensive quarries that once belonged to the brick making industry. Quarrying operations are still the order of the day in some of these workings but one section is now home to all the rubbish being produced by households in West Sussex!
Friday Street
Fortunately both of these uses are out of sight through the woods of Northlands Copse and Graylands. In fact there are no hints at all of industry going on, with no noise to disturb the ambience of the woods. Against all my expectations I really enjoyed walking through this stretch, considering that it didn’t look very promising on the map. The sun was starting to fade and the winter trees were picked out in golden light against the backdrop of the snow. Eventually when I emerged from the woods I stood blinking for a moment in the low winter sunshine after the gloominess under the trees. I could see Horsham ahead of me and knew now that I didn’t have far to go. Behind me stood the large house at Graylands. This was once the retreat of the owner of the Kimberley Diamond Mines and then the HQ of Redland Bricks. It is now a business centre, probably quite a nice place to entertain clients!
Brookhurst Wood
I looped around the fields to find myself on Friday Street once again and had to double back a short distance to get myself onto the approach road to Warnham station. I was surprised to see that this was a no-through road as it wasn’t obvious from the map that that would be the case. Along the tree lined road I could hear the unmistakable sound of lapwings and their ‘pee-wit’ calls. A couple strayed close enough that I could see their head feathers – a nice little touch of class from Mother Nature! No such luck with a picture though – I would just have to make do with the memory!
When I got to Warnham station, I could immediately see why this was a no through road – the level crossing has been taken out and the track fenced off for vehicles. Sadly the old wooden gates have been removed and replaced by something a lot more functional, but to see what they once looked like take a look at the picture hosted here - http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/28329. Sadly the signal box has also been recently demolished but other than that the station looks in pretty good nick. Its hourly service is rather surprising given that it is over a mile to the village that it is supposed to serve. Most stations like this are long gone.
Warnham Station
Alongside Warnham station is a line of cottages that were probably built originally for railway workers and/ or the brick making industry. They look like pretty nice places to live, albeit a little lonely and rather too dependent for my liking on a one road in and out arrangement. The road today was frosting already in this late afternoon and the sun was now sinking fast. I got my skates on and headed to the village of Warnham, crossing the busy A24 once more en route. The sun finally disappeared below the church just before I reached it at 5pm. I breathed a sigh of relief that there would be no road walking after dark this time, especially as there had been rather a lot for the last few miles.
Warnham Station Cottages
This was a section of the Sussex Border Path that was improved by the addition of Warnham and a decent covering of snow. Both of these factors added an extra dimension to the walk, which may have been rather dull otherwise. If it had been a full day’s walking or with more walker friendly conditions I think that getting to Rusper would have been a definite possibility. However, I was pleased that I didn’t include those extra couple of miles as I only just managed to get back in daylight hours as it was! The next part of the journey should be ideal for plane spotting as I will come within a short distance of Gatwick.
Heading Back into Warnham Village

Friday, 3 February 2012

Sussex Border Path 12 Rudgwick and Rowhook


Conditions today could not have been better for winter walking. Clear skies and a chill in the air meant for a frosty start which is always good to encourage a quick warm up! I started my Sussex Border Path loop today at Rudgwick, a village that I skirted last time out by walking along the Downs Link path. It was tempting to reprise a lot of that section of the walk, but I resisted the temptation to walk too much of it. I parked on the roadside in the village fairly close to the church and headed up to a footpath opposite the Kings Head public house. I left the car listening to the first couple of games of the Australian Open Tennis semi-final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.I vowed to keep an eye on the match on my mobile phone on the way round. Heresy I know but I was intrigued to see how it went.
Frosty Start
Any thoughts of easy conditions created by the frost were soon dashed as there was enough warmth in the air to have melted the top surface of the path and immediately I knew that despite the benign weather conditions it would not be easy underfoot all day. A slick and greasy surface suggested that I would become a mud monster by the time I got back! I crossed a couple of fields and a wooded stream valley before coming to the old railway once again just south of Baynards Tunnel. To my surprise I saw that a lot of vegetation had been removed since my visit three weeks earlier and the view to the tunnel was almost unobstructed from some distance away.
Baynards Tunnel
As with the last time I came along here there was a lot of bird activity in the trees, with much twittering birdsong in the air. I passed a small group of pensioners that looked like they were returning from their early morning dog walk. It is unusual for me to meet people on weekday walks, but they were a lot friendlier than most people I encounter and I chatted to them for a short while. Surprisingly perhaps these were the only walkers I encountered all day!
Official Path - Can You Tell?
Above the tunnel I rejoined the official Sussex Border Path. This skirted along the side of a field with a view across the Surrey Hills to the north and a still functioning brickworks to the south. Brick works used to be a major feature of Sussex industry but most of the works I remember as a boy are now long since closed. Although still in use, there wasn’t much activity today though so I didn’t linger too long.
Rudgwick Brick Works
Soon enough I was back in Rudgwick after my little loop to position myself where I had left the path three weeks earlier. I took the opportunity to have a good look around the churchyard at the 13th Century church. Despite the fact that we are in the middle of winter there was plenty of colour in the churchyard with a bush sporting some very red berries at one end and the first flush of daffodils at the other. This is testament to the largely mild winter that we have so far been having.
Rudgwick Church
Eventually I pushed on from the church and headed eastward along some very attractive estate roads. This was something of a relief as the all weather surfacing wasn’t as hard as a road, but did give some welcome respite from the mud. The light in the trees above really caught my eye, especially the silver birch trees which look so good in this winter weather. It gave me the opportunity to play further with the camera and I experimented a lot with bokeh shots, with mixed results. I am beginning to understand the limitations of the camera and although it does take some really good quality shots, I am still not quite convinced that it offers such a significant improvement on the compact, when the extra bulk is considered. I shall probably end up taking both cameras – probably not the best idea but it should give me a better range all round.
Winter Crop
There were quite a few small things that I could focus on in the otherwise brown and green landscape. Somehow rosehips suddenly take on extra significance and even lichen can add some cheery colour to the otherwise drab and slumbering vegetation. After all the woodland walking of previous sections this part was remarkably open and views across to the Surrey Hills were almost uninterrupted for quite some time. Even the couple of farms that I passed, at Bury St Austen’s and Ridge Farm were remarkably clean and tidy; quite the contrast to previous sections of this tour of Sussex.
Sunny Morning
It was through this section that I saw something rather remarkable – a chap mowing the lawn! I have never seen this on a January day before. I was so surprised that I remarked to the chap doing the work and he advised me that if he didn’t his lawn was growing at such a rate that it would be impossible to do by mid-February. Remarkable! It just goes to show what mild weather we have had this winter.
Robin Companion
Eventually I came to a busy road at Honeywood House. I passed the rather splendid little lodge house and passed through what could be described as the tradesman’s entrance, for the path took a discrete line along the back of the estate. I think it now serves as a nursing home, although not all of the buildings are in use. Nevertheless given the architecture of even the outbuildings I would say that this was probably once a grand estate. The path slipped by the houses almost unnoticed and I plunged into the woods.
Lodge House
The woods here were fully of fluffy mosses, slivery branches of trees glowing in the sunlight above and a straightish track, possibly once an estate road. The woods were very active with singing birds and the loud knockings of woodpeckers. Yet try as I might I saw virtually none of these birds, save for one small blue tit high up in the branches beyond the reach of my camera! I came out at yet another lodge house, this one slightly grander than the other end of the estate. The owner was in his garage tinkering with his vintage motorbikes. I thought better of intruding on his privacy and pushed on without bothering or taking any pictures of him. His motorbikes were exquisite though – I was tempted for a moment!

Honeywood House
At Monks Lane I took a sharp right and wandered along the road through the middle of hedged in fields. Behind me was the very substantial house of Monks, yet another example of fine country living for the uber-rich. Not sure that I would ever really feel comfortable living in such a large house, although I do enjoy the architecture of such places. A little further on at Monks Farm I was greeted by a very loud barking dog – not the usual guard dog but a big fluffy haired black one! He was a nuisance as no-one seemed to take any notice of him but me and I wanted to linger for a minute so I could check my route!
Monks Farm
At Monks Farm I left the official route. To be honest the mud was getting me down a bit and although I was enjoying the fresh winter air, the constant sliding and picking my way through puddles was not enjoyable. I plotted a route that took me as close as possible to Stane Street, the ancient Roman Road that used to run between Noviomagus (Chichester) and Londinium (London) and now largely under the A29 (apart from this short section in North Sussex).
Stane Street Residents
I went from Monks Farm to Charmans Farm, a rather interesting farm although surprisingly little human activity. The farm was full of cattle cooped up in barns, although to be fair they didn’t look unhappy. I am sure a warm barn is preferable to a muddy field anyway on a cold winter day. A few of them looked up as I went by, probably wondering if I was there to feed them. Alongside the farm was an enormous pile of tyres, which I subsequently learned were not there because of some kleptomania issue, but used to keep the tarpaulins covering the silage outside weighted down.
How Now Brown Cow
A couple of muddy fields later and a short stretch of woodland surrounding a small stream and I entered what I can honestly say is one of the biggest fields I have ever seen in my home county. The path took me on a route all the way round, probably the best part of half a mile! At the far end I entered the small hamlet of Rowhook. This small place was filled with the pungent smell of wood smoke. The road into the village had the cheery sight of a small bed of purple crocuses. I guess spring is not that far away! The pub opposite, the Chequers, had a rather unusual looking corrugated metal outbuilding and was very whitewashed. Sadly no decent looking pub sign, but the place otherwise looked in rude health which was good to see for such an out of the way place.
Tyre Dump
I was back on Stane Street briefly and passed by perhaps the most incognito trig point I have ever seen, lurking beyond a thicket of vegetation at the side of a field next to the path. Seeing anything from that point would no longer be easy and I am guessing it hasn’t been used for its primary purpose for some considerable time. I’m not even sure it would be ripe for adoption in that location.
The Chequers
At the intriguingly named Burnt House I took a sharp right to head off through Roman Wood on a straight track that started out wide and true and got increasingly narrow and overgrown as I proceeded. The woods were strangely silent now too – removing much of the enjoyment from the walk. I was glad to eventually reach the lake at the far end. This is now a fishing haunt although the map suggests that an ironworks would have been located at the far end. There aren’t too many furnace ponds that are so readily identified as being associated with the 17th Century iron industry but this must have been one of the more important ones.
Fishing Station
The walk through the subsequent part of the woods couldn’t have been more different to the section before the lake. This was a light and airy woodland, with little undergrowth and even plenty of birdlife! It made for a very enjoyable last section of walking and I was pleased to get back to Rudgwick. I got back to the car to hear the last game of the tennis match, remarkably still going on five hours after I had left it. Inevitably perhaps, Murray lost but he gave his opponent a hell of a match.
Silvery Trees
This was a section of the Border Path and loop that would perhaps have been more enjoyable when conditions underfoot are a little friendlier. Yet, even on a day like this there is much to commend this part of Sussex. Plenty of history, no crowds of people and the feeling of nature going on all around you. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time!