Monday, 5 January 2015

A Mid Sussex meander

It doesn't get much quieter down here in the crowded south east of England than a still and misty first Sunday after New Year. Give or take the distant thunder from Gatwick, that is. From East Grinstead station I shlepped along muddy paths and fields past back gardens, then a bridleway down to Weir Wood Reservoir, right on the border between East and West Sussex.

The shores of the reservoir are fenced off. With no disturbance from people or livestock, the water is fringed by a wilderness of trees and scrub, huge thorny bowed beds of bramble. Great crested grebe and common terns nest on the water. There's a mink problem though, and the plan is to attract otters to suppress the mink population. The woods were full of little birds trooping from tree to tree along the path. Blissful solitude in the early morning.

There's car access to the west end of the reservoir, hence much litter and bonfire remains. Over the road and up to a dry sandstone crest - Standen Rocks, a favourite with local climbers, according to an interpretation board. Sandstone is unfortunately easily eroded too, it also informs. This is a rare point of elevation - but there's not much to see on this murky morning.

Walking by the reservoir, a distant high-pitched fluting wail had pulled me up short. This was no obscure wading bird though, it was a steam train on the Bluebell Line beyond the Standen Rocks. White steam billowed above the bare trees as I crossed fields towards the line.

After the railway and Kingscote the route heads into Forestry Commission land, and open silent woodland.

I become misplaced for a while but find my way back on to the High Weald Landscape Trail and stop for lunch by a sunken lane through woods near the pretty village of West Hoathly. The solitude of the morning is gone and the village and surrounding woods are lively with dog walkers and families in wellies and ramblers with boots and gaiters.

After the village the trail descends a steep and heavily-wooded little valley full of moss and ferns and ivy. Perhaps it's a little, imperfect relic of the wildwood of these parts - temperate rainforest. There's a curious little reservoir catching the waters of a side stream. An iron industry flourished in the Weald from medieval times and I wonder if it's something to do with that, or something more recent.

Climbing clear of the trees, I get a perspective on the wooded folds of the Weald, and it's clearing up too.


 After the village of Ardingly a little road leads steeply down to the second reservoir of the day. Ardingly reservoir sits in a complex and hilly tract of land, with creeks branching off the main body of water into the wooded folds. With sun and mist both playing hard-to-get, it's unspeakably lovely down here.

 I follow a path hugging the shore for a couple of kilometres.

Then a final slip-sliding climb up a muddy field to the village of Balcombe, the station, remains of the flask and food bag, and home.

Thanks for reading in 2014, and (with apologies to Hamish Brown), may you put feet to your dreams in 2015.