West Sussex

There is some outstanding countryside in the West Sussex section of the Sussex Border Path, some of the best in all of lowland England. 

After a little seaside stroll on the first morning, you are soon heading up towards the South Downs, now a National Park, though it was not when I walked it. Something like 40 miles of the Path are in the Park, and there are secret dells, wooded and open commons, and the famous scarp slope of the Downs ridge all to explore.

Indeed, there’s the high point of all Sussex too, Black Down, but while it’s in the South Downs National Park, is very much in Sussex, and is called a Down, it’s more properly the southernmost of the Surrey Hills, despite the toponym.

View from Chalton Down

View from Chalton Down

The Surrey Hills are scarcely less good than the South Downs, and form an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in their own right. This being a border path, the route strays over the county boundary and into the AONB for a mile or two not far from Black Down, but even when you’re not in it, the Surrey Hills are well visible, including their high point of Leith Hill.

It is difficult for the remaining stretch of the Path in West Sussex to live up to this, not least with Gatwick Airport to circumnavigate, but it has a good try around the likes of Rudgwick and Rusper and then finally on the approach to the end of this section at East Grinstead.

Skip past West Sussex to East Sussex

Friday 31 July 2009: Emsworth to Rowland’s Castle; 14 miles, 13 on path

Emsworth manages to keep some character despite the overbearing presence of Havant and Portsmouth to the west. You start where the coast road divides two little lagoons, before branching right at the Sussex Brewery pub, of which more later. From here, the path leads you out to a marina, keeping distinctive houses on stilts to your left. After a so-so crossing of the isthmus, you come out to the shoreline at Prinsted, and the Thorney Island loop begins.

It’s a loop of three thirds. First, down the east coast of the island, views sweep high to Stoke Down (below) and Goodwood Racecourse; there were racegoers on my train today, and this most beautiful of racecourses will have been at its best. Further round are the channels of Chichester Harbour, busy with dinghies today, and the spire of Chichester Cathedral. I’ve always found it remarkable that this is the only ancient English cathedral visible from the sea.

The view to Stoke Down

The view to Stoke Down

West Thorney church

West Thorney church

Thorney Island was a Battle of Britain airbase, and is now in the hands of the Army, and it’s rather disconcerting to be greeted by a remotely-manned guard tower at Great Deep. Here, you have to give your details before being allowed to proceed. The former settlement of West Thorney (on the east side of the island!) is not far away, its wonderful Norman church a good excuse for a break.

The island’s southern shore has views out to sea, the Isle of Wight rising beyond Hayling Island, before the northwards turn at Marker Point. From here, at first the hills above Portsmouth dominate, with their naval installations completing a military full house, until after passing out of MOD land, Emsworth’s pretty-looking wharf side comes to dominate. What a very good little start this has been; not typical of the path as a whole, perhaps, but the only opportunity to see a side of Sussex that would otherwise not be revealed.

The Sussex Brewery pub is far too good to miss retracing your steps a few yards back up the main road. Beer, food, sawdust floor all highly recommended, and they retained a traditional barmaid too. (A glance at their website in 2021 shows neither sawdust not barmaid however.) Afterwards, there’s a pretty little lane beside a stream before an underpass to the A27 and a broad field behind houses. Some suburban bits follow, before your first taste of woodland. Farm lanes bring you, through a neck of woodland, dramatically into the Stansted House ride. The house, former seat of the Earls of Bessborough is a mile away, in the wrong direction, so turn instead towards Rowlands Castle, a village with three pubs, hardware store, and an awful lot of money.

Stansted House ride

Stansted House ride

Friday 27 November 2009: Rowland’s Castle to Liss; 16 miles, 13 on path

A belated return. After crossing the railway, it’s a lovely start, past the hamlet of Finchdean and on up to Chalton Down. This little downland summit is an excellent all-round viewpoint, the route forward into the woods of West Harting Down being traceable to the right of Ditcham Park school, with other views to the Hampshire section of the South Downs Way and, behind you, back to the Solent. On the ascent the little scarp slope leading to Compton Down is notable too, beyond the tiny isolated chapel at Idsworth.

Below Chalton Down, the eponymous village has its own church. I took my first break here, and enjoyed listening to organ practice. If my timings had been a little different I might well have enjoyed a pint or two at the impossibly cute half-timbered pub, just outside the churchyard. The rain started on exit and kept with me through the wooded section rising to the main downland ridge. With head down through a forest ride, I missed the right turn away to a footpath. There were no troubles thereafter, but note that unusually the northern scarp is in two sections, the very grand Foxcombe Farm between them, and the South Downs Way intersected just before the final dip. The Petersfield – Chichester road runs below the Way, and I took its wide grass verge into South Harting, and lunch and drying out before a real fire at the Ship Inn (which alas has closed, but the White Hart survives).

Down Park Farm

The graveyard at Down Park Farm

After contouring below the hill fort on Torberry Hill, there’s a straggly road-and-field section until, just after a farm vehicle graveyard at Down Park Farm, the silver birch trees of West Heath Common come into view. This is one of the many Sussex heaths linked by the Serpent Trail, here coincident with the SBP; it will reappear frequently in the next two stages. The River Rother is crossed next. Don’t mistake this with the other Sussex Rother, which we will meet on the final SBP stage of all.

The short winter dusk was drawing in as I headed north away from Durleighmarsh Farm into Durford wood, and I knew I would have to make good time to avoid use of head torch. I did, just, but regretted not having better light to enjoy the National Trust territory to my left. The SBP exits onto a minor road not far from the village of Hill Brow, where I had lunched on the Serpent Trail three years before. This time, however, it was a roadside walk in the dark, down to Liss and my train home.

Friday 12 February 2010: Hill Brow to Haslemere, 10 miles

Barbara joined me for this short stage, on a rather grey day in a chilly winter. Much of the section is coincident with the Serpent Trail, in particular the start through Rake Hanger, the middle section from our lunch pub to Liphook, and the finish over Marley Common. This meant I could anticipate highlights, though once I rather unfortunately over-promised.

I’d been looking forward to the return to Rake Hanger. Truth was though that it’s stark in winter; not without its own beauty, but one which needs to be sought out more. Barbara reckoned springtime would be glorious. After crossing the old A3, the path separates from the Serpent Trail and heads north, past the distinctive dome of White Eagle Lodge, the “mother lodge” of a meditative community. Open country lies to your left after crossing the railway, but in total distinction to the lodge it provides military training – you may hear firing. This is the Longmoor military range, and once it included its own full-sized rail network, so that soldiers might know how to commandeer rail transport while fighting overseas. Turning east, you pass the ‘equine hospital’ of Home Park before the Serpent Trail rejoins at Chapel Common.

I remember passing the Black Fox inn last time, when it was ill-timed for a break. It was the natural lunch stop today, and we were looking forward to it. And three well-kept ales, two from micros, would recommend it to drinkers. Our grilled sole did not live alas live up to website promise (chef may be different now of course). A short shower and golf course trudge as we started out again didn’t lift spirits either. But the sun started to lift on the way to the pleasantly wooded Stanley Common.

Rake Hanger

Rake Hanger

Stanley Common

Stanley Common

I promised Barbara the reward for the next climb would be the fine views – and the bench – I remembered from Linchmere Common on the Serpent Trail. I had not however realised that the SBP doesn’t go that way, so I earned myself a bit of a black mark. Another little rise took us to the day’s high point of 192m before the short drop down the escarpment to the main road, with fleeting glimpses of Black Down to the south-east, which we remembered from another of our walks together. The day ended as it had begun, with a short bus trip forming the link between walk and station.

Friday 23 April 2010: Haslemere to Rudgwick, 16 miles

Sometimes English weather does wonderful things. This was a perfect spring day, around 15 degrees with the lightest of cool breezes, and never a cloud in the sky. If there was a little haze, it served only soften the outlines of the Surrey Hills and South Downs, which the Path runs between for much of this walk.

The initial task is to climb Black Down, the highest point of all Sussex. The route cheats a little and leaves the summit a little to the south, but I’d visited the high point before, on a stage of the Serpent Trail. In fact, neither route crosses the summit, which is tucked away in the woodland which covers the top; the best views are from the edges, and I enjoyed a short break at a bench which looked out towards the Downs beyond Petworth.

Black Down

Black Down, just below the summit

Surrey border bank

Surrey border bank

Below the hill, a road is followed for a mile or so. Springtime flowers meant that this was much less of a trudge than I had feared. Beyond the A283, the route holds to a little ridge, with first the Surrey Hills to the north, then the South Downs to the south, being in clear view, and sometimes both. It’s a portion too where the border path truly lives up to its name; for long stretches, a little bank marks the boundary with Surrey, and it’s followed very closely.

I took my picnic stop in a pretty patch of woodland. I’d thought of a diversion south to the pub at Plaistow, but I found it did no lunches alas, so I had made my plan to take advantage of the pub at the end, not the middle. And on a day like this, why not stay outdoors?

After lunch, wild garlic scented the air in little watery dells, before a descent to the River Lox and, a few yards further on, the site of the Wey & Arun canal. The canal here was a long way from restoration, although the Wey & Arun Canal Trust had that in mind. The Path is somewhat more nondescript beyond Alfold Bars, eventually crossing through the private Rikkyo school, of which I would tell you more were its website not in what I think is Japanese. Beyond here, the little ridge is regained, bringing the distant views of mid-morning once more.



With time in hand, I spent a few moments exploring the entrance to Rudgwick’s old rail tunnel, just below the Path. The rail line, which closed in 1965, is now the Downs Link foot- and cycle-path. From the tunnel entrance, I could hear the beep-beep of reversing trucks, and back on the ridge the reason soon became obvious. Rudgwick was then home to an extensive brick works. This was something of a West Sussex industry once: the former works at Midhurst and Amberley can be seen on the Serpent Trail and the South Downs Way, with the latter the site of an industrial museum. Rudgwick’s works though were still then flourishing, and indeed had taken away so much of the hillside that the path has been moved away from the edge owing to risk; however, by 2014 the works had closed. Rudgwick’s church nestles picturesquely behind the King’s Head pub, and I chose the latter to splend a pleasant hour in the sunshine, with Harveys ale slipping easily down.

Friday 6 August 2010: Rudgwick to Gatwick, 17 miles

A stage with undoubted highlights but some lengthy ho-hum stretches in between, not helped by more miles on tarmac or concrete than is obvious from the map. Directional reassurance not needed from compass, flights from Gatwick being east-west markers more or less. Remarkably, Gatwick is not the blight one might expect, with a little manufactured valley hiding it from view until the very end.

Barely a mile from Rudgwick, the motif of the previous stage recurs, with the Surrey Hills in profile to the north, and the South Downs in the distance south. A little stretch past Monks Farm follows the path of Stane Street, the London-to-Chichester Roman Road, before an excellent view of Leith Hill, the highest ground in south-east England, from Wattlehurst Farm. So two good views and a Roman Road in the first half, which ends at the (now closed) Royal Oak on Friday Street. By common consent this was one of the top real ale pubs in the country and, as they say, worth a detour, except that one did not need to: its outdoor tables were on the road of Friday Street itself, and hence one was drinking on the path proper. Food menu was a little limited, but with a bangers-and-mash sausage count of four, who needs choice? But alas …

Stane Street

Stane Street

The view to Leith Hill

Between the pub and the comfortable village of Rusper, little more than a mile further on, is the delightful Horsegills Wood, where one follows and then crosses a little stream that is in, for Sussex, something of a ravine. Rusper itself has (or at least had) a choice of three pubs, a distinctive sandstone church, and a car dealer whose trailer had to be climbed over for it blocked the path. More particularly for the SBP, Rusper sits on a hill between the rivers Arun and Mole, the first flowing south and the second north, to the Thames, and hence the most significant watershed-crossing yet. The descent proper to the Mole begins at Russ Hill, where one has a clear view, should one want it, to Gatwick Airport, occupying the valley floor. Indeed around here the influence of the airport becomes all-consuming, with hotel development evident.

Gatwick Airport

Gatwick Airport

Rusper church

Rusper church

Charlwood church

Wall paintings in Charlwood church

The village of Charlwood, at the bottom of the hill, is therefore something of a surprise, with a perfectly preserved little centre with once more the church at its heart. Do go inside: the fourteenth century wall paintings, uncovered in Victorian times after post-Reformation centuries below whitewash, are nationally important. Perhaps the most important thing about Charlwood is that it is still there, for it would be obliterated by a second Gatwick runway, a plan now back in contention.

Finally, entry to Gatwick is alongside the diverted River Mole, following the airport’s northern boundary. The airport authorities have done a good job here: embankments either side mean there is a genuine sense of valley with flood meadow, as well as keeping the airport out of sight. However airport access finally intrudes a mile or so from the south terminal, and it’s a case of dodging roundabouts and the north terminal transit until the SBP swings north in subways. Rain, threatened all day, finally came on. Could I find a pedestrian way in to the airport station? Not without asking, twice, and ascending the wrong flight of stairs once.

Friday 12 November 2010: Gatwick to East Grinstead, 11 miles

Gatwick is left behind on some very humdrum stuff. It’s a relief to get to the woods beyond Copthorne Common, but the best stuff is undoubtedly the couple of miles out of Crawley Down. A drizzly morning became a very wet afternoon, but it didn’t matter.

You would think that, having finally found a way in to Gatwick Airport train station, I would find the way out again fairly easily. But no. On attempt three, I called back Barbara (who had joined me today) from wandering pointlessly down the shuttle platform, only for her to show me the stairs at its end. They dropped us almost adjacent to a Border Path sign – twisted to point the wrong way, so I twisted it back again, eager to reassert some sort of navigational authority.

Over the railway line, field paths lead to a long stretch beside the motorway, not redeemed at all by being exactly on the course of the county boundary. The traffic of course is not the loudest thing, for you’re just a few feet from the flight path here, crossing immediately below it shortly before the 11th century church at Burstow. John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, was rector here for over thirty years; there’s an interesting account of a Flamsteed Society visit to the church here.

There are big empty fields to be crossed to Copthorne, before the first hints of woodland either side of the very busy A264. At a gate beyond Keeper’s Cottage in Birchen Wood, a notice incorrectly asserted that there is no right of way; this related only to the track to the fishing pond. Beyond Home Farm, there is finally a decent view at last, across a Mole tributary towards Turners Hill. In the dip lies Rowfant House, which now combines wedding venue with home for the elderly.

Shortly, the Path takes the trackbed of the old Three Bridges to East Grinstead rail line, now the Worth Way. The old rail line had two stations, one at Rowfant and the other at the only settlement of any size, Crawley Down, though this was named ‘Grange Road’ presumably to avoid confusion with the Crawley to the other side of Three Bridges. The village has a good supply of shops, and the decent pub, the Royal Oak, bought its meat from the butcher opposite.

The Worth Way can take you direct to East Grinstead, but the Path keeps a more southerly course over by far the prettiest countryside of the day, in the catchment of the Medway. Although Mole and Medway both flow into the Thames, they do so some forty miles apart: and of course the Medway defines Kent more, perhaps, than any river defines any county. But we’re still in Sussex here. Looking back from just before Tilkhurst Farm, suddenly there’s no habitation to be seen, and it’s hard to think just how crowded is this corner of England. The Path heads back north to rejoin the Worth Way trackbed a mile-and-a-half from East Grinstead. This section was under threat of being turned into a ‘relief’ road in 2006, and who knows if the proposal will resurface. The Way leads directly to the station – though not many will now know that there were once two stations in one, with high level rail platforms supplementing those down below that are still in use.

Worth Way

Worth Way after Rowfant

Medway tributary

Barbara crossing a Medway tributary

East Sussex

You’re barely out of East Grinstead before you enter the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and you stay in it until you enter the borders of the erstwhile-maritime town of Rye. That’s nearly 60 miles in a single AONB. You’re in for a treat.

The Path ducks south for a while, leaving the border (and the Kent town of Tunbridge Wells, just over it) some miles away, to cross the Medway headwaters before turning east. In all it’s something like 20 miles from Groombridge before you’re in touching distance of the border again, at Bewl Water, one of the largest reservoirs in southern England.

Shortly beyond, there’s an imperceptible but significant watershed crossing to the catchment of the East Sussex version of the River Rother, in the vicinity of Hawkhurst; the river proper is reached at the famous castle at Bodiam. The low hills to its south are explored briefly before the last seven miles to Rye are on the banks of the river itself.

Hop farm

Hop farm above Bewl Water

Saturday 15 January 2011: East Grinstead to Ashurst, 12 miles

Like so often, a walk of two halves: hilly country in the morning, topped by the splendid old hill-fort of Dry Hill, and an afternoon riverside stroll in the company of the Medway and its border-hugging tributary, Kent Water. Cowden provided the lunch stop. The weather was in two halves too, with continual rain almost all morning, but none of the wet stuff after lunch.

Fittingly, East Grinstead town centre is in two halves too. London Road is prosaic, with the brand stores dominating, but there are some gems on the High Street, where a notable run of 14th century buildings remains. From here the path takes College Road north, over the town’s relief road, which uses the bed of the former rail line to Tunbridge Wells. There is nothing very notable about the relief road, other than it is named, without irony, ‘Beeching Way’, after the local resident who closed not only this railway but dozens of others, all in the name of the great car society. Soon, the path leaves tarmac, behind houses at first, then through Ashplats Wood before leaving West Sussex just north of the A264. You enter Surrey, not East Sussex; Kent is to be encountered next, so this is a day of four counties.

Dry Hill

Dry Hill

Field-crossings take you to the fifteenth century Old Surrey Hall, now split into various freeholds. Beyond here there is a succession of splendid views, first across a Kent Water tributary, then, having descended to its valley at Upper Stonehurst farm, of Dry Hill, followed by the Greensand hills across the Eden valley. Iron was known to have been worked at the fort in pre-Roman times, as indeed it would have been at many other sites in and around the Weald.

Dry Hill also marks the intersection of the path with the Vanguard Way, a long-distance route from Croydon to Seaford. There was, as mentioned before, nothing dry about the weather, and I turned my concentration off for a while, gravitating too far south and taking the bridleway down to Scarletts instead of the footpath meandering more south-westerly. Tut tut indeed. Instead of staying on the road all the way to Cowden, I took another path (numbered 657 on waymarks), soon rejoining the path proper (number 658).

This enters Cowden by way of the Tudor Waystrode Manor, a remarkable sight, for while clearly in excellent nick it appears to flout the normal laws of the horizontal. I spent lunch at the good Fountain Inn with my cousin Jim, who lives just south of the village. It’s always good to catch up, for we don’t see each other frequently.

Waystrode Manor

Waystrode Manor, Cowden

The Kent Water is joined at a golf course just south of Cowden churchyard. The stream delineates the Kent – East Sussex boundary all the way from East Grinstead to the Medway, and the path slips from bank to bank to give a taste of each jurisdiction. There’s a tiny deviation so as to pass beneath the Uckfield – Oxted railway, and another just short of the Medway confluence. Joining the Medway beyond Willett’s Farm – ice cream from their own Friesians available in season, but not today perhaps – the path sticks to the Sussex bank until the A264, but Ashurst station is just over the Kent boundary.

Friday 25 February 2011: Ashurst to Wadhurst, 13 miles, 12 on path

A day that moves from the headwaters of the Medway into the High Weald’s sandstone country. There are plenty of little ups and downs, amounting to 1500ft across the whole day – perhaps they felt more, as I used this day as an early-season fitness test.

This was cause of an unwanted hour on East Croydon station, due to some road user striking a bridge at Oxted and terminating my train. Thus I was not under way from Ashurst till noon: and with pub lunch closure at 2, could I cover the miles? So no ambling today. The Medway, and its Mottsmill stream tributary, are close by for the first three miles, and I recognised the floodplain from walking the Wealdway, intersected here, with Adrian five years earlier.

The old rail line back to East Grinstead is now the Forest Way, and it was busy with cyclists today. Beyond Groombridge, the afore-mentioned Mottsmill stream makes for a very pretty side valley, first on a broad grass ride, then briefly into woods, and finally through the eponymous hamlet, homes dug out of terraces in a quite un-southern way. The ups and downs start in earnest here, leading, past the spring’s first snowdrops at Renby Grange, to the main-road hamlet of Boarshead, itself named for the pub, and a very decent establishment I found it too. Dead mobiles are nailed to a board by the front door: business folk beware!

Mottsmill stream

Mottsmill stream side-valley

Mottsmill village

Mottsmill village

From Boarshead, the path now enters the High Weald’s sandstone country, which will dominate the next couple of stages. This is first most evident from the outcrop of Bowles Rocks, just off path to the north, which with Harrisons Rocks (just south of Groombridge) form virtually the only natural rock-climbing grounds of the south-east. On the next little plateau, turning right off an old road redolently named Danegate, the path dips down to more Medway-tributary headwaters, followed through a charmingly-scruffy piece of woodland into the open expanse of Eridge Old Park, a deer park with plenty of deer. Rock outcrops and then a herd of skyline deer – who would have thought it!

The day’s summit comes at the Tunbridge Wells to Heathfield road, and in all honesty the scenic highlights have passed too, but it’s still all very pleasant and remote-feeling, until the very end where the first interpolations of commuter money make themselves felt. The railway line is crossed just south of Wadhurst station, which is a little off route; I had set myself an afternoon target too, of the 4.57, which after three attempts at making the ticket machine work I made with seconds to spare.

Friday 29 April 2011: Wadhurst to Hawkhurst, 15 miles, 14 on path

My alternative to the Royal Wedding, though Barbara, who had joined me, kept up a running commentary from her radio. Today’s highlight is Bewl Water, an artificial body of water but one that looks well in its surroundings, but there’s plenty of attractive Wealden countryside too.

Bravery needed at the start, as the right-of-way soon leads through a cottage back garden. In the first little woods, the bluebells put on a splendid show, before undulations around the headwaters of the River Teise, a Medway tributary. The village of Cousely Wood sits on the ridge between these and the tributaries of the Bewl. Here, we waited a few moments between the village’s wedding-decked Old Vine pub, and rescued a couple of cyclists, hopelessly lost on the popular round-Bewl cycle ride. We pointed them along the footpath we were taking to Bewl Water – naughty really, but it seemed the right thing to do.

The Water comes into view from this path, and very good it looks too. Some reservoirs can look like an imposition on the landscape, but not this one, even though the haze in the atmosphere means we don’t see it at its best. It was good too that, despite the recent drought, it was close to full, and hence without the tide-mark of rain depletion. Nearly a third of today’s walk is alongside the water’s edge, much of it attractively wooded, with ins and outs providing an ever-changing orientation. Around halfway is the visitor centre, with good quality café (just as well, as our sandwiches were still in the fridge), cycle hire centre (made a mental note, forgot it), boat ride (ditto), and loads of things for kids (should have come here ten years ago).

Bewl Water

Bewl Water

Technically, the Path avoids both the visitor centre and the path across the dam, but I can’t imagine anyone takes the longer path along the access roads – we certainly didn’t. From the reservoir dam, Scotney Castle is in clear view – a victim should the dam break – before a short little rise comes out at the ridge village of Union Street. In the context of the path as a whole, this is a major ridge, separating the Medway catchment (flowing to the Thames) from the Rother catchment (to the Channel, at the path-end of Rye), and so equivalent to the Mole/Arun watershed at Rusper.

Devilsden Woods

Devilsden Woods

A golf course has to be crossed before Devilsden Woods, and then another little rise takes us over the A21, and descending from here, we meet for the first time the Kent Ditch, which like the similarly-named Kent Water, encountered three stages ago, forms for many miles the county boundary, though not yet. With time in hand, we take a half-hour break in a little meadow just away from the main road. Soon we cross over the Ditch and into Kent for the penultimate time, orchards taking us to The Moor, where we leave the path and make our way into Hawkhurst for our night’s lodging at the Queen’s Inn, where travellers have been coming for 500 years. The Royal Wedding party is in full swing, both indoors and out, and no-one begrudges a good time.

Saturday 30 April 2011: Hawkhurst to Bodiam, 5 miles, 4 on path

A convenient little mini-stage this, leaving me one more full day out before the Path ends in Rye. It’s one of the most attractive four miles on the path too.

Beyond East Heath oast house, a pretty path cuts down to a tributary and then up to the sprawling Conghurst Farm, before a gorgeous little stretch down to the Kent Ditch, which here is the boundary. We were surprised by the sound of gurgling water, so many smaller streams being dry. After a lane past a hop farm, there’s one more grassy rise before Bodiam Castle comes into view, across a vineyard. If you were designing a faux-mediaeval castle today, moated, square and resolute, this would be your template; it lacks nothing in familiarity, for it’s on the shortlist of location directors from here to Hollywood. And there’s a great way to get away too: steam train to Tenterden, on the Kent & East Sussex Railway.

Above Conghurst Farm

Above Conghurst Farm

Bodiam castle

Vineyard and Bodiam castle

Friday 2 September 2011: Bodiam to Rye, 19 miles, 15 on path

It had been quite fun getting away from Bodiam by steam train, but it wasn’t an option for the return; heritage railways run when they want to, and an early-September Friday wasn’t on their schedule; in any case I’d have had to get a bus to Tenterden first. So a longer day beckoned, reaching Bodiam by foot from the station at Robertsbridge. This was no difficulty, staying close to the Rother, here no more than a broad stream, but to be a much wider channel by the end of the day.

Leaving Bodiam, the SBP runs slightly uphill to the hamlet of Ewhurst Green before crossing the day’s sole patch of higher ground, courtesy of a Rother tributary, to the larger villages of Northiam and Beckley. That was half-way, roughly, for me, and with it pretty much the last of the habitation. The path ran back downhill now, soon joining the Rother’s riverbank. A few miles further on the river joins the Royal Military Canal at a former lock, and runs directly to the edge of Rye.

I had been in this well-loved small town a year or so previously, so had some idea of its geography; the town itself stands on a small patch of higher ground (50ft!) above the river, hence safe from the flood waters that would once have regularly flooded the marshes round here, as well as providing some defensive safeguard. The town is one of the ‘cinque ports’ in the first line of defence against a French invasion. Nowadays, visitors from far and wide are welcomed, and the High Street is lined with bijou little shops and, happily for the walker, tea rooms too.