Ghost Train to West Grinstead

Murder on the Orient Express, The Ghost Train, The Wheel Spins, 4.50 From Paddington, Strangers on a Train… who doesn’t love a good train mystery!? I certainly do… and what’s more, I’m lucky to have a ghost railway on my doorstep! Yes, my little village, Southwater, once had its own railway station… that was before it fell foul of Dr. Beeching’s ‘efficiency’ cull in 1966. Southwater – where this 18km circular walk begins – was a stop on the Steyning Line, which connected Horsham with Shoreham-by-Sea. The route of the old railway now forms the ‘Downs Link’, a 48km footpath linking the North Downs Way with the South Downs Way, and is favourite walk of mine. This time, however, I turned it into a circular walk…

The train left platform 1 at Southwater heading south towards the next station on the line, West Grinstead.

After about 4½km, passing through the small village of Copsale, I arrived at West Grinstead. The main station building (now, a private dwelling), platforms and signal are still in situ, although the station sign is a replica. An old British Railways coach is parked in what was the goods yard, on the original tracks. Look out, too, for the gradient post. These posts indicate a change in the steepness of the line, and were used by the driver to determine whether more power or braking was needed.

The following station on the Steyning Line was Partridge Green, however, I jumped off the train, halfway between stops, at Need’s Bridge, where the path crosses the B2135. From here, it was a cross-country hike, via the village of West Grinstead and St George’s Parish Church, until I arrived at the A24. Yikes. Traversing the A24 on foot is no mean feat. The number of times I have razzed down the dual carriageway at speed made this crossing a scary prospect indeed. Hold your nerve for a break in the traffic…

On the western side of the A24 lies the Knepp estate. The owners of Knepp are doing a brilliant job with their ‘rewilding’ project, which, this year, saw the reintroduction of beavers into Sussex for the first time in 400 years. The manor house was built in the 19th century, and is known as ‘Knepp Castle’, although this isn’t the original Knepp Castle. All that remains of the original building, which dates back to the 12th century, is a single wall and doorway which formed part of the castle keep. The ruins are visible from the A24.

After a pause to rest on a fallen tree trunk and lunch on a cheese scone, I headed through the grounds of the estate, to Shipley. Shipley is another favourite of mine for walks and is great for birdwatching and, on a lucky day, you may see some deer or one of the Tamworth pigs on manoeuvres (the first time I saw them, my immediate thought was $h¡t! Wild boar! And ran as fast as my little legs would carry me). The iconic King’s Mill in Shipley was once owned by Hillaire Belloc and appeared as Jonathan Creek’s home in the eponymous TV series. I’m sure I’ve wittered on about Shipley Mill before in a previous post, and the Knight’s Templar connection…

Heading north from Shipley, via Dragon’s Green, the way back to Southwater is mixed with weird and wonderful woodland and tranquil open pasture… and on a cold December day, plenty of mud!