A visit to West Sussex turned out to be a trip down memory lane for me – a 30 year-old lane to be precise! J an I decided to go on a mini adventure on Friday and planned a simple picnic of supermarket meal deals! We collected my son, T and drove South East to our destination, we kept it a secret from him for as long as we could because we wanted to surprise him. Not for any reason, just because it was part of our adventure plan!
We ate our picnic at the sailing club on the shores of the Ardingly Reservoir and then began a walk to the Balcombe Ouse Viaduct. I’d found a very detailed walking route online (thank you FancyFreeWalks for the map and the image below!) The route is 8 or 9 miles, so we thought we’d just do stages 1 and 2 from the map.
Neither my son, or J have seen the viaduct before. I have. I drove past it almost daily when I drove from Balcombe Village (where I lived) to my sister’s place in Haywards Heath. Our bookclub did a walk to the viaduct over 2 decades ago and I sense it was this same walk. Friday’s route took us through oak-edged fields scattered with deep yellow buttercups, over little wooden bridges crossing the Ouse River and along a caked mud track. Glimpses of the viaduct through the tree line enticed us to keep going. The added incentive of a yum-yum once we got to the viaduct spurred J on. She is 84 and this was a long walk for her, especially with the heat of the day.
We came to the road between Balcombe and Haywards Heath, and there is was. Wow! I don’t remember it being so tall!
Built specifically for the London to Brighton trains in 1842, this Grade II listed structure has 37 arches and is 29m tall, although we couldn’t see all of them yet, as they were hidden behind the clusters of oak trees. The last bit of the walk was along the busy road (Borde Hill Lane), through a metal gate and over a newly planted crop field. The public footpath passes under the viaduct at the Northern end.
From here you can look South and marvel at the astounding design of 37 oval openings , all different sizes panning out before you. The optical illusion takes your breath away. It is a visual feast!
Each pillar is made of bricks with a central oval opening. Eleven million bricks were used to build the structure – what an undertaking. The brickwork is a patchwork of texture and colour. Over the years, bricks have been replaced giving patches of bright red, juxtaposed with the duller charcoal grey of the original bricks. Lichens in hues of yellow and white adorn the lower sections of the arches, whilst bird poo and pollution decorate the upper levels.
Its possible to sit in the curve of the two arches on the footpath if you are nimble enough to climb up the 6 foot rise above the ground! T did. He said he could feel a slight vibration in the bricks when a train passed overhead. The feet of the arches are rooted in lush green grass and framed by swathes of cow parsley, gently swaying the the breeze. As we eat our reward yum-yums, we admire such a feat of engineering.
After the walk, we drove to Cuckfield. My sister lived there at one point in a quaint but crooked little cottage on Church Twitten – a row of four cottages on the edge of the Holy Trinity Church grounds. She is commemorated with a simple stone in the churchyard as she died in a car accident in 1998. Her memorial stone looks un-cared for and forlorn and I resolve to find out how I can replace it with one that is more dignified and has a more meaningful message. I believe her husband organised this one, as her ashes were scattered in Africa. Having been in Africa myself for the last 18 years, her stone has been neglected by us. She deserves something better.
We drove home cross country, and as we drive I am inundated with flashbacks from places I have worked and lived in this area. The memories tumble out as I share with J and T. I was in my early twenties when I lived in this area: Three Bridges, Crawley, Balcombe, Haywards Heath, Cuckfield, Horsham, Ruscombe and more. Once again, I’m reminded that my life has been one of moving around – a lot! I’ve never thought of myself as a restless soul, but maybe I am?
The adventure was over and I was left with both sad and happy memories of my sister, my friends and colleagues, our bookclub and of my young adult years before I got married.