Wakehurst Place, Priest House & Weir Wood
|Length||17.2km (10.7 miles), 5 hours. For the whole outing, including trains, sights and meals, allow at least 9 hours.|
|Toughness||6 out of 10.|
|OS Maps||Explorer 135 or Landranger 187. Balcombe, map reference TQ 306 302, is in West Sussex, 7km south-east of Crawley.|
This walk has a fair number of relatively gentle uphills and downhills, but is well worth the effort. It starts in the old village of Balcombe, passes Balcombe House, and then goes through the woods and by the lake of Balcombe Estate, up to a farm that can be extremely muddy in wet weather, to reach the National Trust gardens and Tudor mansion at Wakehurst Place around mid-morning. From there the route passes through further woods to the Priest House Museum, Norman church and the lunchtime pub in West Hoathly, the second highest point in Sussex.
After lunch, the route is through Giffards Wood then past the Stone Farm climbing rocks (sandstone rocks formed from the bodies of plants and invertebrates, and used as shelters in mesolithic and neolithic times), leading to the shoreline of the Weir Wood Reservoir and nature reserve (home to the great crested grebe, heron and osprey) – the very energetic could at this point detour to the National Trust estate at Standen – finally reaching the station via a walk along a stream and through potentially very muddy fields that mark the outer edges of East Grinstead.
The Bluebell Railway (tel 01825 723 777) is nearby, and it would be possible to combine the first half of this walk with a trip on a period train hauled by a steam locomotive. You would need to take a taxi to Horsted Keynes for the train journey to Kingscote Station. The company is planning to restore the final section of line to East Grinstead, but at present there is a bus service (sometimes a period omnibus) to convey passengers into the town.
|Walk Options||There is a bus service (not Sundays) about every two hours from the shelter outside the Cat Inn in West Hoathly to East Grinstead and (in the other direction) to Three Bridges station, which is on the same line as Balcombe.|
The poet Shelley lived for a time in Balcombe's Highley Manor. The present queen was a bridesmaid at a wedding in Balcombe Church before the war. Balcombe House, privately owned, was part-gutted by fire in 1995.
Wakehurst Place (tel 01444 894 066) dates from Norman times, but the Tudor manor house with its sandstone walls was built in 1590 by Sir Edward Culpeper, a distant relative of Nicholas Culpeper who published the famous herbal compendium in 1651. The gardens, managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew are divided into geographical themes, such as Himalayan, Chinese and North American; plants and trees suited to high altitude and extra rainfall can be grown at Wakehurst Place (which won a £10 million lottery award for its seed bank plans). Admission (2010) is £10.75. National Trust members have free admission to the gardens. Opening hours are March to October 10am to 6pm daily, November to February 10am to 4.30pm daily (but closed December 24th & 25th).
The timber-framed Priest House Museum in West Hoathly is managed by the Sussex Archaeological Trust. Admission (2010) is £3.50. The house and garden are open from March to October, 10.30am to 5.30pm Tuesday to Saturday (also Mondays in August and Bank Holidays), noon to 5.30pm Sunday.
St Margaret's Church in West Hoathly has a magnificent coffin-shaped chest, probably thirteenth-century, which was used to collect money for the crusades; it also has a brass memorial to Ann Tree, the last woman to be burned at the stake in England. There are fine views from the terraced churchyard which is worth visiting.
The Cat Inn (see below) once had a tunnel under it, which a past murderer is said to have used to reach the pub for refuge. There is a well under one of the rooms, which can be seen through a circular glass panel in the floor.
Take the train nearest to 9.40am from London Bridge Station to Balcombe. Journey time 40 minutes. On Sundays the service is from Victoria; journey time 50 minutes. Trains back from East Grinstead go to Victoria and are half-hourly (hourly on Sundays); journey time 55 minutes. Buy a day return to Balcombe. East Grinstead is on a different line and in theory you could be asked to pay for a single back to East Croydon on the return journey, but in practice a Balcombe ticket seems to be accepted.
This walk is not recommended for car drivers unless you are prepared to take a taxi back to your car, as there is no convenient public transport link (train or bus) from East Grinstead back to Balcombe.
|Lunch||The suggested lunchtime stop is the Cat Inn (tel 01342 810 369) in West Hoathly, halfway through the walk, which serves good but fairly expensive pub food from midday to 2pm Tuesday to Friday (2.30pm weekends). Or you could stop earlier at Wakehurst Place, about 5km (3 miles) from the start: the Seed Café is in the Visitor Centre while visitors to the gardens also have the choice of lunch in the Stables restaurant. On days when it is open another option would be to have brunch at the Balcombe Tea Rooms (open from 10.30am Tuesday to Saturday).|
|Tea||The only place for refreshments near the station is the Starbucks at East Grinstead Sainsbury's (tel 01342 303 167). The suggested tea stop therefore is The Old Mill pub (tel 01342 326 341), about 2km before the end of the walk. Allow 30 minutes from here to reach the station.|
Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
Start: RH17 6JQ at 4pm
Finish: RH19 1EB at 10am
It is not easy to return to the start of the walk by car, as the 2 stations are on different railway lines.
|Help||Start walking • Printing (large print) • Train Times • Bus Times • BBC Weather • Tide Times • GPS data|
Introduction: Mar-12. Directions: Mar-12. This walk was fully revised in Oct-06. It is available in the current 2011 edition of the book, and below. The map is only in the book.
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- Note: There is a circuitous route at the outset to avoid walking along a main road, but this involves going down some steps, which are very slippery in wet weather. If you would rather avoid these steps, leave the station by the main exit and turn left on to the main road, heading north; in 350 metres turn right into Bramble Hill and continue the directions at [*] below.
- For the main route:  Coming off the train from London at Balcombe Station, go over the footbridge and down the platform on the other side. Exit to the right just before the tunnel, then go through the car park, due south. Where this approach road meets the B2036, take the signposted footpath to the right, downhill and heading south-west. Go down the steps carefully and across two stiles to a lane.
- Turn right on to this lane, due north initially. Continue along it for 600 metres, back past the station on your right-hand side, under the railway line and steeply up to the main road.
- Cross diagonally over the B2036 and [*] continue straight on up Bramble Hill, signposted with an arrow to the Tea Rooms, your direction 40°.
- Go up into the village, past the Balcombe Tea Rooms on your left, to the crossroads. Take the second turning on the left, passing the Half Moon Inn on your left-hand side. At the end of this road is a gate marked 'Balcombe House. Private'.
-  Turn right along a signed footpath, your direction 60°. In 100 metres, by a two-armed footpath sign, go through the kissing gate on your left-hand side and take the path to the left, your direction initially 10°, with Balcombe House to your left. Go down the field, staying close to the left-hand field edge and later following the path into an overgrown area (if you stray to the right here, you will eventually come to a corner of the field with no exit).
- At the end of the field, go through a wooden kissing gate and continue ahead into the woods. After 100 metres, you come to a three-armed footpath sign and turn right, your direction 120°. Follow the footpath signs, ignoring other turn-offs. You are walking parallel to a stream below you and twice in quick succession you cross a small stream by footbridges. Follow the well-worn path, with Balcombe Lake glimpsed below through the trees. Soon you are walking near the edge of this lake (which connects with Ardingly Reservoir). The path swings round to the right to head due south.
- A stile takes you out of the trees and into a field. Follow the barbed-wire fence on your left-hand side. In 100 metres, by a three-armed footpath sign, take the footpath sharply to the left, over a stream and a stile, your direction 70°. At the far side of the field, by a four-armed footpath sign, bear left on to the tarmac lane, with the lake on your left-hand side and a stepped waterfall on your right, your direction 60°. The lake, which belongs to the Balcombe Estate, is said to be good for fishing: pike and bream in winter; carp, bream, tench and roach in summer.
- Carry on up this farm lane. 400 metres beyond the lake, you come to a two-armed footpath sign on your left-hand side. Take the footpath to the right, your direction 100° (for what can be an extremely cow-churned muddy stretch in wet weather).
- Cross over the stile and go along the left-hand field edge. In 200 metres you come to a fieldgate and stile on your left, with a two-armed footpath sign. Go over the stile, your direction due north, and up past the large cow barn on your left-hand side. Go over the stile and turn half-right, following the footpath sign, with the field hedge on your right-hand side, your direction 50°. At the top you come to a three-armed footpath sign and rejoin the farm lane.
- Take the lane straight on, your direction 60°. After a bend to the right you come to a T-junction. Turn right on to the road and in 10 metres go over a stile on your left to continue down a signed footpath, due east, with a fine view over the valley. On the hills beyond you can see a huddle of buildings marking the outskirts of Wakehurst Place.
- Keep the fence and a large house on your right-hand side. In 400 metres,  at the bottom of the field, veer left, with the edge of the woods now on your right-hand side and your direction 25°.
- At a footpath sign in 150 metres, turn right through a kissing gate to go down a gully into Tilgate Wood. Soon it is steeply downhill with a stream visible below you.
- Cross two wooden bridges (the second over Ardingly Brook) and follow the footpath sign up the other side, over more streams and eventually through a wire-mesh kissing gate into Wakehurst Place gardens (with only a notice to discourage walkers from gaining free access to these National Trust gardens). The public footpath, which is clearly signed, crosses a gravel path and in 200 metres comes to another wire-mesh kissing gate. The path now climbs steeply and at the top goes between high electrified fences on both sides (to keep the deer in). The path soon becomes a wide avenue.
- You come out on to a car lane, with cottages on the left behind you, and carry straight on, with garden walls on your right-hand side. In 200 metres  turn half-left on to a wide road, following the footpath sign. For those not visiting the gardens or café, the route is straight along the road for 200 metres, through a wooden gate to the right of a cattle grid and, in another 200 metres, reaching the main road (the B2028) by 1 Yew Tree Cottage, where you turn left.
- Many walkers with time to spare, however, will be tempted to visit Wakehurst Place or the Seed Café in its Visitor Centre. To do this, continue ahead on the path signposted 'carpark and exit' up to the Visitor Centre, which contains the ticket office and café. Afterwards, rejoin the main walk by going down the car exit road to the B2028 T-junction and turning left, coming in 300 metres to the main walk's exit by 1 Yew Tree Cottage.
- Carry on along an embankment to the left of the busy B2028, passing Stonehurst Nurseries (famous for its camellias in early spring) on your right-hand side. In 225 metres cross the road carefully and go down a clearly signposted bridleway between cottages, your direction 135°, and so into the woods.
- In 100 metres turn sharp left on to a car-wide mud track, and in 60 metres veer right at another bridleway sign, your direction 125°.
- In 100 metres you come to a three-armed sign and take the bridleway on the left between ponds, your direction due east. In 250 metres, a stream tumbles noisily under the path, after which it can be treacherously muddy uphill.
- In 400 metres , turn right with the bridleway, where the path ahead is a footpath. You pass several houses and come out, slightly left, on to a car-wide lane signposted as a public bridleway, your direction 105°.
- In 40 metres you fork left (following another bridleway sign), your direction now 65°. Follow this lane in roughly the same direction for 1km, passing Philpots Quarry on your left-hand side, to meet Hook Lane at a bend.
- Continue straight ahead on Hook Lane to go into the village of West Hoathly. After a bend to the left you pass the Priest House Museum, then several other interesting old houses on your left. The suggested lunch stop, the Cat Inn, is ahead of you, just past St Margaret's Church.
- After lunch, turn right out of the pub and right again by the bus shelter. Carry on up this tarmac road for 400 metres, your direction 20°, past the village school on your right-hand side and ignoring a public footpath off to the left.
- When you come to the main road, cross straight over into the entrance to West Hoathly Garage (with its collection of vintage cars). Go immediately left, following a public footpath sign down a narrow lane, with the garage on your right-hand side, heading north.
- In 200 metres, the lane becomes unasphalted and at the fork in this lane, you continue straight on into the wood through a kissing gate. In 70 metres you come to a three-armed footpath sign. Take the right fork, slightly downhill. In another 50 metres again take the right fork, your direction now 40°.
- You now continue gently downhill on this public footpath through Giffard's Wood for over 1km, heading north-east. In more detail:
- In 500 metres, having ignored any ways off, your path merges with a car-wide earth track from the right.
- [!] 100 metres further on, before this track curves away to the left, bear right on to a footpath to resume your original direction, 45°. In 300 metres go across a car-wide grass track and continue downhill.
- In 200 metres go over a stile and across an open field, keeping more or less in the same direction, now 30°, with a line of trees and a stream on your left-hand side and a couple of houses off to the right.
- At the end of the field cross a stile on to a car lane and follow the sign to the left, your direction 330°. In 40 metres you come to a three-armed footpath sign set back from the lane on your right-hand side where you take the footpath to the right, your direction 40°. This takes you up an embankment, over the Bluebell Railway and down the other side. Go over a stile into the woods and follow the path, your direction 35°, parallel to the stream below you to your right.
- In 100 metres follow a footpath sign towards an electricity pylon 150 metres away. Just to the right of this pylon, cross a wooden stile and bridge over a stream. Go into the next field and follow the grassy path half-left uphill, heading north-east.
- In 250 metres, at the edge of a wood at the top of the hill, you come to a three-armed footpath sign.  Cross over the stile next to a wooden swing gate and head into these woods, your direction 80°.
- About 300 metres along this bridleway, you come to Stone Farm Rocks: soft sandstone used for rock climbing. They are covered with a profusion of climbers' bolts and are lined with rope marks, and provide platforms for fine views of the valley below, including Weir Wood Reservoir away to your left. (Alternatively, you could scramble down and walk along the base of the rocks if you wish to observe the climbers.)
- The path eventually comes to a notice warning climbers not to damage the rocks (if you were at the base of the rocks, you would rejoin the main path here). 100 metres from this notice, you come to a car road, with Stonehill House opposite. Turn right and walk downhill on this busy road, taking great care. In 50 metres, cross over and go left on a side road, which leads down to the reservoir.
- 350 metres along the lane, you pass under pylons. Ignore a turning on the left leading into a car park, but where you come to a large gate blocking the road, follow the footpath sign left. You will now be more or less following the side of the reservoir on the Sussex Border Path for the next 1.5km, until your turn-off to the left at . In more detail:
- 200 metres along this winding path, just before going under the pylons again, you come to a Countryside Commission information panel describing Standen Rocks and Weir Wood. There is a footpath off to the left here, which you could take if wanting to visit Standen House, but the main walk route continues straight on.
- In 250 metres, and again almost under the pylons, ignore another footpath sign to the left to stay on the Sussex Border Path. In a further 40 metres, go over a stile with the Countryside Stewardship badge on it to continue alongside the reservoir.
- In 300 metres you cross a stile near another Countryside Commission information panel, again close to the pylons. Continue along the path, in the next 80 metres ignoring two metal gates on the left leading into fields.
- 150 metres from the second gate, your path bends left to run parallel to the reservoir shore again and passes a wooden bench. You soon cross a pair of stiles to reach a large field, and can now see the far wall of the reservoir up ahead in the distance.
- In about 200 metres , leave the Sussex Border Path by forking left on a grassy path towards a gap in the hedge (this little short cut just saves you doubling back slightly from the footpath sign at the end of the field, 50 metres away). You are now heading away from the reservoir, and 1.75km in this direction (roughly northwards) will bring you to the outskirts of East Grinstead at . In more detail:
- Go through the hedge into a field and continue uphill, passing to the right of a pylon in 100 metres and then going through a metal fieldgate. In 150 metres, at the top left corner of the next field, go over a stile between two metal gates.
- Ignore another stile into the wood on your left and continue along the left-hand field edge. In 150 metres you pass a pond on your left. In another 100 metres, go over a stile into a strip of woodland by a two-armed footpath sign.
- In 40 metres exit this wood by a stile and head north across the field, gently downhill, towards a stile 150 metres away leading into another wood.
- Enter the wood, following the footpath sign. In 20 metres ignore a footpath off to the left, then in a further 50 metres take the right fork. In 100 metres, go down to a plank to cross a stream and then up steps on the other side to exit the wood through a gate.
- Turn half-right to follow the field edge, with a hedge and later a fence on your right-hand side. In 100 metres the path goes down into a dip and up the other side, then in another 150 metres you go through a wooden fieldgate on to a broad path though a strip of woodland.
- As you leave this wood by another fieldgate, East Grinstead church is visible on the horizon up ahead, slightly to the right. Aim slightly to the right of the church to pick up a faint grassy path across the field. In 160 metres you pass a small pond on your right. In another 100 metres go through a wooden gate by a two-armed footpath sign and cross a ditch on a plank.
- In 150 metres you pass under some power lines and go through a wooden gate . Do not continue down to the metal footbridge over a stream, but turn left on to a narrow path with a hedge on your left and woods on your right. In 25 metres there is a plank over a ditch and in another 20 metres you have a choice. The official footpath appears to be straight on along the overgrown path, but in practice it is much easier to turn left into the field and take a well-trodden path along the right-hand field edge.
- In 120 metres rejoin the footpath at a gap in the hedge, passing a concrete post. Continue through the woods with a stream on your right. In 40 metres you pass between metal barriers to come out on to a tarmac path, with a playground behind a wooden fence on your left.
- In 160 metres the path comes out on to Dunnings Road opposite The Old Mill pub, the suggested tea place. Coming out of the pub, turn right to go past Dunnings Mill Snooker and Social Club, then turn right again on to a footpath going alongside this building. Follow the footpath sign at the end to pass a car park and then another building on your right, then go over a metal stile into a field.
- Continue along the right-hand field edge. In 140 metres cross a stile, then in another 150 metres cross a stream on a wooden bridge. Continue in the same direction, north-west, for another 400 metres, crossing more stiles and eventually passing a duck pond on your left (with some unusual species).
- In a further 100 metres, after crossing a concrete track by some wooden sheds on your right, go over an unmarked stile on your right on to a narrow path, and continue up to the road which you can see ahead (if you miss the stile you will have to hurdle a locked gate to exit the field).
- Turn right on to the main road (the B2110). In 50 metres, go left at the roundabout, following the sign saying 'Station'. Keep uphill on this road (Brooklands Way), following it round to the right and all the way up the hill, ignoring turn-offs. Starbucks, in Sainsbury's supermarket on your left-hand side, is the easiest place to stop for refreshment at this point.
- Coming out of Sainsbury's, turn right along the edge of the building. At the corner turn right to go along the supermarket's access road. East Grinstead Station is ahead of you, on your left.