SWC Walk 22 : Balcombe Circular via Ardingly Reservoir
Two interlocking walks in a figure of 8 around Balcombe (one for Summer, one for Winter), taking in Ardingly Reservoir, the Ouse Valley Viaduct, and fine Weald territory.
The Winter Walk is 16.2km (10 miles).
The Summer Walk is 20.2km (12.6 miles).
4 for the Winter Walk
8 for the Summer Walk
Balcombe is on the Brighton line, served hourly by Thameslink trains from London Bridge Mondays to Saturdays, but on Sundays by hourly Southern trains out of Victoria. Catch the nearest train to 9.30am to get to lunch in good time.
OS Landranger 198, Explorer 135 (though a tiny portion of Part One of the Summer Walk is on Explorer OL34 - formerly 134)
Balcombe is a great place to walk - the one stop on the Brighton line that feels truly remote and rural. The moment you leave the station you are in a Wealden wonderland of hills, woods, pasture and hidden farms. These walks also feature Ardingly Reservoir, romantically set between steep hills
"These walks" because this is in fact two walks - a Winter Walk and a Summer Walk, which intersect each other in two places. This allows you to switch between them at these points - for example, doing part one of the summer walk, part two of the winter walk, and part three of the summer walk, or any such combination that you like.
Both walks are not just circular walks in that they start and end at the same station, but also because they actually circle around Balcombe, departing westwards from the village, and skirting round its southern side to return to the village from the east.
Outlines of the two walks and their constituent parts are as follows:
WINTER WALK (16.2km, 10miles)
This route is suggested for winter because it has a shorter afternoon and includes quite a bit of walking on quiet lanes and dry tracks, so avoiding the worst of the mud. Ardingly Reservoir is also particularly beautiful in low winter sunlight, and the walk should enable you to get to the cosy Balcombe Tea Rooms before they close at 4.30pm.
PART ONE (2.2km or 1.4 miles) follows a quiet and pretty lane from near Balcombe station. It gives a shorter start to the walk than Part One of the Summer Walk.
PART TWO (6.3km or 3.9 miles) takes you down into the valley and under the Ouse Valley Viaduct - a surprisingly impressive structure, built in 1842 for the London to Brighton Line - before climbing up to Ardingly reservoir and village.
PART THREE (7.7 miles or 4.7 miles) goes from Ardingly village back down to the reservoir, and along its edge to Balcombe for tea.
Note that on this route, the pub stop is a bit of a dog's leg - that is, you have to go out and back by the same route to get to it. If you plan to have a picnic, you can cut out this extra section by simply staying on the path along the reservoir. This saves 3.1km (2 miles) off the walk, roughly 2km of it from Part Two and the rest from Part Three. Directions are included at the relevant point in the walk document to enable you to do this.
SUMMER WALK (20.2km, 12.6 miles)
The Summer Walk spends more time on footpaths and in fields, but as a result can be very muddy and heavy going in January or February. This route is also much more hilly than the Winter Route, especially in the afternoon where there are three big climbs and descents. In its first section it has at least two good bluebell woods in late April/early May (and possibly others in the afternoon).
The National Trust tea room at Wakehurst Place also provides a convenient tea stop half way through afternoon, so you don't have to rush to finish the walk on long spring and summer evenings.
PART ONE (4.8km or 3 miles) This route starts out on the route of the Balcombe Round walk in Time Out Country Walks Volume 1, and then loops back on woodland paths and farm tracks.
PART TWO (5.8km or 3.6 miles) is a higher level route to Ardingly than its winter walk counterpart, which has some nice views down onto the reservoir in its latter stages.
PART THREE (9.6km or 6 miles) follows the High Weald Landscape Trail from Ardingly village up hill and down dale to Wakehurst Place, owned by the National Trust, but home to Kew's "country garden" and the Millennium Seedbank. From there you are reversing the start of the Balcombe to East Grinstead walk in Time Out Country Walks Volume 1
After the walk, we would really appreciate your comments
Out: (not a train station)
Back: (not a train station)
Start: RH17 6JQ
National Rail Enquires: 08457 48 49 50 • Travelline South East (bus times): 0871 200 2233 (10p/min from landlines) • Transport for London: 0343 222 1234
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Download and print the PDF file for complete walking directions.