The Forest Way: Withyham to East Grinstead


Today was another glorious late spring day with the temperature in the mid 70s, the sky cloudless and a gentle breeze rolling off the Sussex Downs.

To make the most of the good weather, we headed down to the Forest Way. The Forest Way is a bridleway, walking, and cycle path (part of the National Cycle Network Route 21) which runs between Groombridge in Kent and East Grinstead in West Sussex. It is a section of a former railway branch line which ran between Tunbridge Wells and Three Bridges. The line was closed in the 1960s due to government cut-backs.

We decided to tackle the section of the path between Withyham and East Grinstead. There is limited free parking where the path crosses Station Road in Withyham, so we left the car there and headed west.

Much of the path is lined with tall trees and other flora which offered welcome shade from the sun, and ample attraction for many butterflies and dragonflies. Various small tributaries and brooks pass under the path, running in to the River Medway as it snakes through the fields to the north. Perfect landscape for young explorers!

Before long, we reached the former Hartfield Railway Station which has retained much of it character, front and back, and, today, seems to be a nursery or daycare centre. After a short rest at a bench in the shade by Hartfield Station, we continued to Forest Row, some three and a half miles farther on.

Approaching Forest Row, between the trees on the north side of the path, we noticed a mansion among the hills and pastures which, at first, we thought was Hammerwood House, but later found out was Ashdown House School (see picture).

At Forest Row, we branched off to the left on to the former Station Road which brought us out to the familiar village green. The Co-op for ice cream and the public conveniences behind the Forester’s Arms Pub were our principal ports of call before heading back to the path.

It is difficult to discern exactly where the station once stood at Forest Row as both the land where it once stood, and the area where the line previously crossed the A22 have undergone significant development.

Crossing the A22, the path rises on to an embankment and remains mostly shaded before reaching East Grinstead close to Sackville College about 2 and a half miles distant.

We chained the kids’ bicycles outside East Grinstead library, (metaphorically) raided the local candy store and took the 291 bus back to Withyham to collect the car.

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Easter break is coming to an end. It’s been nice to not have to rush every morning for school, but at the same time, our normal routine is broken up by having the kids at home. It’s been difficult to drag them off the computers. Though, when they are not on the computer, they’ve been active enough. Too active, sometimes.

Yesterday, they went horseback riding. It was not the first time they’ve been on a horse, though the last time was over two years ago. They’ve been in love with horses since they were babies, but they were not allowed riding lessons until they were eight (due to the local policies of the riding stables.) However, every chance they had of riding ponies at the fairs, etc., they went for it. We even went out on a trail once in Florida, when the younger one was only five. But that was the last time.

So, when the opportunity presented itself again yesterday, they were both excited. They did not want to be on a lead rein, but when we got there, I think they both became a little nervous. The younger one was obviously nervous – you could see it in her face and she refused to take her hands away from the saddle. The older one finally admitted that she didn’t mind having the escorts take the rein.

We didn’t ride this time, but we were there when they returned. The younger one came back with a big smile that she was trying to suppress, but the older one stayed as solemn as ever. She refused to talk about the ride except that she wanted to go again. The younger one told us that they actually went for a canter! The funny part of this whole thing was that when we looked up the place on the internet, the girls had picked out the horses they wanted. Though we were the last ones to arrive, they managed to get the horses they had picked out on-line. It seemed providential and they both loved their horses.

Horseback riding and all equestrian sports are so essentially British. It seems that wherever we go, we see people on horseback and there are bridle paths practically everywhere that there is a public footpath. As the weather is improving, we are seeing more riders. The girls would love to start riding lessons now, but time and money are the limiting factors. It would not be difficult to find a riding school in any part of England, though. If we are to stay here, I think that horseback riding will become a part of our lives.