Walking the Vanguard Way

This summer sees us tackling the Vanguard Way, a 66 mile route from East Croydon to Newhaven. We shall be walking it over five days using a minibus and trains to get us to and from our start and finish points each day

Sunday July 10

16 of us took the 08.16 train to East Croydon to begin our walk. We were out of the built up area surprisingly quickly, crossed the park setting up for a huge summer fete, and proceeded towards Coombe Wood. We passed the council nurseries and continued along footpaths to Littleheath Wood joining the London Loop for some 3 km. At the edge of the wood we followed a bridlepath to take us into Selsdon Wood Nature Reserve then continued between Selsdon and Puplet Woods continuing past Coombe Park golf course. On to Chelsham common and past the Bull public house (no time to stop) towards Nore Hill Chalk Pinnacle then turned very steeply downhill. Shortly after Woldingham we tackled a steep climb towards the highest point of the Vanguard Way (at about 260m) We then crossed into Oxted Downs and followed an extremely steep downhill path above the M25, to join the North Downs Way at the bottom We crossed two fields bearing the sign bull in field which speeded up our pace no end and then went through a huge field sown with tall oats which scratched and irritated (the farmer not having left a sufficient footpath) We crossed the motorway by a concrete bridge, passed a sandstone quarry and reached Moorhouse Bank. A few more fields and a wood, opening out into commonland brought us to Limpsfield Chart and the Carpenters Arms where a welcome drink and the minibus home awaited us. We have walked 14 miles today and given the high temperatures have been fortunate that a great deal of this has been through shady woodland.

Monday, 11th July

After some initial anxieties about whether we would all conquer tiredness and aching legs sufficiently to make it to North street car park, thirteen of us assembled and travelled to Limpsfield Chart - a comfortable and trouble-free journey. The walk today walk was very different from yesterday and included some road walking, which had the advantage of enabling us to quicken the pace and make good time. There were many stiles soon after we set off. The walk led us across fields and through wooded areas. From time to time there were stunning views across the Weald and towards the Greensand Ridge. We were fortunate in that we found a cleared field edge with just such a view as a lunch spot. Today we crossed in and out of Surrey and Kent and finally reached Sussex, so feel that we are approaching home territory. The two walks books we are using to find the way are proving to complement each other well and only once have we been really unsure of the way - and this was due to a missed finger post partly obscured by hedgerow. We finished today in Forest Row a good bit earlier than we had expected. The coach is such a convenient way to travel that we had arranged to be picked up instead of using the bus and brought forward the collection time by an hour. There was still time to visit the teashop for a very welcome cup of tea (and cake) and for some to make purchases from a conveniently-placed outdoor shop.

Tuesday July 12

Today the Vanguard Way passes through what is thought by many to be its best scenery with a route through the Ashdown Forest. We started from Forest Row and quickly entered the prestigious Royal Ashdown Golf Course. No footpath waymarking is permitted so finding our correct route was more difficult than the two previous days. We followed the length of the golf course, mainly on paths between woods and fairways. A woman in a smart green sweat shirt gave us stop and go signals to avoid clashing with a championship match. On continuing through the forest again the absence of waymarks made us very cautious of our route. When you're walking upwards of 12 miles you certainly don't want to have to retrace your steps! We climbed a steep path for our coffee stop at Gill's Lap Clump with fantastic views of the South Downs to the left and the North Downs to the right. We proceeded to King's Standing Clump where it was interesting to note the vegetation change from bracken to heather. After several steep ups and downs we left the forest at Poundgate and stopped shortly before High Hurstwood for our picnic lunch. We were fortunate that the morning had been warm but cloudy with a refreshing wind which had enabled us to really enjoy the forest. The terrain in the afternoon was mainly through fields and woods, crossing the river Uck and going under the Crowborough/Uckfield railway line. Shortly before reaching Blackboys We passed by a beautiful old former millhouse with its millpond in a truly tranquil setting where I understand Vivien Leigh once lived. We walked 12 miles today

Thursday, 14th July

Seventeen of us set off before 8.30 am from Blackboys to complete the fourth section of the walk as far as Berwick. The terrain, though flat today, was mixed and not always easy to negotiate. There was some lane walking. We crossed many fields with a variety of crops and, on one occasion, the sweetcorn was so high (above the heads of the tallest) that we had to keep calling out in order to follow the route. Some farmers seem to be planting crops closely together without leaving the necessary space for the footpath. At least we now know how much fun could be had in a maize maze. The route led us through Chiddingly with its distinctive spire towards the A22 at Golden Cross. Just before we crossed this busy road, we stopped to observe the two minutes silence at 12 noon in memory of those who died last week in the London bombings. We felt fortunate to be alive, especially with such a lovely view of the Downs ahead of us. From Golden Cross, with a short detour to avoid a small section of very overgrown path, we crossed several fields of horses before finding a lovely shaded area for a lunch stop. Then it was off in the direction of Chalvington, along a section of an old Roman Road - very rutted and muddy in places - to reach Berwick station for the journey back to Lewes. The pub was closed, but we were able to buy ice creams in the nearby shop while waiting for the train. Only one more day to go...

Friday July 15

We were on home territory today. An early train took us to Berwick station and we got going over fields, making use of several plank bridges, heading for Berwick church spire. We passed the Cricketers and turned to follow a switchback path over many fields with views of our dear, familiar South Downs before reaching Alfriston. We crossed the Cuckmere river then followed its bank to Litlington where our route joined the South Downs Way for a few miles A steep climb then we took a coffee break before crossing a stile and descending to Charleston Manor. A gruelling 75 step climb took us into Friston Forest where we continued along a broad track before making the gentle descent to Westdean. More steps, 227 this time but perhaps not as steep as the previous ones. Over the stone stile then a descent to the A269 Eastbourne/Seaford road at Exceat which had to be crossed and recrossed to get safely over the bridge. We then went through the Golden Galleon car park and followed a grassy track to Cuckmere Haven. Up the cliff path then down into Hope Gap then a steady climb up to Seaford Head with the golf course on our right. We stopped for lunch with a view over Seaford and the remainder of our walk We descended to the esplanade, passed the Martello Tower and strode out confidently on our last few miles along the seafront. We passed the ruins of the former tide-powered corn mills and of the Chailey Heritage hospital built in the 1920's to accommodate the disabled close to the sea A footbridge over the creek and a further footbridge over the railway brought us to our journey's end at Newhaven Harbour station. We have had perfect walking weather today and I think most of us felt that we are lucky enough to have the very best scenery right on our doorstep. We have walked 12 miles today but finished surprisingly quickly - we must be getting fitter and stronger every day!


©Lewes Footpaths Group