Cycling from Guildford

Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day

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Route 3: Guildford to Brighton via the Downs Link

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Summary This route is a classic for all Guildford cyclists. We are lucky to have one of the best cycleways in the country on our doorstep. The Downs Link provides a continuous off road cycle route linking (as its name suggests) the North and South Downs, passing through pleasant countryside and emerging through the Shoreham Gap to reach the sea at Shoreham. Cycle paths along the sea front then take you on to the cosmopolitan centre of Brighton. Officially the Downs Link starts on St Martha's Hill, but the route from there is hilly and either stony or sandy, so we pick the track up at Shalford, where it follows the track bed of the old Guildford-Horsham railway. The Downs Link officially ends at its junction with the South Downs Way in the Shoreham Gap: the riverside path into Shoreham is called the 'Coastal Link'.

43 miles; whole day
Start: Guildford Railway Station
It is assumed Guildford cyclists will cycle to the station (or some other convenient starting point along the route). There is pay parking locally, but it's pretty expensive. You could also drive and park free at Bramley Old Station on the Downs Link, though obviously after arriving back at Guildford Station at the end of the ride you would have to cycle back to there.
Finish: Brighton Railway Station
Transport: Return to Guildford Station from Brighton, changing at Gatwick Airport. Typically there are 2 suitable trains per hour, and journey time Brighton-Gatwick is about 40 minutes, and Gatwick-Guildford is about the same. Typical waiting time is about 15 minutes at Gatwick: when I have done the journey, no platform change has been necessary, but if it is there are lifts. Check train websites for bike carriage constraints: there used to be a bike prohibition on the Brighton-London trains during weekday rush hours; this seems to have been lifted, but check the train websites for the latest policy.
Conditions under the tyre: The Downs Link is a very good surface for most of its length, especially the stretch to Cranleigh. Beyond here it can get muddy at times but except after exceptionally heavy rain it should be fine. The mile or so before joining the tarmacked lane into Bramber is quite a rough track. The path beside the Adur between Bramber and Shoreham is also pretty good. There is a short stretch on a busy road to get from the end of the Downs Link at Shoreham and the entrance to Shoreham Harbour. Otherwise, the route comprises tarmac country lanes or, along Hove Brighton seafront, a good cycle track, although this can get quite busy with cyclists (and also stray pedestrians, often listening to ipods and so oblivious to your bell as you approach).

There is one short climb where the path deviates through woodland just past Baynards Old Station: more to the point there is a surprisingly steep descent after this on a gravelly path: dismount if you are at all unsure. There is also a modest climb on the aforementioned rough track before Bramber, and the following descent needs care.

The track can be quite bumpy, and is hence best tackled on a mountain bike, although an ordinary bike should be adequate in reasonable weather.
Reverse route: I find this ride is best done from north to south, since it is always satisfying to reach the sea. However, its straightforward to get the train straight to Brighton and reverse the route. This might also be advantageous if there is a strong southerly wind. The net altitude difference between Guildford and Brighton is so small, and the gradients so shallow that there is not much in it from that point of view.
Route variations:
You could cut the ride short at Shoreham, and get the train back to Guildford via Havant. Or, at Shoreham, instead of going to Brighton, you can go west to Worthing, from which there are trains back to Guildford via Havant: use Route G, crossing the recently restored footbridge over the Adur opposite East Street Shoreham. An alternative is to cross the renovated wooden toll bridge further upstream and follow the airport perimeter road past the art deco terminal buildings (nice cafe/bar), then go straight across the exit roundabout to join the coastal route going west.
Route description: Leave Guildford Station, walk under the subway to the far side of Bridge Street and follow the pedestrian way around the gyratory to emerge beside the River Wey. Cycle under the bridge, through a car park and on down Millmead then walk over a footbridge over the Wey and take the towpath past Millmead Lock. You then have two options:
  • using National Cycle Route NCN22 (a reasonable track): shortly cut across to a footbridge over the Navigation beside Guildford Rowing Club. This bridge has a cycle 'gutter' to assist pushing your bike up the steps, but it is steep, so take care. On the other side, cycle along a short stretch of shared use pavement beside the busy A281, and into Shalford Park. Now follow the cycle route signed as NCN22 across Shalford Park and on through woods, passing the Thames Water depot. After here the track becomes a bit stony, and there is a short flight of steps, then a track (Dagley Lane) crossing over the Guildford-Shalford railway line on a bridge. Carry straight on past cottages and over a little green to reach the A248 at Broadford. Turn right (CARE) and cross the road bridge over the Wey, then bear right (CARE) onto the pavement on the right hand side of the road which acts as a cycle path. This soon peels off and descends to a track. Turn left under the A248 and then take the track signed straight on as the Downs Link. This is a good surface which crosses back over the Wey on a specially constructed bridge and continues to the A281.
  • Towpath (pleasant but bumpy and muddy, and quite busy with walkers etc): simply follow the towpath, passing the golden sands at Ferry Lane, St Catherines Lock, under the railway line, cross the A248, reach and cross the specially constructed bridge over the river. You are now on the Downs Link. Cycle down to the A281.
Cross the (busy) A281(CARE). From here you can't really go wrong (famous last words): just keep on following the track. Places to watch out are:
  • At Cranleigh, the track skirts the southern edge of town and passes the leisure centre.
  • Just past Baynards Station, cross a lane and continue for a further short stretch of track and under a bridge carrying Cox Green Lane. Be careful here: follow the Downs Link signs carefully, it can be disorienting: emerge onto the lane, cross over the bridge then go left on a track through the woods. This diversion is necessary to bypass the old railway tunnel.
  • After passing Slinfold, and going under the A264, the final stretch of trackbed which joined to the main line at Horsham is not accessible, and the route is diverted on quiet roads to Christ's Hospital school (follow signs). Then rejoin the track running southwest beside the railway line.
  • At Southwater, you emerge under a bridge to a set of traffic lights. Diagonally across to your left is a new village surgery: pass round the left hand side of this passing some 'penny farthing' metal sculptures to pick up the track again.
  • At the B2135 at Partridge Green, turn right along the road then, after a few hundred yards, turn left on a track past Homelands Farm, to rejoin the disused railway.
  • At Henfield, turn left then right down Station Road and at the bottom of the hill, where the road turns sharp left, take the road to the right and immediately take the track signed to the left.
  • After crossing over the River Adur, the trackbed path ends, and a track takes you past Wykham Farm and runs into Kings Barn Lane, then follow Kings Stone Avenue and Castle Lane to a roundabout with the A283.
  • Take the cycle track down the left hand side to the A283, then cross over (CARE) to rejoin the trackbed path, which meets with the South Downs Way and crosses a bridge over the Adur. Here the path becomes the Coastal Link, which also forms part of National Cycle Network Route 2.
  • Continue on the trackbed path under the A27, past the Old Toll Bridge and under the railway bridge. The path has recently been extended past a new riverside housing development to pitch out at the roundabout where the A283 meets the A259.

Now EITHER follow the A259 for about 1.8 miles (this is dreary light industrial estates, superstores etc, and is busy with traffic so take care) OR follow the quieter backroads around Shoreham - see alternative route marked on the Google map. Just past Grange Road on your left, take a road on your right which takes you to the footbridge over the lock gates at the entrance to Shoreham Harbour (you will have to walk over the gates). On the other side of the harbour you emerge onto Basin Road South, which eventually takes you onto the sea front cycle path through Hove and Brighton. Now it's a pretty straightforward ride along the seafront, until you see the station signed left up West Street. This is a busy street, so take care as you cycle up to catch your train home (or make your way to The Lanes for a bite to eat beforehand).

Refreshments: You pass through many towns and villages along the way,, so refreshments and facilities are never far away. Here are some possibilities.

Bramley Cafe on the A281 in the middle of Bramley does a good breakfast.

Cranleigh has plenty of cafes.

There are shops (including a bike shop) in Southwater. Also, the Southwater Park Visitor Centre is a good place to stop, with a outside tables, a cafe and toilets.

There are pubs close by the track in most of the villages along the way (eg the Cat and Canary in Henfield).

Carat's Cafe, tucked away behind the sea wall just after you emerge onto Basin Road South at Shoreham is a nice place to sit in the sunshine and recuperate whilst enjoying the sea air.

Brighton, of course, has no end of eateries: if you can face a slight extension to your journey, try the Lanes area.

Points of Interest The Downs Link is an attractive ride through quiet countryside. The path is perhaps rather enclosed by trees until you get into West Sussex, when, especially towards Bramber, the views to the South Downs open out. Download a useful leaflet here. The Downs Link bridleway was established in 1984 to link the North Downs Way and South Downs Way National Trails. In 1995 the 5 kilometre Coastal Link from Botolphs near Steyning to Shoreham-by- Sea was completed. The trail crosses the Low Weald and mostly follows two former railway lines. The northern line, built in 1865 by the Horsham and Guildford Direct Railway Company, went from Guildford to Christís Hospital. The earlier line built in 1861 by the London Brighton South Coast Railway ran between Itchingfield Junction, near Christís Hospital, and Shoreham-by-Sea on the Sussex Coast. Both connected at Christís Hospital with the Mid Sussex Line to Pulborough, which is still in service.The lines were never profitable, and closed in 1966. Station platforms remain at Bramley, Baynard's and West Grinstead. Baynard's has been converted to a private house, and has been attractively renovated and restored: note however that the owners request that their privacy be respected.

Around Bramley, the trail follows the Cranleigh Waters stream and the remnants of the Wey and Arun Canal. What is known today as the 'Wey & Arun Canal' actually consists of two canals. The first was the Arun Navigation, which gave trading vessels from the south coast access to Newbridge Wharf near Billingshurst and was opened in 1787. Then in 1813 an Act of Parliament, backed by the 3rd Earl of Egremont of Petworth House, authorised the building of a further canal, the Wey and Arun Junction Canal which extended the navigation from Newbridge up to Stonebridge Wharf south of Guildford on the Godalming portion of the river Wey, thus allowing barge traffic from London to reach the South Coast at Littlehampton. The opening of the railway destroyed the canal's business, and by the 1870's it was largely derelict. It is in the process of being restored, although currently effort is focused on the southern stretches.

Shortly after leaving Rudgwick the trail crosses the busy A281 and then in 500m reaches a two-tiered bridge. There is a viewpoint to the left of the path. The bridge was built in 1865 to take the trains across the River Arun. The upper span was added because the railway inspector disliked the original trackís steep gradient into Rudgwick Station.

Christ's Hospital, popularly known as The Bluecoat School, is a coeducational independent boarding school. The school was originally founded in the 16th century in Greyfriars, London, and moved to its present site in 1902. A high proportion of the pupils are from low income families, their fees being met by a charitable foundation.

Southwater Country park is on the site of an old brickworks: the old excavations now provide a venue for watersports and a refuge for wildlife.

The platform of West Grinstead station survives. An old railway carriage is parked here, and there are picnic tables.

Bramber Castle was Norman Motte and Bailey construction. Not much now remains but there is free access to the pleasant grounds.

The derelict buildings of Shoreham (or Beeding?) cement works are something of an eyesore. On the other side of the A283 is the huge associated quarry. Operations ceased in 1991.

After passing under the A27, you reach the old wooden toll bridge over the Adur, which is restricted to foot and cycle traffic. It was restored in 2008. On the other side of the river, the chapel of Lancing College is clearly seen on the hilltop, overlooking Shoreham airfield. Shoreham is the oldest licensed airfield in the UK and has a Grade II* listed art deco style Terminal Building with a nice cafe/bar. It hosts a popular airshow each summer.

The riverside path near the mouth of the Adur has been improved, with a good surface being laid and various sculptures installed.

Off the busy A259, Shoreham town centre is surprisingly interesting. The port dates back to Norman times. The church of St Mary de Haura was built in the decade following the Doomsday Survey of 1086 and the town laid out on a grid pattern. The 12th century building in Shoreham High Street, the Marlipins Museum, is one of the oldest surviving secular buildings in the UK and dates from this time. The port had a heyday in the Victorian era. Over the other side of the Adur is Shoreham Beach, a pre war bungaloid development, linked to the 'mainland' by a pedestrian footbridge (not part of this route) which is subject to an improvement project under Sustrans Connect 2 scheme. The modern Shoreham Port is a major UK port for aggregates, sawn timber, steel, oil, locally grown cereals and scrap metal, though it is not working to full capacity, and is beneficiary of a regeneration project. Tucked away at the end of Basin Road South is the Hove's Western Esplanade. Despite the unprepossessing surroundings, the houses here are said to be owned by A-list celebs, and it is known as 'Millionaires' Row".

Brighton is a thriving city by the sea with numerous attractions, although at peak season (especially weekends) it can seem overrun by day trippers (not us, of course). The Lanes are worth a wander, with numerous quirky shops and eateries.
Finding your way The route to Shalford Park from the station is not particularly well signed, but beyond there the route is pretty clear. The Downs Link is well signed with a characteristic 'double bridge' logo. When entering Shoreham along the Adur, try and stay on the route beside the river for as long as possible, rather than joining the busy A283 prematurely. OS Explorer Maps 145 (Guildford and Farnham) 134 (Crawley and Horsham) and 122 (Brighton and Lewes) will do the business. The Downs Link leaflet linked above is a handy companion guide to the route.
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