Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day
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Weather at Start:
Route 3: Guildford to Brighton via the Downs Link
Weather at Finish:
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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
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.
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.|
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.
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:
Refreshments: You pass through many towns and villages along the way,, so refreshments and facilities are never far away. Here are some
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.|