Finding the start of this long-distance walk was a bit of a guessing game. I knew it was in Lower Beeding, and I knew the walk started somewhere on Leechpoint Hill, but it was a fast road, and hard to see if there was parking. I drove down the street and saw a sign for a public footpath on the right. After studying maps of the route for the past few weeks, I knew it was not far from this point, so I parked in the village hall car park hoping for easy access.
Thankfully, a sign indicating the Sussex Ouse Valley Way was next to the car park, and once out of the car, I spotted an arrow directing me to the start of the walk. I said a nervous goodbye to my partner, very aware this would be my first multi-day solo hike, and set off on my three-day adventure, hoping I would not need to call for rescue before the end.
The walk down Leechpond Hill was on overgrown concrete pavement with no sign of a gap in the hedge to cross the road until the very last moment. Taking a suitable gap in the traffic, I darted across and set off down the tarmacked driveway leading into the coast.
The road was relatively quiet, but the occasional car noises disappeared with each step into the woods. I continued along the track, noticing people on walks in the Leonardslee estate gardens on the other side of the fence. It felt silly for the fence to be there since we were all enjoying the natural delights surrounding us, and there was a way through the fence further along.
The track slowly transitioned into a mud path leading back up the hill and through a small wood, emerging into a wildflower field with a way running down the centre for the walkers. The wildflowers were buzzing with activity, making the arms of the plants stretching out into the path a little nerve-wracking for someone with an insect phobia.
At the edge of the second field, the path doglegs down towards the trees again and back into woodland. I paused momentarily as a wild hare stood in my way, checking me out and assessing my threat to it. If I reached for a camera, I’d end up scaring it, so I stood frozen, trying to remember if I’d ever seen a hare in the wild. After deciding not to chance it with me, the hare hopped out of sight, and I continued along the route, thinking about the hare the whole time.
I caught my first glimpse of the River Ouse in the form of a small stream babbling away beside me. The footpath split and I took a left to continue through the woods onto a track leading to the main road. I walk briefly along the main road, mounting the verge a few times to allow oncoming traffic to pass without becoming a pancake, then take the next footpath on the left.
From here, I walk up from Harvey’s farm (marked on the map) through many fields to Denman’s farm. Most fields are empty, but towards the end, I’m sharing the fields with sheep and cows, minding their own business as I mind mine.
There was a bit more road walking after this, and down a quiet street with no passing cars, I encountered the first people I’d seen since the start. An older couple who had been for a walk were making their way to their car parked at the junction ahead. I follow the road sign left at the junction to the slightly busier road, and they take a right to their vehicle. We exchange a nod as I pass them and go about our day.
I cross the river again and take the footpath on the corner. A loud and aggressive whinny pierced through the silence as I hop the stile into the field. A furious-looking horse was galloping around the field to my right. I paused and watched the horse get increasingly frustrated with its confinement. I crossed the threshold of the following field, hoping it didn’t wrap around and connect with the horse’s territory. Thankfully, my only company here are the sheep bleating at me and skittishly running from my path when I get too close. I made my way into Slaugham village, where I took a break on a bench overlooking the church.
The hickory smoke in the jerky tasted incredible; I should have broken it open earlier in the walk. I slipped a Perkier bar into my pocket to munch on while I completed the next section and continued through the village and onto a private road lined with large, expensive cars spilling out of sweeping driveways.
The driveways became few and far between, and I found myself walking on a private forest track. I could hear the roar of cars getting louder with each step, a juxtaposition from the start of the walk, and the path led me to a slip road from the A23.
I quickly passed the roaring main road, over the bridge to a crossroads in town, and a clear sign directed me across the street to a small footpath leading into Nymans – a national trust land. A warning sign had been plastered on the gate advising that a fallen tree had obstructed the Sussex Ouse Valley footpath, destroying the way across the river. The notice was due to expire in a month, but I’d not read of this closure being in place anywhere online. I checked the map and figured I could get around it somehow.
The further I walked into the open-access area of Cow Wood, the more peaceful and secluded I felt. I paused for a moment close to the first lake I came across and let the silence envelop me. At the larger of the lakes, I tiptoed past over fifteen sleeping ducks, hoping to avoid disturbing them with my clunky hiking boots. Before I reached the supposed blocked bridge, I misread the map and made a minor detour hoping to slip through a small forest path marked on the map, only to be greeted with a locked gate and a sign in bold capitals informing me the land was private.
I slunk back, hiding my face in embarrassment from those I’d confidently (and jovially) greeted along the way, returning to the main path and hoping my course was clear.
Tentatively, I approached the footbridge looking for any signs of blockage. I could see the clear path and that work had only recently finished with freshly cut logs, earmarked to be removed from the site, resting near the newly built bridge. Typical.
Making sure I took the right-hand path across the field and down, I followed a worn path and felt secure, knowing the pub was just one kilometre away.
Walking into Staplefield, an ample green space stood between me and an ice-cold drink. A cricket game was being played to my right, with locals smattered around the green with picnics and small takeaway cups of Pimms and beer.
I had my eye on the chips on the pub menu and joined the queue at the bar, removing my pack, so I didn’t take out an unsuspecting patron. I was informed when I got there that they had stopped serving food at 3pm. The matter-of-fact tone hit me as a little rude. I looked down at my watch to see the clock tick over to 3, so I grumpily ordered a pint of diet coke and a packet of ready-salted crisps to tide me over. As I sat down, I could see they were rushed off their feet with more and more food orders piling out, so I begrudgingly forgave the attitude. It’s hard to work in a pub at the weekend.
Thirst suitably quenched by the diet coke, I started on my route again, digging in my pocket for more snacky delights to keep me going until dinner.
After a short stint of road-walking, crossing the Ouse yet again while hugging the verge, the path branched off, taking me through farmers’ fields and triggering a bout of hay fever. Looking ahead on the map, I felt confident I would reach my first milestone of Ardingly Reservoir.
Sidnye farm sat perfectly in a picturesque British countryside postcard from the top of the hill. The farm took me on tour past what felt like every building they owned, then up their winding driveway.
I’d caught up with some hikers periodically pausing ahead of me and staring into the bushes to their right. I looked to my right and could see what had attracted their attention. Huge clumps of spider’s webs were beautifully wrapped around sections of the bushes lining the driveway. These were well-established spiders that didn’t want me near their home. I moved across to the other side of the driveway; I could see them just as well from there without fear I would accidentally fall into a giant Megan-sized web.
Another section of road walking at the end of the driveway saw me overtake the day hikers, who, as I turned back to make sure they weren’t lost, pushed their way through a hedge into a field. It looked like an intentional trespass, and I believe in the right to roam! Before I could say anything anyway, they were gone, so I chose to carry on.
A fast and active road awaited me at the end of the lane. I rushed across and over to the driveway leading up to Great Bentley farm. While this wasn’t ‘road walking,’ it was still tough on my feet, and when the left turn about a kilometre in took me through a grassy field, I was thrilled. At the bottom of the stairs into the field, I removed my rucksack for a well-earned break at the ten-mile mark and ripped off my boots and socks to let my weary feet breathe in the open air. It was hot, so the combination of sweat and wetness from an out-of-place puddle I’d stepped in earlier meant this felt like utter bliss.
While I was resting, a man and his son passed me with their cute dog rushing ahead, curious of the smell that was no doubt emanating from my discarded boots. As they ascended the stairs, I heard them comment about the size of my rucksack, making me feel a little self-conscious. I quickly packed my things, pulled out a chocolate snack, and continued my journey towards the upcoming Ouse Valley Viaduct.
Having seen many local friends posting at the viaduct, I knew what to expect, but it still didn’t take away the excitement on that first glimpse of the arches winding away into the distance.
Crossing the River Ouse once again, I started marching towards the viaduct through unsuspecting grassy meadows, finally coming to the bricked base of the viaduct.
I paused to take some pictures here. Some were good, and some were terrible, including one of me trying and failing to hoist my tired body onto the viaduct basin, ultimately styling it out with a lean.
From the other side, I saw a train scuttle over the top of the bridge, showing me the true reason for the design of this viaduct. I walked out onto the road, crossing the river again (the first time in 12 miles that it was labelled the River Ouse!).
After seeing how many people were making their way towards the bricked beauty, I was grateful for the few moments I’d had alone with her and that no one had seen my embarrassing lack of upper body strength. Walking along the river alongside River’s Wood, I realised I was close to Ardingly Reservoir, the day’s first goal.
As the first potential stopping point for the day, I decided I had a bit more in me and continued further, intending to wild camp in nearby woods. River’s Wood was busy, so I continued through Rivers Farm and across Copyhold Lane. This area was a running track for a long-distance event that made its way towards Ardingly Reservoir, which meant I passed runners quite frequently along here. Once I crossed the lane, the runners, and everyone else, disappeared. Looking ahead on the map, I decided if I was going to rest anywhere, it should be before Haywards Heath and the golf course.
The woods were dense in places, with small clearings dotted throughout. The occasional dog walker would walk by, leaving me a little nervous about pitching up. I wandered further into the dense woods and found a large tree with a trunk big enough to hide my tent from the footpath. Pausing to check the footfall of the tracks nearby, I cooked some tomato pasta in the Jetboil.
The woods were peaceful, and the birds were chirping. Wildlife was confused but not bothered by my presence. The sun started setting, the birds stopped tweeting, and no one had interrupted me or walked by in over an hour. I pitched my green forest-coloured tent, taking the time to walk the footpath from both sides to check I wasn’t visible before cracking into my sleeping equipment. As my first solo wild camp, it was pretty nerve-racking!
After a few hours of listening for the signal to move on, I zipped myself into the tent, into my sleeping bag, and attempted to drift off for the night.
Distance Walked: 13.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,224ft
Time Taken: 5hrs 5mins
Day 2 – https://meganrunsandeats.com/2023/03/03/the-sussex-ouse-valley-way-day-2/
Day 3 – https://meganrunsandeats.com/2023/03/10/the-sussex-ouse-valley-way-day-3/
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