Three Bridges – Furnace Green – Pease Pottage – Colgate – Slaugham – Staplefield – Balcombe
St Leonard’s Forest featured in the first ride I ever led for the Clarion, back in 2006. I have wanted to repeat it ever since, but was worried about the long and complicated train journey (it was a Horsham-Balcombe ride). So I have re-jigged it to start at Three Bridges.
We start out along Haslett Avenue, which has a plaque we may want to look at. Dame Caroline Haslett (1895-57) was an electrical engineer, and the first secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society; she saw electricity as heralding an age “when women are liberated from soul-destroying drudgery”. Her father Robert Haslett was a railway signal fitter and activist for the co-operative movement. I don’t know which one the plaque commemorates, but its location – adjacent to the grid feeder station for the entire London-Brighton line – would be fitting for either, or both.
There are actually 2½ forests on this ride; the first is Tilgate Forest, which we pass through on a fairly new section of NCN20 which isn’t even shown on my 2006 OS map. In fact, they haven’t quite finished putting the signposts up yet! Never mind, I have ridden it and we won’t get lost.
Then into Parish Lane (recall my Balcombe circular in 2010) and so to Pease Pottage and Colgate, where, as before, we will have lunch at the Dragon at about 12.30. It’s gone upmarket a bit in the ensuing 10 years, but the food is certainly good and prices aren’t excessive.
We then enter the forest where we left it last time, at the White House; so we traverse it in the opposite direction, which turns out to be the correct one, as it’s all downhill this way. Hopefully we will have time to stop and absorb the quiet and tranquillity of the place, and also maybe learn about the medieval iron and rabbit (!) industries. The rabbits are still here, but we should also spot other lifeforms: on the recce I saw deer, a buzzard, a huge dragonfly and a great crested grebe.
Then through the pleasant Sussex villages of Slaugham and Staplefield, and past a second White House to access the bridleway to Rowhill Lane via Spicer’s Farm. Unfortunately the foliage obscures the fine view of the Ouse Valley Viaduct which can be seen from here at other times of year. A big whizz downhill (check brakes!) through the third forest, or rather half a forest, since it’s only a wood – Pilstye Wood – and so to Balcombe.
Alert readers will recall that Balcombe station is in that fascinating category of “semi-step-free” stations, and unfortunately for those of us wanting to get back to Brighton, it is step-free in the London direction. However we have to go down the steps, not up, so it should not be too hard. We can then admire one of the finest station gardens outside London Road Brighton. If there is a long wait for the train, the tea rooms may be open.
Length: 18 miles.
Duration: about 5 hours including lunch.
Terrain: About 6 miles of the ride is off-road, mainly hard, stony surfaces which will stand up to wet weather but may bump you around a bit. The rest is on quiet lanes. Some ups and downs.
Start at: Three Bridges Station (bike rack area) at 11.15.
Getting there: There are 4 trains per hour from Brighton. The last train that gets you there in time is the 10:44 (a Bedford train, should not be affected by Southern problems). There are no trains from Hove today so Hovians will have to cycle to Brighton.
Getting back: There is one train per hour, at 17 minutes past, and it’s a Southern train … still, the gardens are nice. If all goes according to plan we are due to get to Balcombe at 16:00.
Remember: this is a linear ride! Drivers may prefer to park at Balcombe and get the train to Three Bridges.