During the 1960s over 5,000 miles of railway lines were axed following The Reshaping of British Railways report by Dr Richard Beeching (commonly known as The Beeching Report).
Since then, many of these disused railway lines have been converted into traffic-free cycling and walking trails that we can enjoy around the country.
In this series we will explore well-known and not-so-well-known trails along these “lost railways," which make for a great way of gaining more fitness on a bicycle, while enjoying the beautiful landscape. We start with the Forest Way, in Sussex.
Words: Maria David
The ride: Forest Way, Sussex
Where: Groombridge to East Grinstead
How far: 9.75 miles
Straddling the Kent-Sussex border is the Forest Way. This 9.75-mile cycle route along a disused railway line through Forest Way Country Park to East Grinstead is very popular with cyclists and walkers.
With the High Weald on one side and the River Medway on the other, this must have been a very scenic train journey during the golden age of the train. However, thanks to the report from Baron Beeching of East Grinstead the train line between his town and Tunbridge Wells no longer exists, but in its place we have a scenic cycle route that is suitable for all the family.
Local cyclist, Bee Gregorie of Kent Velo Girls enjoys riding along the Forest Way and says: “We used to ride the trail very regularly with our kids when they were younger. There are lovely woody smells, I particularly remember the wild garlic, and bluebells at the right time of year.
"I have also taken groups of unconfident women on it when we first started the Kent Velo Girls. It was a lovely safe environment for them to build up their mileages, and not to have to worry about traffic, in the most part."
Getting to the start
I set off from Tunbridge Wells train station, and rode the six miles to the trailhead at Groombridge by going down Groombridge Hill, turning into Station Road at the mini-roundabout and taking the first right into Corseley Road. You can also get there via National Route 21 which includes this trail and the nearby Cuckoo Trail.
Nearby, Groombridge Place with its ornamental gardens and birds of prey sanctuary may be worth a visit if time permits. For more sights Groombridge train station, on the vintage Spa Valley Railway line is a pretty and convenient place for a pre-ride snack.
The Forest Way terrain is mostly flat, consisting of hard packed gravel. All types of bike can be used, but a road bike would not be advisable unless it has survived Paris-Roubaix or the Tuscan Strade Bianche!
Initially, you are in open terrain and can see across the arable fields in the shadow of the Ashdown Forest and the High Weald.
Although it is traffic free, Forest Way crosses a few minor roads, and towards the end, the main A22 where a pedestrian crossing is in place.
After a couple of miles the scenery then lives up to its name and you find yourself in forest which gives enough tree coverage to keep you sheltered from blazing sun in summer, or from rain.
Along the way are picnic tables and benches roughly every mile and a half, and some of these stop-off points have bike racks, which is great for an afternoon family bike ride where you may need to give the younger ones a rest.
Forest Way passes through a number of small villages, notably Hartfield, the former home of Winnie the Pooh creator AA Milne, where there is a real “House at Pooh corner" in the village.
Further along, Forest Row has a farm shop and cafe for those wanting one last tea stop before tackling the most challenging part of the trail in the final three miles, where the trail kicks steeply upwards a couple of times.
The trail ends rather unceremoniously at a roundabout on Beeching Way, but it is only a short ride to the quaint town centre of East Grinstead where you can either get on a train back home - thank heavens Beeching didn't close that line down! Alternatively, more traffic-free cycling can be done on the Worth Way, which continues to Three Bridges.
We'll be bringing you more railway rides in the coming weeks. In the mean time, if you're looking for more traffic free rides, check out some of these...