Balcombe to Haywards Heath is only about two miles as the crow flies. I am not a crow, so this stage of the walk described a lazy s-shape, passing through the Ouse Valley and under the magnificent Ouse Valley Viaduct.
Leaving Balcombe south on the B2036, I escaped from the rattle of the rails down into a wooded valley swarming with pheasants, scurrying indignantly ahead of me, or squawking and rustling from the undergrowth. At the top of the valley, the landscape opened up, with a glimpse of the Viaduct in the distance. I joined the Sussex Ouse Valley Way and turned east towards the Viaduct, which emerged through a landscape that seemed almost unnaturally green in the late summer sun.
The view from the top of the Viaduct is, at any time of year, one of the highlights of the train journey from London to Brighton. Rushing past incongruous Palladian gatehouses and stone balustrades, rail passengers are treated to a panorama of timeless southern English countryside, with old brick farm buildings dotted throughout the wide and well-wooded valley, and the schools buildings of Ardingly College in the background.
Approaching the Viaduct from ground level, you become aware of the strength and grace of the structure. The 37 brick supports are hollow-centred, creating mesmerising patterns as they retreat up the slopes of the valley. Texture and depth is added by the different styles of brick that have been used to patch and maintain the Grade II-listed structure through its 170-year history – according to wikipedia, more than 100 trains a day pass over it.
Beyond the Viaduct, I took a short-cut through River\’s Wood, then rejoined the path, as it led through the pastel-shirted ersatz landscape of Haywards Heath Golf Club. Disorientated by its homgenised sandpits and ornamental tree-planting, I took a wrong turn and ended up on High Beach Lane, which led me into Haywards Heath past suburban villas and McMansions.
When I walked in to the Burrell Arms, opposite the station, I was grateful that I only had time for a quick half-pint. If this pub is not the worst in town, I shudder to think what its competition must be like.
Stats: 5.8 miles, 9.4km, 2 hours