Our 10 mile walk starts through the normally busy Saturday streets of the town but we have an opportunity to socially distance ourselves from the high street and detour past the pretty church. Outside Sackville College, a Jacobean Almshouse, where all residents are currently self-isolating, we pass the statue to the NZ surgeon Archibald McIndoe who pioneered plastic surgery for WWII airmen at the local hospital. Finally, we leave the town behind and set off across mixed farm and wood land where we are bound to see bluebells at this time of year.
We pass an imposing building, Stoke Brunswick, which was a school for many years and has now returned to private ownership. It started off as a hunting lodge used by John of Gaunt and was bought by Dewars, the whisky family, in the early 20thC. Mrs Dewar declared it too small for her lavish parties so hubby bought a Tudor mansion, Dutton Hall in Cheshire, and had it moved piece by piece onto the site (as you do). To their credit the Dewars made the house available for recuperating airmen during the war.
Quite soon we turn onto Vanguard Way, a rather neglected long distance footpath as seen by the dilapidated stiles we have to negotiate. Our route then takes us through Tablehurst Community Farm, described as a social enterprise, which operates on a biodynamic basis. This means it is both organic and self-sustaining but I do recall from a previous walk in 2018 that someone got a nasty electric shock from the fence protecting their free-range chickens from foxes! The very popular farm shop is still open, but limiting the numbers allowed inside at any one time. They are also making local deliveries to self-isolators and key workers. Good for them.
Very soon we arrive in Forest Row for lunch. There are plenty of picnic spots in this pretty town, and also a good selection of pubs and cafes. It has a bit of a reputation for trendy alternative lifestyles but it’s really a posh commuter town. Its early development was down to the direct rail service to London but, after 100 years of operation, it was axed by Beeching. The disused line is now Forest Way, a foot and bike trail.
After lunch, those wanting an easy 3 mile walk back to East Grinstead can take the Forest Way whilst the more energetic will set off across fields, stopping first to admire the lovely Jacobean ruins of Brambletye House, built in the 17thC by Sir Henry Compton MP. It was abandoned less than 100 years later but no-one knows why.
Our route takes us across the bottom of Weir Wood Reservoir where there would normally be lots of sailing boats out enjoying the spring weather. But probably not in the time of coronavirus. We then follow footpaths north and largely uphill, arriving in the old town of East Grinstead via an atmospheric sunken lane. Normally there would be several afternoon tea spots to enjoy and even possibly the station cafe. Always a welcome sight and a good end to the day. However, on this occasion, we shall need to have our own flasks of tea. Now, who brought the biscuits?
Missing all the walks and the company. Sandra Neilson