Sunday, 17 April 2011

A ghostly walk around Ardingley, Sussex

Distance:            5 miles
Ghostly Rating        ***
Route:                Ardingley Reservoir - Balcombe - Ardingley Reservoir
Map:                OS Explorer 135
Start/ Parking:        Ardingley Reservoir
Public Transport        Balcombe is served by the railway. Leave the station and walk half a mile north along the B20436 to join the walk at Point 2.
Conditions:            This walk is largely around the shores of Ardingley Reservoir, along modern footpaths with reasonably good surfaces, elsewhere it on surfaced lanes and only one short section is over open country where the surface may be muddy in wet weather.
Refreshments:        There are pubs in Balcombe that serve good food, and shops selling snacks and soft drinks.

This is one of the gentler walks in the book with only one short hill and little in the way of obstacles to be overcome. The phantoms to be encountered here are a rather sad collection. They do nobody any real harm, but they still have the power to shock and surprise the unwary. 

The Walk

1) Park in the car park that has been built beside the dam that holds back the waters of Ardingley Reservoir. Follow the signs to the Disabled Car Park. From here head north up a grassy slope to a prominent four-fingered footpath sign. Continue roughly straight on, keeping the yacht clubhouse to your right and enter a patch of woodland via a stile. Follow the path through the woodland to reach a flight of steps at the top of which is a small gate. Beyond the gate cross a large open field to a finger signpost on the skyline, then follow the sign down the slope to pass a wood and so emerge on to a surfaced track beside Stone Hall. Follow the track to a lane. Turn right.

2) Follow this lane into Balcombe. The lane becomes Haywards Heath Road as it enters the village, and meets the B2036 at a T-junction. Turn right into London Road, then left opposite the church into Handcross Road. After a short uphill climb this road crosses the railway line, running through a cutting below. Look north along the railway line.

It is along this stretch of line that the three ghostly soldiers of Balcombe may be encountered. These unfortunate men came here in 1915 while training as infantry before going over to France to fight in the trenches. At the time it was hoped by the generals that trench warfare would prove to be merely a temporary situation and that the war would quickly revert to previous styles of conflict with manoeuvring and marching across open country. Thus it was that the three soldiers were taking part in an exercise that involved their forming a flank guard to their column on a long cross-country march.

As the men reached this section of rail line a mass of dark clouds indicated that a short, but heavy shower was about to break over them. Quite how long the three men spent in the tunnel nobody ever discovered. They were run down and killed by an express train racing from London to Brighton.

The ghosts of the unfortunate men were seen several times in the years that followed, lurking in the tunnel or sauntering about nearby. In 1940, a Home Guard man was usually put to guard the strategic tunnel against attack by German agents or paratroops. One such sentry saw the three ghosts very clearly late one evening. Like them, he was sheltering inside the mouth of the tunnel but in this case he was hoping to escape the German bombs that were falling in the area rather than heavy rain.

The three figures were approaching along the rails from the south when he first saw them. The sentry recognised them as British soldiers, but the uniforms appeared odd to him – as well they might being some 30 years out of date. Suspecting the men might be German agents, the Home Guard sentry marched out to challenge them. The three ghosts at this point slowly dissolved away to nothing. Perhaps they had come to warn the man against sheltering in the tunnel and, having got him out into the open, felt their task was done.

The ghosts have been seen right up to the present day, with one particularly clear sighting making the local press in 1995. WALKS IN SUSSEX


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