A group of us took on the middle section of the Vanguard Way over the Bank Holiday weekend. The Vanguard Way is a long distance path running from East Croydon to Newhaven on the Sussex Coast – effectively walking from London to the sea. We were doing 39ish miles from Oxted in Surrey to Uckfield in East Sussex. This particular section crosses from Surrey into Kent, back into Surrey and then West and East Sussex – what a feast of counties in one weekend!
Day 1 was Oxted to Lingfield – a stunning 13 mile route that took us through the eastern edge of the Surrey Hills and through masses of bluebell woods. Fantastic views leaving Oxted, a lunch stop just off the footpath overseen by a mildly grumpy couple who didn’t approve of our proximity to their rather lovely house, and the highlight of the walk….piglets!
Our overnight stay (and our post-walk pint!) was at The Star in Lingfield – a nice pub with a big garden which does do food, although we decided to dine in one of 3 curry houses instead – so much curry for such a small place. Breakfast in the Star was top notch and set us up nicely for our next day of walking.
After a brief look at the old town of Lingfield (which has some beautiful historic buildings) we headed back to Lingfield station to meet some other friends who were joining us for day 2. The joy of this walk is that the stop off points are all within an easy train ride of London or the South Coast so people could join for a day or two if they weren’t able to do the whole thing.
The second day was a mere 10 miles, although with curry after-effects and tired legs it felt longer. The day started with a rope swing over a river – lots of fun until Lucy smashed into a tree. Luckily unharmed physically, but pride a little damaged, she managed to soldier on leading us towards our destination of Forest Row.
What can we say about Forest Row? Don’t go there on a Bank Holiday, maybe? Definitely don’t stay at the Chequers Inn See review on Trip Advisor. And don’t expect to easily find breakfast at a decent time on a bank holiday Monday! That being said, we had a lovely meal and service at The Swan and went for proper cocktails and pool at Hop Yard Brewing Co – a really great little find in this rather odd village.
Leaving Forest Row we headed straight up to Ashdown Forest in the High Weald. It was less forest and more heathland – covered with the bright yellow flowers of gorse bushes. We reached our highest point for a tea stop with sweeping views to the North and across to the South Downs. Ashdown Forest is famous for being the place that inspired Hundred Acre Wood in the Winnie-the-Pooh series. As such, areas of it can get quite busy. Our route, however, took us away from the car parks and the crowds and we enjoyed a lovely lunch looking across the heathland and listening to the chiffchaffs merrily chiff-chaffing away.
After Ashdown, we then headed into lush green fields and lanes, rolling hills and more bluebell woodland. The paths become increasingly chalky…you can sense the move towards the South Downs and the coast. After 12 miles, a group split off to head to the pretty village of Buxted to catch the train back to London, making it 13.5 miles in total. Two hardcore souls carried on to Uckfield making an over 16 mile day and ready to get home for a soak in the bath!
There is something cathartic about walking a linear route…progressing through different counties, watching the scenery change, having to get to the next checkpoint or you have nowhere to sleep. It is very rewarding. The Vanguard Way is very accessible to London, well marked and really pretty. We all agreed that this was a fabulous time of year to walk this route, especially with all the bluebells in full flower. We are now working out the next trip where we hope to finally reach the sea!